Commentary

#Journalism’slastdays

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Commentary
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Pogo

American journalism is dying, and it’s about time journalists own up to their part in this disaster. Time to peer in the mirror, boys and girls. Time to face some realities.

Reality #1: No reporter is forced to do shoddy journalism. You can make all the excuses you want for bad work; it’s still bad work, and it’s your bad work.

Reality #2: No editor is required to keep reporters who can’t do the job.  Yes, in these touchy-feely times we all want to be friends all the time and never hurt anyone’s feelings, but the world doesn’t work that way. Not all people are born with the same skills. Some people are good at information gathering and story telling; some aren’t.

Journalism now has a surplus of the latter.

What was once an honorable but low-paying profession is evolving into a club of low-paid dumbasses. Or maybe they aren’t dumbasses. Maybe they just act like dumbasses.

Whichever the case, this is what journalism has become:

The Washington Post, once one of the nation’s most respected newspapers, stumbles onto a den of liars and con-men posing as journalists, and reports on them seemingly as if this were OK, as if lying and thieving were somehow the norm.

Somewhere the late, famed Post editor Ben Bradlee must be spinning in his grave.

Simply mind-boggling

For the ‘new yellow journalists,’ opportunity comes in clicks and bucks,” the headline on the story reads.

And what exactly does the story below tell us about “yellow journalists?”

“‘We’re the new yellow journalists,’ (Paris) Wade will say after a day and night when the number of people following LibertyWritersNews on Facebook will swell by more than 20,000. ‘We’re the people on the side of the street yelling that the world is about to end.'”

This must be the new-age definition of “yellow journalism:” “people on the side of the street yelling that the world is about to end.”

Only problem is “yellow journalism” already had a definition. And a history. The term refers to a period in America near the end of the 1890s when the newspapers of New York City engaged in a war to grow their circulation by sensationalizng and exaggerating the news. 

Even in that period, however, most of the stories had some basis in fact, and by the start of the 20th Century newspapers were moving increasingly toward a fact-based model, even the yellow newspapers.

The “new yellow journalists” to which the Post refers are not just sensationalizing or exaggerating; they are regularly lying. They are con men, not reporters. They are hucksters, not journalists.

Simply put, they are people making shit up.

This is not, however, how the Post sees them. To the ever-so-trendy Post of today, these are “modern-day  digital opportunist(s),” whose names, admittedly, the Post can’t quite get straight. Reporter Terrence McCoy refers to Liberty writer “Paris Wade” as “Wade” throughout his story even though the byline that appears on the Liberty website is Paris Swade, not Wade.

Stuffing shit down the tubes

And this is how McCoy describes Wade/Swade’s reporting style:

“Ten minutes and nearly 200 words later, (he) is done with a story that is all opinion, innuendo and rumor,” McCoy writes. “He types at the bottom, “Comment ‘DOWN WITH THE GLOBALISTS!’ below if you love this country,” publishes the story to his website, LibertyWritersNews.com, and then pulls up the Facebook page he uses to promote the site….”

Only the Wade/Swade story isn’t all opinion, innuendo and rumor. Some of it is also lies, black-and-white factual errors obvious to any who cares to check.

The story claims the U.S. ambassador to Canada has said President Barack Obama is “using all of his remaining time” in office to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a treaty agreement President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t like. The story says “here is Obama’s normal work day” above a photo of the president golfing.

“Obama has spent more time golfing than any other president in history” the line below the photo says.

The first claim is indeed innuendo. The U.S. ambassador did say Obama would continue to push for TPP, but as a practical matter no president has the opportunity to use “all of his remaining”time to do any one thing because there are too many things to be done. But give Wade/Swade the benefit of the doubt.

The rest? Lies. Obama’s normal work day is NOT spent on the golf course.

And he has not spent “more time golfing that any other president in history.” That honor goes to the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, a retired five-star general who helped the Allies win World War II, and a president accused of being “obsessed” with golf.

Eisenhower is said to have played 800 rounds while in office. Obama isn’t even close. At last count, those scoring Obama the highest for rounds spent on a golf course had him at 300.  The Obamagolfcounter.com, a website that dislikes Obama so much it called for his impeachment, for some reason shut down at 270 rounds early this year. But even if Obama had played golf every day since then, he still wouldn’t be close to 800.

Gutlessness

Does McCoy ever ask Wade/Swade by what standard he calls himself a “journalist” or what “journalism” means to him? No.

Is there any mention in McCoy’s story of the ethics of journalism or even simple morality, as in though shall not lie? No.

Are any legitimate authorities on journalism asked what they think of a website that intentionally misleads its readers purely to make money? No.

McCoy reports on these “modern-day digital opportunists” as if they were a couple of guys opening a coffee shop down the street. One has to wonder if he’d report this way on a website handing out fraudulent medical information or one offering bogus legal advice.

Would such a website be taken this lightly:

“At a time of continuing discussion over the role that hyperpartisan websites, fake news and social media play in the divided America of 2016, LibertyWritersNews illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process. Six months ago, Wade and his business partner, Ben Goldman, were unemployed restaurant workers. Now they’re at the helm of a website that gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone and say they are making so much money that they feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don’t want people to start asking for loans.”

McCoy’s story is almost an advertisement for others to do what Wade/Swade and partner  Ben Goldman are doing: what McCoy calls “fake news.”

Only fake news isn’t news; it’s just fake. What Wade/Swade and Goldman are doing isn’t satirizing the news to give someone a laugh. They aren’t scripting “Weekend Update” news on “Saturday Night Live.”

No, they’re playing with some new cross-breed of propaganda and capitalism that makes a buck off the basest of human instincts. And McCoy? They take him along on their little adventure as a stenographer:

“‘Our audience does not trust the mainstream media,’ Goldman, 26, says a little later as Wade/Swade keeps typing. ‘It’s definitely easier to hook them with that.’

