Major Flaws in Journalism
Why good news media become #fake by default.
Let me explain why the receivers of the news, receive it as fake.. and give you, the news media, some tips about how you may turn that around.
#Fakemedia. The term is used a lot. Trust in the media regularly hits a new low. Many hard working journalists feel they are losing credibility and may wonder why. They do their best. That I believe. The flaws in journalism however are fundamental. These flaws actually damage its standing. These flaws make it fake and may even have disastrous effects in the world. Let me explain. News should not be treated as a product. It should be a sharing of what everyone needs to know. Yet what people get is not that.
Dear Journalists, consider also that the following fundamental mistakes come on top of, or as consequence of, these terrible drivers of most mass media, which are (you know these 2, don’t you? If so skip ahead to the flaws) :
“1. Scandals & Sensation (read need to attract audiences)
More drama means more viewers, means more advertisements. This made Trump big and Bernie boring. Emotions outweigh facts. Explosions outweigh peaceful transition movements just doing their thing. So guess what you get to see too much of and what too little of.
2. Owner & Advertisers interests.
News is too often treated as a product. Almost all news is political agenda driven or keeps to boundaries to not upset advertisers. Protecting interests outweighs truth and nuance. If the boss of the company supports certain political stances, then those get way better positive coverage. Interest of clients count too. Even, or especially, the government may buy airtime, and everyone pretends it’s fair news.”
~ quote taken from Dealing with Fake & Manipulative Media
Flaw 1: Reality isn’t segmented.
News promises to update you of what is happening. It promises to guide you through the forest of all the news happening. However, the current approach to news gets you lost in the woods staring at singular trees. The world isn’t bite size ordered, nor segmented in topics.
An upbeat article about a booming economy can feel very fake to people in the streets. The giant corporations may win big, due to cutting costs or more robots doing all the work. So wins don’t mean normal people are having a good time*, let alone jobs. The consequential increase in damage to nature isn’t shared either. This item will only be about figures and why they rose and what that means for business. And how does the item on many shows look like: Proudly an anchor presents the numbers. It may make investors happy. Economists on air comment about more consumer trust. But the item doesn’t tell who actually gains from these figures and at what cost they come. Thus everyone who suffered that cost will stop trusting the news.
*)this link is actually from a few days after I wrote this.
An item on legalized gay marriage may feel like a good story. For all gay people not having the money to afford a wedding, let alone no money to buy medicines, it feels like distraction. And why spoil the good news item with such ‘nuances’? Because reality is complex and news in strictly segmented items makes the news look like it’s leaving stuff out on purpose.
People live in an interconnected reality, not in neat topics.
Understand the perspective of people on the street. There are clear interconnections between all issues, having to do with power, corruption, relationships between one thing and another. The people in Flint Michigan have been waiting for over five years for clean water. To them many other topics make no sense, or are just signs of more of the same: rich corrupt people getting away with it.
I once made a list of all scams by the US elite, like corporations and billionaires. While we see an item about Trumps taxes, stuff like false flag wars, corporate imprisonment, increased hate speech, diminished rights for protests and journalist are all happening at the same time, and are all connected. Fragmentation therefore doesn’t show what really is going on.
The news wants headlines of issues today. The findings are shared in clear segmented items, that aren’t connecting the dots. It sells bite size fragments to people caught in complex realities. Hence the people are stuck with amazing pictures of individual trees, while being lost in the forest. The effect is that people feel betrayed, distracted, lied to.
TIP: The news should consider the bigger picture on a daily basis.
Flaw 2: the Biggest Drama isn’t the Biggest News.
How it works
A video of an explosion destroying an empty building somehow feels way more impacting than a sentence about drones that bombed mistakenly a school and killed 200 children. Heck, even plain images trump facts. I remember a news segment during the 2nd Iraq invasion that went something like this: “American forces have destroyed an Iraqi battalion near city x and killed 500 Iraqi soldiers defending a bridge near city y…In Germany the aircraft carrier with the four liberated US troops who had been taken hostage has landed…” The news then shows their arrival with a video lasting for over 5 minutes. Just four Americans on an airbase. The first single sentence is about the death of 700 to a 1000 people. And they all get wiped away a second time, with footage of just 4 American soldiers who got saved from an ordeal. I bet most people never noticed all the murder and mayhem in the 1st sentence. They may have heard “We are winning.” and then applauded their brave own troops, four US heroes parading from a plane. Subconsciously we may feel depraved of the essential.
