Thursday, December 8, 2022

MENU

What I learned from writing for the National Enquirer

0
(0)

By Chuck Woodbury
Publisher
What I am about to tell you is a secret only a few of my closest friends know. It’s this: I once wrote for the National Enquirer. No kidding! It was back in the early 1980s, when the Enquirer was incredibly popular—its circulation was about six million (it’s now down to about 260,000).

I don’t know how I hooked up with the paper, but I did, and, wow, was it ever a learning experience! I was paid very well, and I badly, badly needed the money. I struggled most months to pay my rent (common struggling writer thing…). Some weekends I lived on popcorn, all I could afford. I still believed in my future as a writer so I kept going just like the Energizer Bunny. Money from the Enquirer was like a gift from Heaven.

I ended up writing for the tabloid for about a year, as a freelancer, not on the staff. Then I quit. It was just too sleazy. I never wrote dishonestly, but I felt uncomfortable with how I was asked to write—putting words into people’s mouths, for example.

At the same time, I was freelancing for USA Today, covering breaking news. One time my bylined story ended up on the cover. I was proud of that. How different could two publications be! Both experiences taught me a lot.

If you join my Chatting with Chuck live video chat this morning at 10 a.m. Pacific (1 p.m. Eastern) (Watch on YouTube • Watch on Facebook) I will be happy to tell you some stories about this interesting time in my life.

I bring this up because a few days ago, I spotted the Enquirer at the local Safeway checkout line. It got me thinking about life today as a writer and publisher.

The fact is that most successful news websites today are to some degree modern versions of the Enquirer. Ditto for cable news and even the broadcast networks. Local TV news has been tabloid-like for years: It’s basically crime news, which is always good for ratings. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Today, if you want to increase your chances of success publishing a blog, website or YouTube channel, model it after the Enquirer. Come up with scare headlines and you’re halfway there. Exaggerate about a new deadly disease that just appeared in Africa. Or if there’s any hint that an asteroid is headed anywhere near Earth, my God, we’re talking Armageddon!

But wait! There’s more!

A new twist to dishonest journalism, and an even better way to get traffic, is to make readers angry—even better, fighting mad! If you publish a website that appeals to liberals, then bash conservatives every chance you get. Ditto for conservative websites—bash those damn liberals—turn them into enemies if you can. Never, ever, ever, admit that the other side “may have a point.” Most people, whether they admit it or not, would rather have their beliefs reinforced than to admit that maybe they were wrong!

At RVtravel.com we know that the juicier the headline the more people will click through, and that means more income. I believe the challenge for publishers these days is to be very careful about how far they are willing to bend the truth to attract readers. At RVtravel.com we don’t lie. We try really hard to be ethical. But, I’m telling you, sometimes it takes great restraint to not cross the line, where money is just laying there…

Alas, in the end, the “Enquirer” game has to be played to some degree in order to stay in the game. If you can outright, purposely lie and still sleep at night, then start shopping for a yacht because you can afford it.

I’m sad about today’s tabloidization of the news. The fact that media can exaggerate so easily is, in the end, very bad for our world. Today, in its quest for increased circulation, the media is fueling our anger over and over. And, really, the anger would not even exist otherwise.

Here are two excellent books that discuss this more. Do yourself a favor and read them. Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back and Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. And if you’re a member of PBS, watch the Masterpiece Theater mini-series “Press”, which is about an ethical London daily newspaper and a sleazy tabloid that is killing it. Here’s the trailer:

##RVT1075

Did you enjoy this article?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Comments

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

21 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kaybee
1 month ago

As full-time rv’ers, we travel all over this wonderful country and prefer to stay in small towns to explore their culture. When we get to a town, we scan for local over the air TV channels. For most of these little towns away from large cities, the only local free over the air news channel is Fox News. I think that single biased influence is affecting the heartland of our country and not in a good way.

Lonewolf
1 month ago

I am not familiar with either author Chuck mentioned check up on the news media industry. However, I suggest that anyone who does want to find out how sleazy and biased the news industry is read, Sheryl Attkisson whose most recent book “Slanted” tells of how the media slanted the Covid-19 news and the currant administration in Washington.

Attkisson is a former CBS and 60 minutes reporter who left the network after some frightening strange moments that occured to her and her family during her coverage of the Fast and Furious gun scandel during the Obama administration.

California Travel Videos
1 month ago

Chuck, thank you for candidly sharing your sorted early years and most all of us have “details” of our past lives we’d just as soon gloss over… and then there’s the issue of revisionist history which reminds me of the quip, “Only Mom loves a Resulter!”
Pivoting to news, last week Bill Maher was interviewing Chris Wallace and poignantly shared that early news of TV with Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley were never expected to make money, with news being a loss-leader to support the TV network’s brand as a public service.

