Columnists > Voices

Weep for the hyphen

It means somebody has a monopoly on reporting the news

Issue: "John Roberts: Bush's pick," July 30, 2005

I know that folks mean it as a compliment, but just the same, I wince every time I hear it. "I love WORLD so much," they tell me. "In fact, I depend on it now for all my news. I've canceled my newspaper and all my other subscriptions."

To which I usually respond: "Ooh. Uh-oh. Please. Not so fast."

For as you shape your diet of news consumption, stoking up from just one source can be harmful to your health. Spinach and broccoli are obviously good for you-but not all by themselves. So even the Apostle Paul encouraged early Christians to "test all things." One group of his readers (the Bereans) got high compliments and became world famous for their habit of checking up on the things they were taught to see if they were really so.

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Wise consumers of the news should have the same reputation. Immunity from gullibility is a smart goal.

Yes, it's a tad annoying on our end to get phone calls doubting our word. One came just last week from a reader second-guessing my story about the employee of Allstate Insurance Company who was fired for writing an opinion column in a local Illinois newspaper criticizing homosexual marriage. Where did we get that report? This woman's long-time Allstate agent was denying it, claiming that WORLD was obviously an unreliable source. Were we really sure?

So it was back to the notebook. Back to the record of the phone calls. I knew the lawyer involved, and the story checked out. Allstate's very defense seemed to corroborate the main account. We were on solid ground.

But what if we hadn't been? In its own irritating way, that too would have been good-for every error we have to correct in public is a reminder of the need to do our work even more painstakingly. And then, smack in the middle of composing this very paragraph, comes a bothersome e-mail from my colleague Marvin Olasky, asking me to verify a few details about someone I knew whom he had just interviewed in South Africa! Fact-checkers, fact-checkers. A doubtful reader on one end, and a skeptical editor on the other. What a tedious existence!

But in the free market of ideas, it's not just our own internal system of checks and balances that will prompt you to trust WORLD magazine's editorial product. In the end, you will resubscribe year after year only because you've sized us up side-by-side with every other source out there and discovered that WORLD-comparatively speaking-brings you a believable package every week you can't find elsewhere. We have to compete for credibility, and sometimes that's very hard work.

That competitive publishing milieu, however, is in the end all for your good as a consumer of news. It means you don't have to put all your eggs in one basket, and all your trust in one source. It means that when you heard the venerable British Broadcasting Co. report a preposterous story as serious news (as it did last week), you have the option of going elsewhere to verify it. (BBC said scientists in South Africa have observed that a number of male elephants are being born without tusks-and are explaining that development by saying the elephants are working out an evolutionary process by responding genetically to widespread poaching of ivory.)

That's why I say you should weep just a bit every time you see a hyphen in the name of a newspaper-as in the Birmingham Post-Herald, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the San Diego Union-Tribune, or any of dozens of other examples. The hyphen reminds you there used to be two points of view to be weighed by citizens every day, and now there's only one.

We at WORLD have to remember that we have a big part of our readership precisely because journalists elsewhere got sloppy, got overconfident, and let us steal you away from your one-time loyalty to them. The best way for us to ensure that cycle doesn't repeat itself is partly for us to be very diligent in our own journalistic task. But it's also important for us to remember that you just might right now be comparing WORLD to some new entity we never heard of before-and that such a comparison is, all by itself, a very healthy thing.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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