Dear news media: We need depth and context

And please, listen to your audience.

You failed. BIG TIME. And because you failed, it has left me and my friends hanging to dry.

Now before I roast y’all, I have to give props. My media consumption today is at an all-time high. The world I live in is buzzing with more content than one single person could ever enjoy. Since the spread of the internet, specifically through hardware such as mobile phones and laptops, content is being created, shared and talked about constantly. I love that in this time period I can learn anything I want to learn, I can be entertained and I can share and connect with anybody around the world who has access to the internet. These are all great things but…

It’s 2017, and it’s time to face the reality that our world is changing. That means you need to change too. I don’t think you guys realize how badly our relationship has been suffering. At this point I don’t even trust you, and it’s not because of fake news. The way you practice your profession has been getting you by and that’s fine. But I wish you would listen to us more, and it feels like you don’t even care 😢.

In my opinion, when media is better, the world is better. My passion is in the media industry. I study business at USC (fight on!✌️), so I tend to look at the world from the business perspective. Here, though, I’m expressing my frustrations as a consumer. I’ve talked to friends my age, and I’ve talked to my 63-year-old grandmother. A common theme has emerged: We want to be informed. We want context. And the current media landscape isn’t effectively meeting those needs.

Lack of context

News outlets tend to speak as though you already know what they talking about. Sometimes it feels like they are talking down to you. Let’s talk about your coverage of certain stories like President Donald Trump recently lying about the murder rate in the United States. On Feb. 7, he said that the murder rate “is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” This story sparked controversy and led to many commentaries on behalf of many media outlets such as CNN, Fox News and The New York Times. Luckily I was able to learn about the news as soon as it happened, so I understood other content based on the story. When other outlets started to report in-depth on the issue, however, the subject got cloudy. Take this fact check from The Associated Press.

(AP, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!?!?!?)

There is no context. This is one of the first issues you, news media, need to fix.

Context is important because it allows me to make more informed decisions when interacting with people and the world around me. When there is no time taken on your part to frame the issue, we get confused as to what you are talking about. It’s like you guys are always in media res, and you never give us a place to start.

Before you say I am just speaking from a young perspective, know this is not a generational problem. My grandmother spends a lot of time watching CNN. Unfortunately, she feels anxious about whether she truly understands what is actually happening.

“I can’t remember the last time I felt like I could get a grasp on what is going on,” she said. “I spend a lot of time alone, and so I don’t get to talk to people about what is going on. So I watch CNN, and though I feel like I am getting the best perspective I can, I can’t help but feel like they don’t care to explain themselves.”

Whenever any of your outlets interact with us, it feels as though we are being talked down to. This plus the lack of context makes me feel like a middle schooler. It’s like being in sixth grade all over again, trying to make friends by sitting at a random table in the cafeteria. Little do you know you took a seat at not just the eighth-grader table, but the cool eighth-grader table. Unfortunately for you, as a sixth grader, you get laughed away from taking a seat. Defeated, you go sit alone. It’s your first time being lost in the world. With the media business conducts itself, it can feel like the cool eighth-grader table, leaving consumers lost in the world. Over and over and over again.

STOP REPORTING LIKE YOU ARE REPORTING FOR THE ANALYSTS THAT GAVE YOU YOUR SOURCES. IT ALIENATES US!

Lack of depth and understanding

I take a lot of time to understand the information that I get from the news media. This comes from an intrinsic desire to be informed. It’s not because content creators help break down stories they report. Though the internet has a breadth of information, there is a lack of depth. In my observation, this is caused by the business itself. Many news consumers, especially those who are my age, get news from social media. Part of the reason journalism is suffering is because the business model for journalism doesn’t support understanding. It’s no secret social media changed everything, but there are three things that really messed up understanding.

  1. Social media is a time saver because it filters what is “important” and what isn’t.
  2. Social media rewards popularity, not understanding, so more reach means more money.
  3. There is fierce competition for attention because news gets mixed in with pictures, videos and personal status updates from our friends.

These issues make the perfect storm for a lot of content to choose from but only surface-level discourse and understanding of an issue.

One of my friends, Kameron Hurt, beautifully points out one of the problems with this for news consumers who truly want to be informed.

“Social media was never built to show information, it was meant to talk about it,” he said. “I go to Twitter to see what people are saying, but I find that Twitter is just too noisy.”

To me, social media has, unfortunately, turned into another marketing vehicle rather than an information vehicle. When I’m on social platforms, it doesn’t feel like information has value. Instead, the currency is the level of attention a piece of content gets. In the media business, attention what makes money. To make money you need reach. So forget making the readers understand, just make sure they see it. I’m a business guy, I get it. The dollar is the bottom line. I just wish you guys would make media consumption meaningful. Right now most of you make it difficult.

There are at least two companies doing it right, though: BuzzFeed and Vox. BuzzFeed understands from the title to the final punctuation how to make their content valuable. It explains what is happening, and you feel good being there. With its explainers and features such as Card Stacks, Vox breaks down its reporting and gives you ways to understand what is being talked about. At the end of the day, that is something I and many of my fellow media consumers value.

Listen to your readers

As you can probably tell, the media business is what fires me up! Since the age of 16, I knew I wanted to have an impact on news media. At first, I wanted to be just like Anderson Cooper and say, “My name is Darrell Florence, and you’re watching CNN.”

As I have grown, I’ve realized that to save the business I love, I need to be in another role, helping to push through much-needed changes. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know something needs to be done. Media, we need you, but we need you at your best. If you take away nothing else from this post, remember this: Listen to us, your readers. You can serve us better if help create a society that understands the world around them. So before you go into your editorial meetings, know we are counting on you to give it your best!

Your readers matter so please don’t forget us.

This post is part of a series by USC students looking at how product affects trust in news. Learn more.

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