“‘There’s not a ton of thought put into it,’ Wade/Swade says. ‘Other than it frames the story so it gets a click.’

“‘True,’ Goldman says.”

Missed opportunity

That might be the perfect point to inject a little of the history of journalism and outline the important role it is intended to play in a democracy, any democracy. This might be a good place to explore the battle within the mainstream media itself about “chasing clicks.” This might be a good place to simply ask Wade/Swade and Goldman, “how the hell do you guys live with yourselves?”

McCoy just whistles on by.

One cannot avoid wondering what is left of journalism when reporters have no sense of right and wrong.

McCoy pretty much treats Wade/Swade and Goldman like fellow journalists chasing clicks like everyone else, and if they get carried away at the chance to make more money by telling lies, it’s somehow understandable. It’s not their fault.

A man has to make a buck somehow, right?

Nobody gets paid for having principles, do they?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m no Pollyanna. Even at it’s best, U.S. journalism was never what it was talked up to be. It always had its share of charlatans and liars, and too many of them got away with it for too long.

But we’ve entered a whole new, parallel dimension now. There are now admitted liars and con men posing as “journalists,” and real reporters and their editors who apparently feel the need to be sensitive to these people.

“Goldman and Wade often tell each other they aren’t creating anything that’s not already there, that they’re simply fanning it, that readers know not to take their hyperbole and embellishments seriously,” McCoy writes. “And even if the comments suggest otherwise, they try not to pay them too much attention. People will say anything on Facebook, they remind themselves. They tell one another they’re only minor participants in a broader ‘meme war’ between outlets such as The Other 98% (other98.com) on the left and Nation In Distress (facebook.com/NationInDistress) on the right, but then they see the protests in the streets, the divisions in America, and wonder if their work is making things worse. What if one of their readers actually does harm (George) Soros? Would they be complicit? Is their website dangerous? Or is it savvy entrepreneurship? Their opportunity?”

Yes, they’re simply poor, confused, young men trying to create a business. We should all be more understanding, right? We should all hug Wade/Swade and Goldman until they see the light.

We wouldn’t want to call them what they are – two lying, conniving, little shits – because, well, you know, we just shouldn’t. Because they’re just doing what the rest of us in journalism do, sort of.

Because, well, because at the end of this story Goldman confesses that “it would be a perfect time to open up a small liberal newspaper right now…

“‘It would,’ Wade/Swade says. ‘There is so much animus on the left right now.’

“‘You could get more traffic than we do now,’ Goldman says.”

Yes, that’s it. They’re really good liberal journalists caught up in the idea of making a buck off the Trumpomania of the moment. It’s not their fault, and the new rules of liberal journalism say all journalists (even the yellow ones) are good people unless they work for Fox News.

If they work for Fox News, they are not in the club, and you can say whatever you want about them. Everyone else? In the club; make nice; hugs all around.

Don’t be calling lying scum, lying sum.  They’re digital opportunists.

Oh man, if Bradlee could crawl out of that grave would he be knocking some heads. As for me, I just want to barf.

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4 replies »

  1. The “Ivory Tower” reporters are “just doing their job”…and since the invention of the printing press….The “news” was printed as propaganda in nature. What we are seeing is a few online start-ups spreading reality b/w the lies. Slate.com has been doing a good job on the issues that are hidden by large geo-political info mobs like ADN….here is a link to an issue mostly covered up in the Alaskan news.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/04/ptsd_and_violence_by_veterans_increased_murder_rates_related_to_war_experience.html

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  2. So is the takeaway that the Washington Post is more or less a fake news site too? Bezos has driven a stake through the heart of the old paper…much like Alice Rogoff has done with ADN. No coincidence they are reportedly good friends and business partners.

    The interesting thing is that the Washington Post is evolving into more of a news tech company, to the extent that they actually had robots reporting on the Olympics and the election. Their engineering team brags it rivals those in Silicon Valley, and has tripled under Bezos’ leadership. Is his motivation click bait or bait and switch?

    http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-bezos-takes-page-from-amazon-to-push-wapost-to-future-2016-1

    https://developer.washingtonpost.com/pb/blog/

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    • Laura: i’d say the takeaway is the reporting standards at the Washington Post have sadly decayed. ask yourself this: how is an uninformed reader supposed to know that the quote-unquote “journalists” covered in that story (be they yellow or any other color) are doing anything wrong? nowhere in the story does it say that the rules of journalism (and yes there are some rules) stipulate that journalists deal in fact not fiction. the people dealing in “fake news” aren’t dealing in fact. they are writers, but not journalists. the story tells the reader none of this. is a reader simply supposed to intuit that information? given how badly this story was reported, maybe news robots would be better. the Post robot could contact its counterpart at Columbia and that robot could supply the rules of journalism to put in the story: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp the “seek truth” part there is a little much for me; and SPJ has pissed all over itself trying to make journalism a “polite” business. but it does at least define the standards.

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  3. As you know, it’s not just new-age digital carnival barkers posting “news”. It’s also the old guard that have given up and are just going through the “read the press release and regurgitate it” motions. Take a local example, long time sports “journalist” Beth Bragg reports that UA skiing and indoor has been cut. She pronounces that it is a fait accompli, a done deal, the programs are history, everyone is crying. Then a skiing web site (fasterskier.com) with a real journalist actually looks into this issue. And he finds that skiing and indoor track are not dead yet. And the will likely survive. And … they do survive. If Bragg did the tiniest bit of research, she wouldn’t be writing falsehoods and making herself look like a dumbass. And this is definitely not the first time she has been a journalistic dumbass. Yes, quality journalism is dead (except for http://www.craigmedred.news).

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