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The King of Pop's death generates both news and speculation. StinkyJournalism asks: When news outlets headlines speculate, are they reporting or making news? (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

With wall to wall news stories about pop legend Michael Jackson’s death, MSNBC and CNN News still feel the need to speculate what will happen in the future instead of just reporting the facts.

One MSNBC headline states, (emphasis mine) “Jackson’s merchandise sales could eclipse those of Presley or Monroe.” Another says,”Settling Jackson’s estate could be a thriller” speculating that there may be a fight with no evidence that one exists.

The CNN News headline? (Emphasis mine) “Battles over Jackson’s kids, assets may loom.” The CNN “story highlights” speculate “She [biological mom] may be considered to take over custody for her two kids with Jackson.”

The New York Daily News headline even speculates about history– as if knowable facts were not enough for a Daily News story. The Daily News print headline? (Emphasis mine) “History may never erase charges he molested children”

Notably, no news headline guesses that “There may be no fight” or “Everyone could get along for sake of the Jackson kids.”

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Nope. The “may be” and “could be” news reports are usually negative, or at least, turn out that way when the media offers false hope as in the case of John  Barnes. Without simply waiting for FBI DNA test results, the media went ahead and speculated that Barnes may be the the toddler victim kidnapped 55 years ago in New York. NBC Today Show interviewed Barnes and victim’s family members one morning. By that night, the DNA test reveals that he was not the missing toddler– to the disappointment and embarrassment of many, including the public who followed the non-news.

News outlets’ speculations of “what could or may be” are not published in a vacuum. Instead of reporting known facts, such news is a way of generating extra broadcast minutes or inches of copy. It is not even considered opinion, which, of course, it is, for such speculations are guesswork done by people spinning ideas from inside their heads– not recording known facts which is the essence of journalism.

StinkyJournalism’s view? Speculation belongs on opinion pages and not in the headlines of news stories.

UPDATE: 09/14/2011 7:47 PM EST: Fixed headline.

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Are CNN & MSNBC Reporting or Making News About Michael Jackson’s Estate?

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