News. Pah. I remember the days when I (perhaps foolishly) believed what I read in the papers. Today somewhat less so but newspapers remain in a different league to much of the so-called journalism we find ourselves surrounded with today. The trouble is we’re under attack on so many fronts we risk being out-manoeuvred…
It's Not News!
Firstly there is, as Charlie Brooker so elegantly puts it, the “IT’S NOT NEWS” problem. BBC Breakfast I do love you but you are oh so guilty of confusing news with nonsense. While I might not be looking for a hard-core news and analysis program at 7am, I’m also not interested in Bill and Sian alternately reading our text messages with opposing views from ill (if at all) informed viewers.
WARNING: Some strong language is used in this video to emphasize certain points.
Differentiating between “news” and “not news”
“… because they’re not news. They’re ******* snowmen pictures. If the snowman’s learned to talk or he’s hanging Saddam Hussein, that’s news.”
I echo those sentiments with a “hear hear!”
Syndicate vs Generate
Then there’s the problem of syndication vs generation. I have some sympathy with Rupert Murdoch on this one (never thought I’d hear myself say that). If we expect to consume “news” for free, what happens to quality? Who pays for this and how? I like the idea of Sky / BBC / The Times / CNN / xyz actually sending qualified people on location to report on incidents and provide some sort of context. I value this. I value it personally and I wholeheartedly believe society needs such a thing for the greater good. To hold people to account, to understand world events, to appreciate other cultures, to act as a catalyst and change things for the better.
Is Murdoch right and Google et al wrong? I don’t profess to know the answer to that but I sure as heck worry about the outcome. Get this one wrong (or fail to resolve it) and we will all be worse-off in the long-term.
News at the Speed of Light
And then there’s the “speed of news” problem. Today, it’s more important to be first than to be right. (Of course this is true in blogging too – be first to “break the news” and bathe in the hits and inbound links that send your Technorati authority soaring <irony /> – Technorati, oh how the mighty have fallen).
There seems to be little in the way of consequences for those that peddle inaccuracies, rumour, myths or straightforward lies so wherein lies the motivation to be accurate? Checking facts takes time. Do that and run this risk of watching others break the story first (if indeed there is a story at all).
And of course the resonance of a story, the part that sticks, tends to be whatever first breaks. Not the aftermath. The cleanup is a much more subdued affair. The “Black screen of death” story is a recent example and Ed Bott sums things up pretty well I think.
I wouldn’t consider myself an avid consumer of news. In a way I’m surprised I feel strongly about the subject. But I do believe we’ve reached a turning point. There’s no going back but we should be very careful about the path we choose. Many roads ultimately lead to a sensationalised world where news is exclusively reported by anonymous, ill-informed people constrained to 140 characters.
That’s not to say there’s no place for ill-informed people reporting news constrained by 140 characters (phew!). Just that there has to be more than that. There has to be true journalism. Journalism we can trust. Journalism to keep ourselves honest.