The Truth by Terry Pratchett
"A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on."
For better or worse, journalism has come to the Disc. Mr. William de Worde, the younger son in a wealthy family, has decided to walk away from the riches and schemes of his family and find his own way in the world. As a man of words he earns his keep by writing letters for those who stumble over even the simplest sentence, as well as by writing a monthly newsletter to various eminent others around the Disc. When the dwarves find a way to make gold from lead, in the form of a printing press, William finds himself the head of a fledgling publishing company. The story of how journalism can impact a world, or fail to, is told as only Terry Pratchett can do it.
Its funny how William, simple man that he is, fails to understand people and news. At first his concern is that there wouldn't be enough interesting happenings to fill up a page. He soon learns that the trick isn't finding enough, it's trimming it down to fit! From stories like who won first place in the flower show and a farmer with humorously shaped vegetables, the stories soon grow too large to be ignored when the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, is accused of attacking his Secretary, Drumknott, and trying to run off with gold from the treasury. But William learns quickly about what his readers consider to be important, especially when a rival news paper opens, run by the highly-suspect Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler.
It seems that both newspapers are popular around the evening dinner table, but only one is really esteemed, and its not Williams. As the ever increasingly sensationalized stories become the focus, Williams frustration increases. It doesn't help that he's hot on the story of the year, Who Framed The Patrician, and no one seems to care. As William gets closer to the truth, the New Firm, a pair of criminals with access to a Patrician-look-alike, start leaning harder and harder on the new paper. It'll take all William's wit, and the help of the dwarves and a vampire photographer, to stay on top of the truth.
One of the rare independent Ankh-Morpork stories, The Truth is one of the first in a loose series of stories that explores the residents of the city, beyond the City Watch and Unseen University. The introduction of William de Worde and Sacharissa Cripslock open up great options in future books, a counter point for the Patrician and Sam Vimes. It's great fun watching as those two learn the power that one person wielding a pen can muster. The introduction of Otto Chriek, a vampire photographer from the old world, makes for some good comic relief, but also allows Mr. Pratchett to explore other areas such as race and discrimination. The interactions between William and Otto highlight the way in which people raised in racist households have a challenging time changing their mindset and may find they still treat people differently, even with the best intentions.
The main theme of the story, obviously, is journalism and the impact it has on our lives. People are very interested in reading what William writes, even if he himself doesn't feel it is important. As the dwarfs point out, people love to see their name in a paper. We also love to read about things we think might be true, even if we don't really believe it, any thing that might confirm our own beliefs. The way in which the Ankh-Morpork Inquirer is able to sell huge numbers of papers by making up wildly outrageous stories is something that William should have seen coming. And it's a sad reflection on our own society. Especially in the internet age, people seem to believe what ever they're told. Yes, Elvis is still alive. Yes, aliens control our society. No, man never landed on the moon. People are gullible, and we look for anything that will support what we think we know.
We like to think that the news is truthful and honest, or perhaps fair and balanced. But Sacharissa summed it up perfectly. "This is a newspaper, isn't it? It just has to be true until tomorrow." As any editor will tell you, we can always run a correction.
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