Journalism: leading us further from the truth

“Journalism has become a mechanism to generate traffic and profit while fair, thorough, informed, 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, in public debates on a range of policy matters (immigration, education, healthcare, tax policy, etc.) we are engaged in a pitch battle with a deadly seriousness that is hindering our ability to find a way forward. Further to this, we now almost knowingly trade on half-truths 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.

Journalism is intended to help us adjudicate and process public dialogue. This function is meant to fairly inform and to lift the 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 joined this rather chaotic public discourse underway through social media as a part of the problem, not of the solution. Much journalism appears to be leading us further away from the truth, rather than toward it.  

The condition of brittle and divisive public dialogue is exacerbated by the revenue and metric models used by the media to measure their 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, funded by someone with an ideological agenda.  The outcome of this that fairness, nuance and thoroughness are sacrificed for “hits” and “engagement”.  They have learned that human attention is better held by headlines which trigger emotive responses and therefore gain attention and social media sharing. Complexity and fairness cannot be a part of such things.  Further to this, almost all journalists under 30 have grown up in a social media world and actively curate a persona which plays into this medium to gain followers rather than work to uncover the complexity of the truth. When facts arise which do not fit the narrative of their story, they are simply discarded rather than causing them to examine whether ether narrative is correct.

We may have now reached the point where we may no longer trust the media to inform the public.  In that sense, the healthy functioning of our political system is being sacrificed to corporate profit motives and its derivative metrics. Ironically, the media corporations who operate on the same profit motive, regularly come down against other corporations while hoping their audiences don’t notice their own culpability, bias and motives. That is why, regardless of your political stripes, many people recognize enough truth to the Trump claims that media outlets are “fake news”.  This claim only stings because there is enough truth to make it hurt and because the staff of CBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox know how little research is done before they take to their airwaves with prognostications.  I know a journalist who has told me 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 journalistic profession. Journalism has become a mechanism to generate traffic and profit while fair, thorough, informed, considered and balanced reporting has largely disappeared.

Further evidence? We can observe 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 makes one question the entire journalistic enterprise. 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 understand it.  

Its noble aims have been subsumed to the crass desire to get attention….