The newspaper doesn’t get it much better. Just before the invasion in Iraq a Dutch newspaper had two items about the pending invasion on the front page. The biggest was president Bush claiming that Saddam was in league with Al Qaida and that an invasion was necessary, complete with a picture of the press conference. And the headline something like in smaller print “Bush says:” and in big capitals: “INVASION NEEDED!” And in the text bush hammering that Saddam was in league with Al Qaida. But a another item on the same page was overlooked. It was a tiny little box having the following news: “Both CIA and FBI can’t find any connection between Saddam and Al Qaida.” It’s clear that these articles contradict each other. Guess what the Dutch prime minister decides very soon after. Indeed: “We support this invasion (for all our safekeeping).” It seems the day after everyone already had forgotten the tiny little news that should have made all the difference. Indeed this one front page shows two major flaws:
1. What moves, what is shown gets the most attention. Thus often, items that have moving images are picked up and facts only reports dropped. That’s because, hey, the amount of viewers, readers determines income. You need as many as you can get. But knowing photographs trump text only, editors can make bad decisions. This can be used to distract, but also been done because of the need for viewers. The consequence may very well be that the more important news, like in this case the contra-dictionary report by CIA & FBI, doesn’t get the attention it needs. Result, we got lied into a war and blame the media. Even when it may also have spoken the truth.
2. Sensational titling warps the truth. Journalists quote. Quotes become headlines. And thus the truth. People read: “INVASION NEEDED!” The much smaller “Bush says,” above it is forgotten. Yeah. Right. My ass. Any journalist at that press conference should have confronted Bush with his own intelligence agencies. Any good Dutch journalist should have written the following front pager: “USA intelligence agencies contradict president Bush.” let alone the smaller drama: “Bush wants to go to war.” See, that last headline would have been more true, but way less dramatic.
The news blows up what will attract readers, viewers. Hence the truth, let alone nuance, may be more or less ‘shoveled under’. This leads to wrong conclusions for people not reading, watching the whole segment or delving beyond the sensational. Fake media like FOX use this to steer opinion. The ‘real’ news often has the same effect, even when not intending to.
TIP: The news should seek to make the truth more interesting, not the available noise around it. Headlines must make people read further, not think they know it all, just by hearing the headline.
Flaw 3: News isn’t filler time for the people.
You are a channel or a paper and you have time to fill. The cheapest way to make news is a lot of talking heads, talking opinions for any length of time. Simple to produce, simple to make. Sending people out with camera’s and filming stuff that needs a lot of editing often costs too much in time, costs and effort. Hence many news items are bought, from corporations like Reuters, and then commented upon in local studio’s. And thus the news needs to expand bought items with more talking heads, more commentators with opinions and often less research. The result is that most visual media is like cheap lemonade: watered down content framed by a corporate news giants, who may or may not serve interests of both advertisers and or governments.
Also often these heads talk like everything people do are strategic steps that need to be applauded or countered. “Yes, we may expect X to react in the coming days.” That’s not like life, nor life like. Only strategists talk like this like politics is a game of chess, not a means to serve the people. We don’t care who wins, or how they play each other. We care about the impact on our lives.
Search Youtube for any news item on a Trump tweet, and you’ll see a massive amount of video’s, introducing the tweet, then commenting on it and have experts talk about possible implications. People in the streets, however, often see rich anchors question rich experts on what is happening to them. If you’re European, transfer the word rich in the last line for elitist, expert or academic. The people in the street may share some emotions at time, but rarely insights that seem to matter. Also discussing Trump tweets is not news. It looks like big news, it is empty filling. And while what’s talked about may be some kind of real, it’s filling time and thus feels fake.
Items with commentators feel fake and often out of touch with the people in the street. Their personal issues are not news. The news seems to cater for the upper and middle class only. Where are the real issues for everyone? Where is what is happening to the people on a daily basis? Where is reality? Stop talking for any length of time about facts most people don’t relate to. Stop selling experts as better informed, more successful, knowledgeable, but ending up with time filling talking heads for lonely people.
TIP: Involve more street people for perspectives that also matter. Focus on what directly influences the lives of most people and less on bombs far away or opinions by people.
Flaw 4. The Biggest News Is the Same Every Day.
