Philosophy of Journalism: Humble Beginnings in Brute-Forcing Truth
Ultimately, in the U.S. and likely everywhere, the major press bodies have, like the banks, become too big too fail. One becomes a major entity on their credibility, their bankroll, or degrees of both. Credibility can’t be scored on an individual basis — on an author or a publication — it’s a phenomenon that happens over time. Once credibility is attained, however, it logically becomes a target to manipulate. For good or bad, people want other people to hear their message or opinion. Since one is more likely to read something they believe true (or believe others believe is true), and given that people read certain publications seeking to “be informed” and being informed by falsehoods is a backwards way of going about it, the perceived credible establishment is the most optimal way of transmitting your message.
Although it creates a dilemma, the establishment of credibility in an individual’s mind, by and large, takes place by way of a definitive moment, and not over time. It’s a sudden realization. Usually, it’s a major shock or paradigm-shift that a piece creates within an individual that causes the recognition of trustworthiness. Colorfully communicating a message enhances the chances of this happening. This, unfortunately, because people are smart, creates “Gotcha!” conditions to invent, protect, or help along stories that aren’t factually complete, if at all. To establish credibility, you first need attention. Unless you are operating in a vacuum, you must compete.
Most of us only have time to award a few entities our attention…so, the complex question is to be directed to both sides. As publishers, how do you dutifully tell the truth (A true journalist ought to feel this hunger for truth. I have it, and feel it very strongly, although I can’t yet explain why I’m so compelled)and still compete if and when there aren’t major and defiant stories to break? And as readers, how do we merit credibility by taking a look at the whole story if it’s never available, and psychologically, our tendencies are to be drawn towards the definitive moments? I think I have the answer…
Around 2010, I had what I thought was the most profound realization: That people couldn’t possibly begin to govern as long as they were consuming different sets of facts. There is no stable foundation for agreement, and thus, none for collectivism or unification. I was determined to fix this.
I quit my job and dove back into building websites, something I’d tinkered with my freshman year of college, building an Anna Kournikova fanboy site. This was 1999. In many senses, it was last century. Although in most respects, I haven’t improved much since then, I came up with Things Relevant.
Fast forward to now. I’ve had a few more moments of clarity. One of them was that this loss-of-objective-truth-panicked-illumination being original was certainly immature. A lot of people working in journalism had already moved beyond that. Some have been working to fix or improve societal knowledge in incremental ways. Some just work the system. Most do the job without thinking about these “truth impacts,” for benefit or detriment. Many can’t afford to worry about it.
Over the years, I continued working on my idea. “Fake news” became a thing. Many great ideas have sprung up as patches to these “falsehood leaks,” but I have been working from a different angle. I believe you need “brute force” the truth out. There are way too many leaks…that ship has sunk. Rescue the cargo and build a new ship.
The iteration of my idea, Things Relevant, is to now collect and organize facts in a meaningful way. It sounds like Wikipedia, but the abstraction is different. I want to put the onus on the publishers and writers of information, as opposed to unnamed volunteers collecting, submitting, and editing bits of information. I want all the information catalogued. Transparency is the key element. Journalists and publishers need to organize and start telling the whole truth. The truth is usually not alarmist, eye-catching, or partisan. But you can still make money — as long as you organize.
So, on the small-scale, I collect and critique articles. On the large-scale, I am trying to organize the publishers into sharing and formatting their data in a way that enables others to organize information in a way that makes research much easier. From that I and many others will be able to build tools that will improve transparency. And, recently, I’ve had the great fortune to be given the opportunity to work as a journalist. I can practice what I preach. And guess what? It’s not that easy.
The fourth-estate is a concept that works sectionally, nationally, and could even work globally. Governments/Nationalists/Hegemonists are generally the people the fourth-estate are keeping in check. But I would argue that it’s now time for the fourth-estate to have a fourth-estate. Wikileaks claimed the Fifth-estate, so, Fourth-estate²? I don’t know. But it requires organization and transparency. Journalism needs to be audited.
So, what I will be writing about at Medium are the journeys of my own work in journalism and my theoretical ruminations on solutions. Probably some apologies as well. I’ve already had problems arise, and they certainly aren’t ascertainable from the material that is written. And that means that my experiment with Things Relevant can’t possibly be complete…but the ideas is to make these transparencies I will describe and make available the standard.