A New Era for Journalism May Begin Now
The Inaugural speech by President Joe Biden is being hailed by the media as one of the best of such speeches ever — not only for its wording and its tone but for being on point with public sentiment.
The majority of what the headlines bring to us boils down the speech to two sound bites: the beginning of “democracy’s day” and the ending of the “uncivil war.”
Let’s explore something else: The underlying message of the need for truth.
“And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
Just like that, a door opened to what ultimately may become known as a new era in journalism.
Why? Because communication and the style of communication is the biggest single factor in determining the authenticity of a brand. In this case, America just underwent a rebranding by its new CEO. The trickle-down effect of that reaches deep into every level: the news media, government employees, businesses, teachers, neighbors, citizens. The expectation places a stress on those coloring outside the lines, resulting in less tolerance for information from sources not deemed credible or simply unknown.
That should set the stage for quality journalism to flourish, but not so fast: This comes at a time when the majority of Americans, according to a new poll by the Knight Foundation, which finds 68 percent of Americans feel the news media is failing in its role to provide objective news.
First up, let’s hope we’ve hit rock bottom on this front. But in fairness to the news media, let’s also look at some of the factors at play. We’d be remiss not to start at the bottom of the iceberg by bringing up the biggest fact: People like to travel the route of least resistance. It’s easier to turn on TV news than read a newspaper — one activity is passive, the other, active. Passive is always easier, isn’t it? People prefer to be provided an answer, than to have to do research. Again, that passive thing wins the day. But answers are generally found in opinion pieces, columns, advocacy journalism, partisan-driven news, propaganda and spin — not objective journalism, which requires some time to contemplate the facts and come up with our own answers.
Playing to the lowest common denominator is also a hallmark of something which masquerades as journalism: Building a news outlet to tell a specific audience exactly what it wants to hear is the result. Is that news, or is that propaganda? Ponder that. It’s a mental exercise akin to eating your vegetables, I know. But there’s a reason you should step back and reassess what you put into your mind: What you believe is what you become.
Today’s news media is guilty of the following, which are not hallmarks, but rather just the mundane workings of current industry conditions since the bottom dropped out on advertising, and the news media struggles to pay its own bills: In response to those conditions, experienced reporters — those you have grown to trust — are let go, eroding your trust in a news outlet. Copy editors are eliminated, research librarians go, too, which means the news you are getting becomes vague on facts, lacking context and perspective. People on the business side don’t notice, because words and pictures are still filling space, and that’s pretty much all the business set notices. To fill the void, inexperienced reporters are tossed out into the field, working without needed supervision or prerequisite training. (Once upon a time, the news ecosystem started with local reporters learning how to cover stories, check facts and develop sources. Those local folks were regarded as the farm team for bigger or national news outlets, and it was a natural career progression to go from local to national. But today’s ecosystem is broken. Things no longer work this way.)
“There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit.”
Despite the challenges — current indicators show that journalism is in for another tough year — there is now an ideal that has been given to us, one that has not existed in recent years. A call for truth. It’s a concept that had been the promise of the early years of social media, a place to level the playing field, to end disenfranchisement, so that all voices may be heard. But something happened along the way, didn’t it? Social amped up the uncivil, introduced the fake and perpetuated the false.
The evolution of the news ecosystem as we know it today gives us news outlets and social media, side by side. That means we all play a role in enabling and upholding the news media to be of the standard we claim we want it be. A call for truth provides the first step in making that possible.
The call for truth also clarifies the vital role the news media plays in American society. That role is something younger generations have never known, and older Americans have forgotten.
Let’s get to work.