Built to Collide: Journalism Has Changed, Journalists Have Not
Journalists suck today. Really, really suck. An interesting point here is that most people think so. Every family has the Fox News watching crew, the bongo playing NPR fan, or maybe the business guy who’s way too into CNBC. It’s an interesting state of affairs when all of these types of people can readily admit that they sup of the poison. “Well I’m not a huge fan of Rachel Maddow but…” or perhaps “Bill O’Reilly isn’t always right…” they might even go with “Wolf Blitzer, I mean sometimes he drones on a bit…”
The model is outdated. We feel it in our bones. Let’s take the below image of Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos as a prime example.
It really does beg, on bended knee even, the question: “Who in the actual fuck is the audience?” The answer is the advertisers.
Journalism has reached a point where the goal is not to convey important information to which you wouldn’t otherwise have access. Nope. Instead the goal is to grab you just long enough to show you an advertisement. We’ve known this for sometime but now it is painfully obvious. Why now?
News anchors were once a cultural phenomenon. Think about Walter Kronkite. It was these folks’ job to get information, to make sure it was accurate, and to give it to you. That was their product.
Guys (and mostly guys until Barbara Walters) began to hack out the role of news anchorman. (Here’s a quick article on the rise.) These folks were tracking all of the complicated movement of an increasing modern world. And you friend were free to go to work, play with the kids, pay your taxes, all while the professional newsman tracked down the leads, vetted them, and piped the synthesis straight into your living room as you smoked your pipe and ruminated on the day’s happenings.
It was the goal of the journalist to report, to the best of their ability, information about the world. What would have been the goal to exert a strong opinion, misinform or stretch the truth? Try to put yourself in that time and place.
Seems like there were two major things going on: 1) There was a sense that facts could be generally agreed upon. 2) The business model had not shifted to an advertising centric concept.
The first is interesting to reflect on particularly in today’s world. Where was one supposed to get facts if the newsman did not report them? Now put yourself in the anchor’s position. You, like they, would’ve felt a sense of immense responsibility. You would have been the guardian of good information. If people did not get the information from you, where then would they have gotten it?
And as for the business model, well, media companies sold media too. They made money in other ways than just clicks. And now they don’t.
With those two things having been completely remade in the modern landscape of journalism, the role of the journalist has changed both in function and in respect to how society views the role.
Facts depend on point of view and the only way a media company makes money today is to snack on your cookies. (If you know what I mean.)
The Reporter Becomes The Information Wrangler, The Anchor The Question Asker
The out of date modern journalist (Katie, Brian, George, and company) has misunderstood some very important changes. We now have the ability, as a population, to access as much information as we can possibly consume. There is no lack of info.
Within this context the role of the journalist has changed.
The reporter becomes the Information Wrangler. The anchor becomes the Question Asker. Reporters need not provide opinion on something unfolding, they need to verify that what is happening in some far off corner of the world is actually happening. Do not tell me what it means that the youth in Egypt want things to change, instead, tell me that there are protests led by people that appear to be young. Do not synthesize, just wrangle information and put it one place. Help me understand that this information is real. Show be the explosion in Beirut. Don’t tell me why it is happening.
THEN, and THEN let’s move to step two.
Hey Anchors, don’t lead me. Instead, just present many different ways to think about what is happening. Bring me up to speed by asking questions. Be judged on your questions, do not be judged on your ability to synthesize. I don’t need you to do that…I just need to know that what I have seen is real and that there are many perspectives. And do us all a huge favor, try to be forthcoming about your political and social leanings.
Do these things or do not complain when you are relegated to this:
Perhaps journalists will be measured by their ability to be honest with themselves….and to be forthcoming about their personal beliefs. Everyone can get on board with someone having an opinion. Sleight of hand though, not in 2020. Otherwise you are just a shitty click gladiator.
Reporters pipe info like this:
And anchors ask questions like this:
Guys and gals like Rogan will continue to win because they present as human beings that are actively thinking through the information they are being present with. Not as a suited, know-it-all whose opinion is worth more than yours.
Openness reveals vulnerability. This can engender a connection which leads to discussion.
In a post fact world (oh a bomb right before sign off!) discussion matters.
Otherwise, we are just engineering information to collide. And if it’s built to collide, there will be damage….lots and lots of damage.
Culture moves fast and creates chaos, all chaos is not bad. Here’s hoping we can push the old journalistic paradigm off a cliff and lean into the reporters that bring fresh, real information and anchors that sort through it in full view of their audiences.