Words v. Motives

Today I’m remembering a conversation I had with my editor when I was an editorial assistant for a publishing company. We were sitting on the floor of her office going through the slush pile, when I began reading a pitch for an article for one of our local magazines offering an in depth look at why it’s a bad idea to open a proposed superstore in lower Manhattan. The pitch was well written and had me at “hello.” I told my editor it was a keeper. She suggested I read it again, and this time I include the author’s bio and past experience.  After following her instructions I realized this person had an agenda. He owned the store across the street from this proposed superstore and was about to lose business. She couldn’t count on him to offer a balanced perspective.

“The words are powerful, aren’t they” My editor asked. “However, I believe the motive speaks volumes.”

This conversation with my former editor caused me to take another look at the way I enjoy news and information. For example:

  • Why is the author writing this piece? Is it to sell a product or discredit a competitor?
  • Are there valid points being made or is it nitpicking trivial details? It’s one thing to report real actual news, it’s another to call the subject an article a poopyhead.
  • Is the author relaying a real, actual piece of news or pushing a point of view?
  • What is the article’s tone? Angry? Positive? Neutral? Slanted?
  • What is the author’s history? Does the author have it in for tree huggers or corporate executives? Sometimes that type of disapproval or hatred shows through in the writing.

One of the reasons I can’t stand the big cable news channels is because they can’t be counted on to give a fair or balanced point of view. I can’t rely on FOX or CNN to give a fair tone about the opposing political party at all. The same goes for certain magazines and newspapers. If I see an especially heated article, I like to ask myself what’s going on behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s a real eye opener.

I’m not saying every writer has a motive, but you’d be surprised at how many do.

What are some examples you can give of motives taking precedence over words? How do you spot a writer with an agenda?







5 responses
  1. Amy Harrison Avatar

    I think a lot of writing will have some agenda, or motive because a writer will be basing it on their experience and passions.

    I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, if there’s an arena for counter arguments and other points of view, which is something that you don’t get in places like the big network channels.
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Queens Park Books Brighton Hiring for Website Project =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      You’re absolutely right, Amy, and I don’t believe it to necessarily be a bad thing either. I guess what I’m trying to get across is that we all have some sort of slant, and sometimes it’s good to know that when we read a news item so we can make a balanced judgment.

      1. Lauren Avatar


        Psychological studies found that people follow media sources that supports their original belief ie-people watch FOX b/c it appeals to their conservative p.o.v; same with MSNBC. (no one watches CNN). Everyone should pay attention to both sides of an issue.

        I can spot a writer with an agenda when they repeat talking points – the less accurate the more obvious it is. Sometimes a writer’s agenda is more obvious when they throw in a major talking point from the other side b/c it reeks of someone who’s trying to hard to be “balanced”. There’s an article in Wired profiling Andrew Breitbart that, to me, demonstrates this. I could be interpreting it wrong, but it’s that kind of wording and tone that jumps out to me.

  2. Erik Hare Avatar

    Motive can be very hard to nail down, especially when a writer is highly skilled. I think that when in doubt quality has to be the most important consideration, motives second. You simply cannot read people’s minds.
    .-= Erik Hare´s last blog ..Ode to Twitter =-.

  3. Tammi Kibler Avatar

    “Journalism” these days is muddied not just by the television networks that are increasingly focused on entertaining the audience so they stick around and view the commercials but also by the bloggerverse where opinions are dispensed liberally with the news and reviews.

    The mistake was to have ever been complacent and accepted as indisputable fact what you read or see or hear from a single source. Editorial decisions have always been made about what is worth reporting and whose opinions have value. In your example, just because the article was written by a competitor didn’t mean that his was not a valid point of view. A “fair and balanced” report on the superstore, if it didn’t consider the impact on the local economy of the superstore taking money out of state, would not have been any more fair and balanced.

    At the end of the day one should be seeking information from a variety of sources before passing judgment. Perhaps the greatest danger on the internet comes with the proliferation of 500 word articles churned out in less than an hour that our children are accepting as resources for their education. At times writers are just recycling opinions as fact without taking the time to do in depth research and weigh all sides. Finding fifteen internet articles that all say the same thing doesn’t prove anything when it’s possible they all drew from the same faulty source.

    In the end many of these articles are also about “entertaining” long enough to get the advertising viewed.

    Ugh, now I’m in a slightly self-loathing place and I need to write my way out.

    Thanks for a thought provoking piece, Deb.
    .-= Tammi Kibler´s last blog ..Self Brand Tips for Writers Crafting Their Personal Brand =-.

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