Maher went on to say that when the “60 Minutes” show aired, it became the most popular of all TV shows and was the first time a news show turned a profit. Ironically, Chris’ father Mike Wallace was part of Don Hewett’s gang that were the forefathers leading to today’s polarized news to chase after the almighty advertising dollars.

Gigi
1 month ago

I often watch the news with the sound off, just watching the expressions of the caster’s faces shows the bias. I read several different sources of the same story and that clarifies the bias for me. There should not be adjectives when reporting the news, just the facts…..

Ival Secrest
1 month ago

Didn’t biased journalism begin with the invention of the printing press? It certainly existed in excess during the time of the US Civil War!

Drew
1 month ago

Chuck,

Thanks for crusade you fight every day- for us all it’s worth it!

Edward Wilkinson
1 month ago
Reply to  Drew

I just want to add my name to Drew’s comment here. Thanks for sure!

The Lazy Q
1 month ago

It’s not too difficult to figure out what direction a writer leans, even the ones that try to hide it, there are always subtle words or phrases that slip through like when trying to differentiate between liberals and them “{bleeped}” conservatives.

I don’t remember what year the darn 24 hours a day cable “so called news stations” came into our lives, but that was the beginning of the end for fair and honest journalism.

Richard
1 month ago

I believe very little of what I read and see. Until I can research MULTIPLE sources and sort through the bias, and arrive at an “Average” as to the truth. I consider most published work to be propaganda, not news. Devised to convince or hide, not inform.

Arthur Jacobson
1 month ago

Our daughter has a journalism degree from a major recognized university. During her time at a local TV network affiliate there was a day when she was in the newsroom. Something happened by a long time, well thought of reporter assigned to cover a story. As the reporter was leaving the station for her assignment my daughter heard her tell someone, and I paraphrase, “Let’s see if I can get one of those little children to cry on camera!”.That was the beginning of the end of my daughter’s blossoming journalism career. It was about 25 years ago.

While I do not believe in the conspiratorial cry “FAKE NEWS” as what that signifies to me as what follows it is purely fake. There can be and is a bias to certain networks and their “news”. It is also true to local “News” as presented by certain stations owned by certain companies. The bias is both right and left leaning. I long for the return of Swazey, Edwards, Huntley, Brinkley, Murrow and Cronkite. Since that isn’t happening I fear for us all

Glenda Alexander
1 month ago

Arthur, you said it! Most media are worthless, in my opinion. I get my news from National Public Radio (NPR). They interview people of opposing viewpoints, so I believe that they present more balanced news coverage. And, best of all, there are no commercials. [NOTE: For those who care, “media” is the plural of “medium”]

Spike
1 month ago

Arthur…you said it all.

It’s not that most all news stories don’t have any basis of truth, but how the words are twisted and manipulated to slant a viewer or reader’s understanding or perception. With way too many adults in the US having a grade school level language comprehension (54% below 6th grade), it’s not hard for biased writers or entire “news” organizations to easily manipulate the facts.

Bruce Williams
1 month ago

I used to enjoy PBS until they became everything Chuck is complaining about above. I hope RV travel is able to keep up the good journalism. It is one of my few remaining pleasures to read each Saturday and Sunday.

Steve H
1 month ago

Thank you, Chuck!

Network morning shows are no longer news shows, just “ET” in the morning instead of night. Even the Weather Channel now just reports disasters, not routine daily weather, because that’s what gets the ratings. When I turn on local news, I mute the “news” portion and ads (thank you, inventor of the TV remote!) and only turn the sound back on for the weather and sports.

Unfortunately, we had to drop our newspaper delivery because the print edition had become too expensive and starting and stopping it for RV trips too much of a hassle. But we did keep the online version of the newspaper, which is actually much handier when RVing.

But, for me, RVTravel is the first thing I read every morning (my wife still reads the newspaper first). So, please keep writing honest news about RVing!

Don Lee
1 month ago

A poll that crossed the wires earlier this week said that the majority of Americans believe that the greatest threat to democracy is the mainstream media. I never trust a source that makes it’s living from ratings.

Laura Gutsmann
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Lee

Agree. The media is the most dangerous virus out there. Pure propaganda.

Bill W
1 month ago
Reply to  Laura Gutsmann

so unless you see something with your own eyes it didn’t happen? Come on.

patti panuccio
1 month ago

Once again, Thank You

Herman
1 month ago
Reply to  patti panuccio

Agree!

Dan
1 month ago

It’s good to hear someone who did it admit it, as opposed to double speak word salad pretending the opposite. Thank you, Chuck. Where’s Walter Cronkite when we need him most?

Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan

Pushing up dandelions.