Ushering in the “Post-Truth Era”
“A year unlike any other.”
The phrase has appeared in countless news reports since the pandemic kicked in. Also: “Out of an abundance of caution.” And, of course, the new old standby which, by now, you are no doubt tired of hearing: “The new normal.”
Yet, as the lights dim on 2020, we’re already faced with what, unfortunately, maybe the dominant phrase for most, if not all, of 2021: The “post-truth era.”
It’s hard to push politics aside these days, given it’s at the top of every news cycle, no matter the subject: The election. The pandemic. The economy. Puerto Rico struggling to exist. California burning down. Racism on the rise.
To be fair, it’s not entirely the media’s fault that our lives and our thoughts have become so compartmentalized. Technology has turned us into a visual society: We respond to what we see, which is what makes the red-state-blue-state mapping system so easily digestible, yet enormously powerful.
And life throughout 2020 has been nothing but a series of compartments, hasn’t it? The only discernable difference between compartments seems to be the level of stress each contains. Reminders that “we’re in this together” offer little comfort when you find yourself stuck in the compartment labeled “survival.”
Interestingly, our response to all of this finds us adding even more compartments: We’re morphing our homes into our own individual ecosystems, designed for 24/7 living, working, and working out. We’re going bigger even when we have nothing to contain. How very American.
And that brings us back to the state of the news media and the wild ride it’s taken with the English language. From the introduction to “alternative facts” way back in 2017, to “fake news” being used to disassociate oneself from anything objectionable, the newsfeed of 2020 was too often a barrage of empty content. Sure, the public has an insatiable appetite for news. But in the media’s quest to fill that hunger, it sorta lost sight of what news actually is.
To fill the time, rumors became full-fledged news reports. Random tweets became front-page news. The chase to keep up and stay current meant no one actually gave much thought to what was being produced, as long as something was produced. A series of empty containers, if you will.
Astute media watchers have repeatedly pointed out that in 2020, the truth as reported by quality news outlets is often hidden behind a paywall, yet lies are free and widely available to everyone. It’s a dangerous divide, to be sure. The “post-truth era” brings new challenges to the best of the news media.
To bridge a divided America, much attention needs to be given to the fundamentals of news reporting. Investing in people, not just technology, needs to become a priority. Because when it comes to the public conversation, what America is discussing around the dinner table needs to be decided by those with a moral compass, not advanced algorithms.