“Journalism has become a mechanism to generate traffic and profit while fair, thorough, informed, considered and balanced reporting has largely disappeared. “
There is something deeply disturbing about the spirit of the age today around “offence” and “retribution” and how these attitudes are shaping our public discourse. Discussion about critical political and public policy matters has taken on a brittle and deadly serious nature that is not helpful to any side on any issue. Being deadly serious and grace-less has its place on matters that require it. Pure evil in its distilled and most shocking forms requires such attitudes and steely resolve and we must indeed reserve such a mentality for (only) such battles. With this said, on many debates now underway in public on a range of policy matters (immigration, education, healthcare, tax policy, etc.), we are using this steely and deadly seriousness when a more graceful disposition would better help us. Further to this, we are also now regularly trading on half-truths and incomplete factual accounts with just enough “truth content” to batter our opponents, while refusing to acknowledge the body of truth that the other side brings to the table.
This brings me to the topic of this article – that of “journalism”. This function is meant to fairly inform and to lift this coarse public discourse by way of fuller information and balanced presentation. But this noble profession seems deeply impaired and unable to perform in this modality. Journalism has now joined this rather chaotic public discourse underway through social media often as a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. Much of journalism is leading us further away from the truth, rather than towards it. The use of half-truths to support our own positions is somewhat understandable for individuals in a social media world. But we are taught to expect better of our journalists.
The condition of brittle and divisive public dialogue is exacerbated by the revenue and metric models used by our media to measure their own survival and success. In the back rooms of such information-factories, poor decisions are being made because the enterprise in question is a profit-driven and metrics-measured organization often, today, run by someone with a political or ideological agenda. The outcome of using such information delivery frameworks to generate headlines is that complexity, nuance and patience are sacrificed for “hits” and “engagement”. Media outlets want our attention, and they will do almost anything to get it. Attention is better held by hard-edged positions that resonate emotionally. Complexity and fairness cannot be a part of such things. Further to this, I will argue that many journalists today under 30 or so have grown up in a social media world and play into this medium rather than work against its tendencies to truncate the truth, over-simplify and vilify.
So have we reached the point where we cannot trust the media to inform the public fairly and therefore risk damage to our democracy? That is, can it be that the healthy functioning of our political system is being sacrificed to corporate profit motives and its derivative metrics? Indeed, it is not only possible, but it is happening before our very eyes. I, and many people I know, no longer see the media as an imperfect yet largely balanced mirror of information under the tutelage of wise adults. That is why, regardless of your political stripes, many people recognize enough truth to Trump claims that the large media outlets are “fake news”. This claim only stings so much because there is enough truth to make it hurt and because the staff of CBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox, etc. know how decisions are made and how little actual research is done before they take to their airwaves with their prognostications. I can name a journalist who has told me offline that he ended up on a list of “experts” for the media almost by happenstance. He now gets the call after a news item to prognosticate on a particular matter. He admits that he knows no more than the average person on this topic, but is happy to take their money and have the attention drive traffic for his book sales! This is one of the many dirty little secrets of the journalist. Journalism has become a mechanism to generate traffic and profit while fair, thorough, informed, considered and balanced reporting has largely disappeared.
Further evidence? I can name a number of high-profile “journalists” (what does that even mean anymore…) who on their Facebook or Twitter feeds regularly signal their political stripes by way of sharing opinions or comments which make me question what the entire journalistic enterprise means anymore. What is the academic pursuit of journalism teaching? What happened to the better angels behind the idea of journalistic integrity? Those companies now growing and hiring are actually setting the table for a very different sort of feast – whatever it is, it is not journalism as we theoretically understand it. Its noble aims have been subsumed to the crass desire to get attention….
Part II…what can be done ??