Digital Media and the Erosion of Journalism

There’s no good way for me to introduce this piece, so I’m basically just going to scream at you.  I mean, there’s no point in lying.  This isn’t a fist-wagglin’, get off my lawn sort of curmudgeon discourse, it’s actually a pretty serious thing.  So pay attention, ok?  Keep hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.

I realize that being a young Journo from a family that included a Journo from a Golden Age of Journalism gave me a bit of a skewed perspective on what journalists should and should not do.  But, OMGYOUGUYSES, the news has gone crazy and also a bit stupid.

Let me explain.

Journalistic Practices Circa the Pre-Digital Age

There was a time, so long ago now, when news stories were a means of driving subscriptions and thus, advertisers, to a paper-format publication.  It might be a weekly news magazine, or a daily newspaper, but the general public considered these the sources of Truth and Intelligent Commentary.  Of course, there were fringe publications, but they weren’t where the majority of people got their news.  Back then, sensational headlines were frowned upon.  Instead you were encouraged to craft headlines that were interesting and informative, so the reader could decide for themselves if they wanted to read on.

For example, my student paper covered a really serious tornado in our town, as well as the community’s response.  Our headline?  “Damn the Tornadoes — Full Speed Ahead!”  That was the most sensational headline I was ever involved with pre-Internet.  Today, you have too many “news” outlets (and some truly legit ones) that essentially trick people into clicking in order to fluff up their numbers for the purpose of extracting more money from their advertisers.

Another thing Journalists used to do, funnily enough, was their own research.  *pauses to launch hysterically*  I use a news aggregator to get a view of the day’s events, as well as the general chatter in a number of industries, and I gotta say, I am so genuinely disappointed in what claims to be original reporting.  One site will break a story and the rest rush to issue THE SAME STORY BASED ON THAT FIRST STORY’S INFORMATION.  I don’t have the words for how frustrating I find this practice.

What happened to like, I dunno, calling sources, looking shit up yourself, fact-checking and so forth?  A breaking story these days is rarely accurate or complete, even when it comes to local news.  Everyone’s in such a Goddamn hurry to get the news out, they don’t bother to wonder if they’re writing good news.  Much of what we get today isn’t much more than the Internet Age equivalent of the older folks in the neighborhood gossiping and speculating on what’s going on down the block with that ambulance.

To compound this problem, we as an audience have gotten really fucking stupid.

Let me type that again, because it felt so good.  You, the reader, are a bloody idiot.

Three times just seems like an insult to your intelligence, but then again….

We allow these once prestigious news outlets to continue with sloppy reporting and too-hurried news stories that require considerable backpedaling or further explanation in order to correct.  We reward BobsNewsSite.com (not a real site) for reporting that leaves more questions than answers by clicking on his fucking Click Bait headline.   We have created this dumbing down of the industry as a whole, and now we’re freaking out because “fake news.”

I’ve seen these fake news sites.  Most have some tiny bit of truth to them, but they’re not staffed by old school journalists who actually care about content quality.  They purposefully take things out of context, they get readers worked up, and all for increased ad spend.  These guys, as much as anyone, are feeding the increasing factionalization of America.

But you’re doing it, too.  I am not letting you off the hook here.  You keep feeding the fucking fake news and the sloppy news and the fucking wrong news and struggling outlets hire kids right out of school to break the biggest stories… it’s a terrible cycle that has to stop.  But WE can stop this.  We can find a way to bridge these gaps.

1. Fact Check Everything.  Don’t be lazy.  If you’re going to post to Facebook, make sure what you’re reading is actually right.  Even highly prestigious publications like the Washington Post or New York Times have been known to rush a story to social media before it was fully formed.

2. Learn to Identify ClickBait.  If there’s a headline, any headline, that implies there’s gonna be a shocking reveal once you click, FFS, STOP YOURSELF.  Even clicking is feeding these parasites, don’t click! If you can’t trust your own judgement, install a tool like BS Detector, which will help you figure out which is which.  I actually use this tool because there are so fucking many things on social media that I need to debunk on a regular basis and it makes my life easier.

3. Support Your Media Outlets.  Hey, did you know you can subscribe to digital media?  Yep, you sure can.  If you read the local paper daily online, why not support them with a subscription?  Digital TIME Magazine reader?  Check out that subscription thingy.  Maybe it’s not always necessary, but it’s right.  Stand up for real news with your dollar.

I could literally write a book about how low the bar has fallen for reporting in this day and age, including but not limited to fake news sites, but I have other stuff to do today.  And although I despise news outlets with obvious biases, they’re far less disgusting than those that abandon the truth entirely.  I don’t recommend you support those guys, either — after all, Journos are supposed to be neutral observers — but at least some of them still bother to do news.

Be a better person.  Do news right.  Don’t feed misinformation and paranoia in these confusing times.  Fact-check.  This is my moral imperative to you.  Hold news outlets accountable for shit reporting by refusing to feed them.  Reward responsible journalism with subscriptions and clicks.