A year ago today, the headline from the sports section of the September 30, 2009, edition of The Washington Post read:
Friedgen’s Future At Maryland Is Unclear
Could Franklin Take Helm Sooner Than Expected
The point of the story was to suggest that after a 1-3 start to the season, Ralph Friedgen, the head coach of the University of Maryland football team, would be shown the door in favor of James Franklin.
Of course, if you happened to click the link I placed in Friedgen’s name above, you will see that Friedgen continues to helm the Terrapins on the gridiron despite ending the 2009 season with an overall record of 2-10 and 1-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Out of the gate this year, the University of Maryland is 3-1.
This posting is not so much to harp on the fact that the Post writers went with a storyline that wound up being wrong. If that was the case, I would have filed this blog entry under my category of “Veridiction“, the act of verifying predictions.
No, I am writing because this story highlights an aspect of journalism I find unsettling. I read the Post (and yes, I still read the ink-and-paper version of the newspaper) and listen to the radio to find out what is news. By “news”, I mean those events in the world that are new. I want to know what is happening outside of the shell that I inhabit.
Please don’t tell me what could happen, what may happen, or what perhaps will happen if only A, B, X, Y and/or Z occur. If I want conjecture or opinion, I will go to the op-ed page or consult a Ouija board. By no means am I saying that a good SWAG doesn’t deserve its fair share of ink or airtime, but I am saying don’t make it a lead or a headline.
Stories that lead with a Could, May, or Perhaps are simply spin or trial balloons masquerading as news. Respectable (and hard-working) journalists shouldn’t have to spend their time (and mine) reporting on things that could, may, or perhaps happen when there is plenty enough in the world that is actually happening.
Next time you come across a story with a Could, May, or Perhaps, simply append to the conjecture some variation of the phrase “…result in hamsters gaining self-awareness…” and you’ll find the story makes just as much sense.
Here…let’s try with the first line taken from this random story from the BBC News online site that I found by simply entering the word “could” in its search box.
The first line now reads “Up to 70% of child psychologists and behavioural specialists in Somerset could lose their jobs and hamsters could gain self-awareness as part of cuts being proposed by the county council..“.
Which is odd, because it is precisely the lack of funding that would prevent hamsters from getting smarter as noted here.