Watchdog Blog

Herb Strentz: A Warning Label for Press Reports

Posted at 12:13 pm, September 17th, 2007
Herb Strentz Mug

If you’re into warning or product labels, what cautionary note should a newspaper or news broadcast provide to the reader or audience?

Perhaps something like Caveat Lector or Caveat Celebratio, advising the reader or the audience to beware of what’s being reported.

When I first considered this question several years ago, the result was a lengthy label that newspapers might use to forewarn readers about how the product they were holding was fashioned by underpaid staff, working under deadline pressure and dealing with sources whose motives might be suspect. The warning also advised readers to check the next day’s paper for corrections. And those Caveat Lector tidbits were just for openers.

The topic came to mind again thanks to the discovery of a simple three word admonition that would serve even better, and wasn’t even in Latin: “Further assembly required.”

That’s the wording offered in a New York Times book review of Robert Novak’s work, “The Prince of Darkness.” (August 19, 2007) The reviewer, Jack Shafer of Slate, wrote:

“Many Novak columns…require further assembly by readers.”

No need to limit that advice to Novak.

All of journalism – like the human condition – requires further assembly.

The beauty of “further assembly required” is that the warning properly puts some responsibility on the news audience to be well-informed, to not take one item they read in print or see and hear on the air as sufficient information. Rather, “Further assembly required” suggests the need to use multiple sources of information, to follow up on developments and, if you will, the need for the audience to partner with the journalist in trying to figure out what’s happening.

“Further Assembly Required.” May even be better than “All the news that’s fit to print.”

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