That’s only partial hyperbole.
When major news outlets release incorrect information in a rush to be the first to break a story, when wild speculation is considered an acceptable way to fill time spent waiting for the facts to come in, and when a 24-hour “news” network allocates nearly every minute of a year’s worth of programming to cover one political figure — and with unapologetic disregard for a world’s worth of actual news happening daily — , something is broken.
Talking heads on cable news no longer even pretend to be professionally objective. Or objectively professional. They read copy not with the measured cadence that lends itself to credibility, but with exaggerated and connotative emphasis. Many MSNBC commentators literally (in the true definition of the word) shout their monologues at the viewing audience.
Be first. Be loud. Get ratings. Worry later about being right.
It’s hard to blame Katie Way and Babe dot net entirely for their recent reckless and irresponsible decision to release a story that needlessly threatened a public figure’s career and reputation.
After all, this is the world we’ve created. This is the “new normal” we’ve either enthusiastically encouraged or resigned ourselves to accept.
Ever since the rise of Kim Kardashian’s star proved that visibility, more than anything else, is the pinnacle of achievement, the goal has been clear: No Matter What, for Good or for Bad, Get Noticed.
And for Bad seems to be winning.
Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, dubbed a “professional troll” by the Guardian, cultivated enough of an audience to get him a book deal with Simon & Schuster. (Simon & Schuster pulled out, but don’t worry — Yiannopoulos self-published and still made the New York Times best seller list.) One man was so successfully despicable that we (“we”) elected him to occupy the White House. Ann Coulter has found wealth and publication and a voice on national television simply by saying or writing things that are, by most standards, cruel, hateful, divisive, dismissive, and rude.
Not to mention stupid:
“It would be a much better world if women did not vote.” — Ann Coulter
And, finally, Sarah Palin & Rush Limbaugh.
We have only ourselves to blame.
And it’s no different in the world of the smalls. Our current nobody-special social media climate is one in which a person commands respect if s/he has a big enough following to qualify as an “influencer.” How the followers are amassed is irrelevant, and experience and expertise are secondary to how many social media users you either have yourself or can help someone else reach.
Kim Kardashian has been characterized as someone who is “famous for being famous.” That’s equally true of a social media influencer who otherwise has no claim to fame. It’s equally true of a news organization using base-bait commentary to draw ratings.
It’s not about educating, illuminating, advancing, or connecting. It’s ratings. Clicks. Comments. Likes. Hearts. Re-tweets. Shares.
Attention at any cost. And we’re happy to provide that attention.
According to a 2016 report by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans in 2016 were getting their news from TV (local and night time news, but also cable networks, where one finds the likes of Fox “News” and MSNBC’s marathon Trump Show). In 2016, 18 percent were getting their news from social media.
The story Katie Way wrote about a not atypical dating situation between a woman calling herself “Grace” and a well-known comedian, the story Babe dot net chose to release, was not a story any respectable journalist or publication would ever write or publish; yet, it spread so far and wide the conversation surrounding the story became the subject of a recent Saturday Night Live skit.
Our avid consumption of bad “news” threatens not only individual people and our collective awareness of what’s happening in the world, but our behavior, says Syracuse University political scientist Emily Thorson.
Misinformation that reaches a wide swath of society can have all sorts of downstream effects on attitudes and behavior. […] One strategy is to disincentivize people from making false statements in the first place.
In my novel The Age of the Child, set in the near-enough future, newspapers had finally choked to death and internet news had become so unreliable (and television news so ridiculous one of the protagonists refers to it as “base bait”) that the reading audience finally rejected all of it, leading to the revival of a single print publication: the Daily Fact.
“Our sole source of objective, reliable information,” [Millie’s] mother had lectured many times. “Before the Daily Fact restored the abandoned press on Progress Drive, there were so many citizen journalists flinging their contributions at ‘reputable’ online publications that no one knew who was an actual journalist and who was a so-called self-taught blogger permitted by editors — ‘editors’ — to fill the internet with unsourced, utterly biased commentary. If not for the boycott and the demand for at least one professional press willing to return to paper (even at the expense of such a thing) in order to leave no possible avenue for the publication of unvetted material, who knows to what level our ignorance, and our intentionally and maliciously stoked anger, would have climbed?” Etcetera.
We haven’t quite seen the last breath of the reliable newspaper, yet, though many newspapers — including the one I used to write for — are indisputably having a hard time. But we are without a doubt experiencing the consequences of sloppy, damaging, click-bait “news.”
PBS blames click-bait for the decline in real journalism, claiming the digital culture is “driving journalistic deviance downward,” but we, the news-collecting public, click on the click-bait. It wouldn’t continue to thrive if it didn’t have an audience, and we, the audience, have communicated that we care little about professional, respectable journalism. Instead, we’re content to stare, our mouths agape and our tongues hanging out, at the easiest-to-spot rising star in whatever shape or form it glimmers.
And then we complain about a “decline in journalism.”
But there’s still a lot of good journalism. It’s everywhere — the real newspapers provide online content — but it will only survive, its journalists will only be paid, if more of us give it our attention.
Paul Glader, associate professor of journalism, media and entrepreneurship at The King’s College in New York City, writes in Forbes that now is a better time than ever to reconsider where we get our news.
In the post-post truth age (that is, an age where one has to work hard to be media literate and find the truthful sources of information), citizens should support local and regional publications that hew to ethical journalism standards and cover local government entities.
(He goes on to list the top 10 reliable media sources, along with the runners-up.)
We are the deciders of what gets read, watched, shared.
I think we can make better decisions.