Mainstream media are right. They’re selling you what you asked for.
If you’re among those who believe they’re contemporary, informed, urban individuals, I have bad news for you. It’s not them, it’s you. It’s us.
I happen to be a very small player in the global media game. But I’ve been in these waters for well over 15 years, a critical 15 years, and have garnered quite a network in the industry. It’s a network that I follow daily, along with many of the other acquainces from all walks of life that I am fortunate to have in my news feeds.
For years, in working directly with small independent media, chatting with top editors or strategists from major international media, media freedom activists, scholars in the industry, and other stakeholders, I’ve heard similar complaints from both sides. Information cosumers claim that they want “better” news, fewer mistakes, more fact-checking. Media stakeholders and journalists tell me that they’re torn. They claim to want to deliver all of these things, but when they do, they lose readership. The media players that I know claim to get much lower readership and distribution numbers when they “do their jobs properly.” And I’ve seen evidence of it myself.
Pay to Play
Because the truth is, you don’t want the truth. You don’t want to wait for a well-researched, in-depth piece. You want something provocative to share on your Facebook wall and Twitter feed today. You want it now. You want it to make you look good and you want it to make you sound smart. And here’s the kicker — you don’t want to pay for it either.
Good journalism is expensive. It takes time. There’s a process to it that doesn’t allow shortcuts. It takes years, if not decades, to build up an information network on just one topic. And if it’s “breaking” news or a developing story, a journalist needs a lead, an initial source, and two additional, unrelated sources to verify that lead. Then the journalist needs to sit down with their editorial team and decide whether they have enough facts to release the story to the public. This decision is made, or should be made, through more internal scrutiny and fact-checking. If everything pans out enough to justify the story having any value to public discourse, it gets published. And then they follow up on the story, as comments and more facts and questions come in. And sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes they have to go back on their initial findings and print a retraction, explaining how and why they got where they did.
Or that’s how it all used to be. When their audiences wanted to be informed. But we don’t want to be informed anymore. We all want to appear informed and we want it now.
Social Media Currency
Until about a year and a half ago, my social media news feeds were recommended as “a great place to follow current events, digital marketing development, and media development” by the likes of university professors, media executives, and my colleagues. I was known as a “news curator” in these areas. If you take a look at my news feeds as of late, they’re all but dead. There’s very little I’d like to share with the world, although lately I’ve been reading news articles more than ever.
I’ve all but stopped sharing because no one in my audience want to know what I’m reading anymore. You all just want to know which “side” I’m on, so you can either pat me on the back and agree or argue with me. And I’m not on social networks to argue. I’m there to exchange information and maybe learn something new. I don’t get paid to teach you. I’m not going to explain what I know to you, just to “prove you wrong.” I couldn’t care less if you’re wrong. I care whether I’m wrong. And, unless you can provide information that is new to me and explains why the information I have is incorrect, you’re wasting my time. The best you’ll get out of me is a few minutes of trolling.
And that’s exactly what you’ve made out of mainstream media today. Because you asked for it. “But they have a responsibility to the public!” Yes, they should. Media should inform the public, as best it can at any given moment. But they have a responsibility to those who pay for that information first. And you refuse to pay for it.
“But it’s irresponsible!” Indeed it is. And you begin that irresponsible behavior by clicking and sharing whatever makes you look good instead of hearing the other side and checking what is true.
Tell Me I’m Wrong. Please.
“But you’re wrong. I want in-depth, vetted information.” I’m glad to hear it. Drop me a line, I’ll recommend a few of the sources I read daily. But they’re subscription-based, you’ll have to pay for them. And you’ll have to wait days or sometimes weeks to get in-depth stories on what’s happening today. And you probably won’t be able to share this stuff online because your audience will hit pay walls that they won’t want to pay to access.
Valid, researched information is still, as it always has been, available to those who are able and willing to pay for it. There is no democracy in the world of information. Nothing has changed. The “word on the street” is now just the “word on social media.” It may or may not be true and some mainstream media have decided to run with it.
Information has always been valid social tender. Social media has just made it more visible. And it’s your choice, every step of the way.
Don’t like tabloid news? Don’t read it. Don’t like “fake” news? Don’t share it, FFS. Think a certain well-known medium is distributing politically skewed bullshit? Fer Pete’s sake, the last thing you should be doing is commenting on that medium’s Facebook fan page post, telling them they’re full of it. As soon as you hit enter on your comment, that post from that medium’s Facebook page just appeared in all of your Facebook friends’ timelines. Because you had to feed your ego and tell ‘em like it is. Great job, asshat.
When I first joined Twitter, the Green Revolution in Iran was the first big current event to hit the network. I remember that the hashtags #iran and #greenrevolution led mostly to tweets from experienced journalists in the area or from people on the ground in Iran. Sure, most of this wasn’t confirmed, but the sources were there and the photos and video were fairly easy to verify.
Yesterday, when I clicked on the #aleppo or any related hashtag, what I got was thousands of people who had probably never heard of Aleppo before this year, lamenting what was happening there and sharing news articles and their impromptu “opinions”. Even the few sources on the ground had already been “curated” into articles and videos, packaged neatly into under 3 minutes for social media sharing.
We fucked it up. This is what we asked for. So before you complain about mainstream media again, go pay for a subscription. Then check the bottom of each article you read. If there’s something you disagree with or have better information on, there’s usually an email for reporting corrections available there.
It’s not them, it’s us. The reason we’ve dubbed them “corporate” media is because we choose to view and click on ads instead of paying for the news we read. You chose the corporate ads. Every major media editorial team that I know would love to get rid of them as much as you would. And they’d love a little more time and interaction with their readership to be able to do their jobs properly. But that’s not what you want. You want a flashy headline that gets you likes and comments on your social media pages. You want to be the first to post “breaking” news so you’re real-time friends can tell you how damn smart you are. You want everyone to know what a huge David Bowie fan you’ve always been. (And yet most of you posted his more recent music and nearly no one touched the glam rock stuff that launched his career as an innovator. Thanks for the giggle.) And you want it all for free.
You asked for it. You are the corporate media. And I don’t like you either.