Overcoming reliance on the hook

By Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 4/26/24

In this From the Mound, the writer examines how journalists can counter anti-media narratives with accessibility

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Overcoming reliance on the hook


“But I’ve said nothing so far
And I can keep it up for as long as it takes
And it don’t matter who you are
If I’m doing my job, it’s your resolve that breaks”
“Hook” — Blues Traveler

Blues Traveler exploded onto the music scene in 1994 with its album “Four,” which shot up into the top ten albums in the country, finishing 1995 as the 29th-ranked album in the Billboard 200, then appearing again on the chart in 1996 at No. 35. In all, the album has been certified platinum six times with more than six million albums sold.

The group had been performing for just short of a decade, however outside of the single “But Anyway” from their first album, they’d never reached a national audience before “Four,” which was, fittingly, the band’s fourth album. The opening track on the album, “Run Around,” hit huge on radio airplay, with “Hook” finding the most success with radio beyond the first single.

The lyrics of “Hook” are really satire aimed at the listener. They discuss how a “hook” of a song, the crescendoed climax of a build within the song, can overcome the actual content within. The song’s writer asks the question throughout the song…why make an effort to write meaningful lyrics when you’ll play music over and over based simply on one moment in the song?

Not really paying attention to the true content is not exclusive to humans and certainly not exclusive to music.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone either.

We want to believe that we can understand someone’s intent through their vocal tone. A simple test with a baby can show exactly that.

If you speak in a calm and joyful tone to a baby, you can speak terrible words to the baby and they will coo and squirm in a happy manner. However, you can use words of love and praise but state them in a harsh and angry tone, and the baby will recoil and likely even cry.

Musicians have learned this tool and capitalized for ages on delivering tough messages in lyrics of a song with a strong hook that gets people to sing along. Of course, plenty of musicians have also used the power of a strong hook in order to get people singing about faux pas topics in broad daylight as well!

For many years, journalism was one of those areas that Americans could trust to provide not just the words of information but also not to provide them with a tenor that attempted to sway the reader - at least outside the Opinion page, where, irony of ironies, this article is published to advocate for the historical integrity of the rest of the paper.

We relied on our print, radio, and television journalism to bring us verified news that simply presented the facts with no leaning to sway your opinion on a story one way or another in the presentation of that story.

While there had always been an aspect of opinion or editorial journalism that was part of print, radio, and televised news prior, the launch of Cable News Network, commonly known as CNN, in 1980 changed the game.

With 24 hours of pure news to schedule, programmers found themselves coming up a bit short, which led to opinion-based programming becoming a mainstay of CNN and future 24/7 cable news channels. The difference, however, was that there was not an indication of the difference between the pure news and the opinion within the programming.

This page is specifically labeled as an Opinion/Commentary page and when evening newspeople previously wanted to inject an opinion piece on air, it was indicated as so and there was a definite dividing line between where the news ended and opinion began.

The growth of media that did not divide what was straight news and what was opinion has exploded since, with hundreds of sources to provide the “news” with the slant that your particular worldview desires. The Epoch Times, OAN and Infowars on the far right are countered by Jezebel, The New Abnormal, and The Grayzone on the far left.

I’ve written about the site before, but Ad Fontes Media puts together an extensive list on media bias, with political bias on one axis and news vs. opinion on the other axis. Presently, the Wall Street Journal’s podcast, “The Journal,” is rated with the most news reliability and nearly perfectly straddling the middle of the political bias chart. Granted, the focus of that particular podcast is primarily financial news, but it is an excellent podcast that delivers things very straight without lean in the reporting.

A large amount of national news programs tend to rank very high in news reliability and are within the first standard deviation from the median, but you wouldn’t guess that by the way most people respond to media.

The proliferation of people from the edges screaming that news sources in the middle are biased or “fake news” has propagated into a very common sentiment among all segments of the population.

In fact, a Gallop poll that was released last fall cited that those who have either a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in mass media has shifted from around 70% just before Watergate broke - a seminal moment in the country’s overall trust of its institutions - to 32%, the lowest that has been seen in the 50-year history of Gallop doing the poll.

Beyond just that rating, those who state that they have no confidence at all are at their highest, 39% of all respondents. When the poll began, those who would answer with no confidence were around seven percent.

A good argument could be made that the lack of trust has to do with how Americans are getting their news. A Pew Research Center poll in 2023 found that nearly 60% of respondents say that digital media is their primary source of news information.

Television is the primary source for 27% of respondents, while radio and print come in at six and five percent, respectively.

When you combine the polling data, there’s an interesting correlation to be made. Those who are 65+ respond with the highest percentage of print media being the primary source of news (including digital forms of print media), and that age group also has nearly twice the trust in mass media than the median.

On the flip side, those who are 18-29 have single-digit percentages in television, radio, and print for news sources, with 83% stating that digital sources are their primary source of news. That age bracket also sources social media the highest for news among digital options and has the least amount of trust of mass media, with nearly 45% of all respondents in the age bracket stating no faith in mass media.

For my fellow journalists, what is there to do to ensure accurate news is sourced and our work is valued going forward?

The biggest positive that came out of reviewing these two polls is that even with digital now taking more than half of the eyes as a primary news source when all age demographics are combined, the primary source that is used digitally is news websites or apps.

Even with a digital world being the driver of news, people WANT to get their news from a trusted source, and when asked, local news sources ranked highest among trust factors across demographics.

That would make it imperative for all news sources that want to survive moving forward to emphasize the development of their digital presence, whether that be an incredibly intuitive and easily navigatable website for users, a similarly easily understood app for phones and tablets, or best yet, both.

We live in a world where those who are saying things with the right hook are drawing the eyeballs, so let’s match the hook - and offer real journalism as well.