Every day about 20.000 children die of preventable causes, like lack of clean water or lack of food. Every day the rich get richer. Every day we throw tons and tons of plastics into the oceans, not even mentioning other chemical poisons. Every day 7 billion people are under the influence of a system where enriching yourself through creating and consuming more waste is considered normal. Our city may shine, but their waste is eating away the foundations upon which our civilization rests. And most people seem to be in the blind of how close we are to the edge. We have gone crazy and the news plays along. That. Must. Stop.
Climate change is getting worse daily. Some news outlets even changed the word to Climate Crisis, or Climate Urgency. The massive extinction of animal and insect life is a deadly disaster for human extinction in the making. And even the papers headline it once and later may refer to it, while the emotion over it gets buried with new screaming headlines, like Brexit and Trumps actions. Extinction Rebellion protests are filmed as disturbances, yet their message often seems to be forgotten over the hidden news. Corporate lobbies bribe politicians everywhere to not take drastic measures that would end their profits, which will end up that we all pay the price/damage in money and lives lost. This corruption in their favour is killing our ecosystem. News about the sickness going on should make all our other squabbles feel like peanuts.
The news should daily report on actions taken, or worries about inaction, much like the weather report. I’d say it’s even more important than the daily weather. And everyone should start to realize and act on that! There should be reports on what many people, however peaceful and seemingly boring, are already doing. Show organic farmers innovating. Show agroforestry. Show the terrible damage Monsanto’s approach to food production is doing for the long term of food production. Top soil experts have been telling about it for years, but financial interests still rules over the publics interest. It’s endangering whole populations and yet, only alternative media will discuss this. Time mainstream media does so too, or you’ll end up reporting human downfall. Don’t believe me? Check the science. Tell the truth.
“Only when the last tree is cut, and the last fish is eaten will White men discover you can’t eat money.” ~ Native American prophecy
Conclusion & TIP:
Start reporting on anything you have that either moves proper dealing with the climate crisis forward or blocks it. Hell, even report lack of news with a tone of disappointment. Start bringing the real news about what scientists warn about. Show all the answers already available and wonder why they aren’t implemented. If protests happen don’t focus only on the noise in the street. Analyze deeply what the protest is about.
TOWARDS NEWS IN SERVICE OF US ALL
The Real News is what we all need to know regardless of the interests of those with power or money. It’s not their wealth that should treat them with respect. It’s their actions that are either helping deal with the needed shift towards a regenerative system or investing in blocking it.
Work for the world, not for interests.
Once it was only the jobs of journalists that were at stake for really speaking out, and still are. Now more importantly all our lives depend on whether people can trust the news, get real insights about the state of the planet. Lying, misdirecting, distracting, confusing, blowing up squabbles over essential facts is becoming more and more dangerous for all. And thus the flaws creating the idea, perhaps even the reality, that it’s fake, corrupted, missing the essential, need to be addressed. The danger is, that the idea of lies by the media will make more and more people follow real lies. The news should stop pretending it’s good and true enough as it is. It should stop talking with a tone of indignation at those that disrupt it’s position. That tone has become elitist defending the status quo. The news should go back to inquiring deeply, message factually and leave making conclusions to the people.
Don’t quote lies. Fact check in the face with modern technology.
And while we’re at it. Improve interview skills and press conference skills. We report on what has been said. We write down what a president or his spokespeople said and make that into headlines. And people read those headlines as reality. Now we know some people lie shamelessly, we should have a fact checker online and confront them with lies as fast as we can. We should fact check people to their faces. For interests rule through fabricated stories. The real news should report reality, inform us about the interests pushing behind them and refuse to play along with the convenient lies protecting those that seem to have no interest in serving all the people, this world and all life upon it. As long as it even seems the news is doing so, it will seem fake.
The role of journalism in saving human life on this planet.
If the news can show it can change course, apologize, unflaw its flaws, than it may do much more than become trustworthy again. It might make the difference on helping save the world, rather than reporting its downfall. That is how powerful the truth can be. Serve that.
Note. When you fear for your job, seek to act with as many colleagues as possible. When a colleague is forbidden access to press conferences for asking real questions, walk out with them. In the end power is just a story, that needs people to serve it, in order to work. When you are a student in journalism ask your professors questions about the role of the news media. Ask them how to avoid the traps mentioned above. Don’t take any ‘be realistic, play along’ answers. It’s as Greta Thunberg said. The adults thus far haven’t been adult enough in dealing with the climate crisis. You should be.