A tried, true and irrepressible journalistic contrivance to pull media consumers into a story is the widely played conflict card. And by conflict I mean of any kind — two nations in opposition, or two politicians, two ideas, two religions, two siblings; two of anything with strongly differing goals.
Theater, films, novels, opera and other story-telling forms have their own conflict cards, of course. It's the stuff of drama. But since this is a journalism blog we’ll put those others aside for now.
Conflict grabs attention, enabling us to relate to news stories. Pick a side and you’re emotionally engaged and providing your own backstory, beyond what’s been reported. We all succumb.
The problem is that journalists -- brace yourself because the following words will likely rock your understanding of how journalism is practiced -- often overplay the conflict card, molding mountains from molehills, trying to breathe life into a conflict that’s already been largely settled.
Shocking, isn't it? Why would journalists do that?
Well, how about because we need a hook and we’ve got nothing better? Or because we believe its what an editor and the news consuming public expects? It's our programmed default.
Sometimes it’s done because a reporter is working off assumptions that no longer apply, confusing past with present.
Take the following New York Times story from the Philippines that strives in its lede to portray a hot conflict between the Roman Catholic Church’s historic teachings and influence, and the nation’s widespread contemporary acceptance of homosexuality and alternative gender identities.
It's not a badly constructed story, in my opinion. Opponents and proponents get their say. However, the story is undercut by it's attempt to give oxygen to a conflict that seems largely settled.