Yellow Ink

Trump days without being a national embarrassment = 0

Saw this graphic somewhere and got to thinking about the "fake news". Not because I believe in what Trump calls the "fake news". No I was thinking how appropriate the graphic always is on any day. And it is because of all the yellow ink that Trump generates.

In high school I attended the toughest class of U.S. History you could imagine. My teacher was an award winning teacher. A teacher equipped with intense course material she had developed over a lifetime of teaching. Tests, and written assignments required that you had finished all the reading on the reading list and that you studied hard. But classroom work more closely resembled improv comedy rehearsals with no one in charge. Why? Because by the time she became my teacher she was developing dementia. She could have retired. She had the years to retire but did not want to stop. Maybe she didn't know how to stop. I imagine the rest of the faculty must have seen that she was losing her marbles but students kept doing well on the AP U.S. History exams so why fix what ain't broken?

One particular assignment that sticks in my mind was when we were studying the rise of Yellow Journalism back in the mid 1890s. It was called this because of the use of yellow ink. Yellow ink was basically the invention of clickbait, although no one was clicking yet. Newspapers needed readers and subscribers so they could get ad revenue.

Tests were difficult. All of her written assignments were hard too. Our teacher had multiple tests and assignments prepared for each week and she would rotate them so there was little chance you could get answers from other class periods or even the last few year's worth of material. But a third of the grade was built around oral presentations. And in my day that meant we could usually confuse her into giving out good grade. All you needed was the confidence to speak in front of the class and sound like you knew your shit. Hell, one time I faked my way through an oral report on Khrushchev by taking my shoe off and banging it on the podium.

The oral presentation assignment for yellow journalism required that we go to the library and find and photocopy articles from the period of 1890 until 1900 that we thought were examples of yellow journalism and read them aloud in class. We were supposed to point out where fallacies and exaggeration were being used and discuss. Many of us never went to any outside library looking for old newspapers to photocopy. Instead my classmates and I spent a few minutes in homeroom cutting up the day's newspaper and looking for articles.

I read my article in class while trying to keep a straight face in front of the venerable old lady. We each claimed our quoted material came right off the pages of a Hearst or Pulitzer paper. All the while I would get heckled by classmates. But no one would turn me in since everyone hoped to do the same when it was their turn. So we convinced the teacher we did our research when we didn't. It didn't go unnoticed by anyone in the class that the articles we took from that day's paper easily fit the definition of yellow journalism. It was easy to discuss the fallacies and exaggeration even if it didn't come off the pages of a Hearst publication. Journalism is an activity that is bought and paid for, and most news editors have never really worked for their readers as much as their advertisers.

I think if my old teacher still lived and taught, today's class could cheat just as easily with today's headlines and articles. But instead of newspapers alone, now the media includes blogs, video and soon augmented and virtual reality. Sources range from corporate sponsored, to semi-corporate, to reader supported, to just plain nut jobs. It is not really yellow journalism anymore because we have a whole spectrum of ink from which to choose. Clickbait turns out to be a good name for it since it implies the reader is about as smart as a fish.

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