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Put Truth into Perspective

Studying both journalism and fine art in college gave me some unique perspectives on the presentation of reality. They were both forms of liberal art, but journalism was taught as an objective and unbiased art form, a representation of the truth. Fine art was taught as a subjective and interpretive art form, a representation of a perspective of truth.

As a journalism student, I was taught to convey simple facts as straightforwardly as possible. Some examples (made-up news by me):

  • "With a 5-2 vote, the school board passed the earlier start date for the 1988 school year."

  • "North Dakotans celebrated 100 years of statehood at the Capitol Friday."

  • "A mountain lion wandered into a neighborhood in northwest Bismarck on Saturday."

Simple facts, right? No biases, no twisting of the truth, no assumptions, right?

Think again. Consider how every word might convey a feeling or an assumption. Here are the same news examples with minor word changes:

  • "With a 5-2 vote, the school board defeated the later start date for the 1988 school year."

  • "North Dakotans gathered to mark 100 years of statehood at the Capitol Friday."

  • "A mountain lion encroached on a neighborhood in northwest Bismarck on Saturday."

See the difference? An earlier start date being passed implies that the early date was the preferred outcome; a later start date being defeated implies that the later start date was preferred. If North Dakotans celebrated an event, it sounds like they were happy about it; if they gathered to mark an event, there's no telling how they felt about it. A mountain lion wandering implies less danger than a mountain lion encroaching, which sounds like it's on the hunt.

Truth has many perspectives.
Truth Prism

In fact (pun intended?), journalism is art and only a perspective of the truth. As my dad taught me, truth is like a prism: Each side offers a different and true perspective. Each is true, but not the only truth or the whole truth.

Journalism students now learn there is no such thing as unbiased, untwisted, assumption-free reporting. Word choices, sentence structure, paragraph placement, and supporting facts or lack thereof are tools of journalistic art. Every writer (or company, or news source) brings history, experiences, fears, perspectives, knowledge, interpretations, and goals to the reader. Sometimes it's unintentional, but it's usually intentional.

Understanding the power of words is important when building websites, but it's also important when reading others' websites and social media posts. The same "truth" may be told in different ways, from different perspectives, and with different goals. Decipher word choices; be aware of what they convey, why those choices are made, and who's making them. To get a wider perspective of the truth, check out other sources. And remember advertisements are just that -- advertisements. They are always biased with a specific goal to sell you on something.

Prisms also happen to be beautiful works of art. Keep one around to remind yourself of the beauty of having many perspectives of truth.


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