These are tough times for American journalism.
“Indeed, more Americans view made-up news as a very big problem for the country than identify terrorism, illegal immigration, racism and sexism that way,” Pew reported.
“U.S. adults blame political leaders and activists far more than journalists for the creation of made-up news intended to mislead the public. But they believe it is primarily the responsibility of journalists to fix the problem.”
Pew probably should have qualified the latter observation to say “some” U.S. adults blame political leaders and activists far more than journalists because the survey itself found 58 percent of Republicans say journalists create a lot of the fake news.
When you’re in the fact business and a majority of either of the country’s two major political party thinks you are regularly making things up, you have a problem.
A big problem.
And there may be no way to fix it.
A crippled business
Journalism today isn’t what journalism was two decades back. There are fewer journalists. They are less experienced. They are grossly underpaid. They work with little or no backup. And they are nonetheless expected to do more.
The latter might be the worst of it. Hardly anyone does any real reporting anymore because they are too busy.
Most of their time is spent, excuse the bluntness here, shoveling the shit stream of media releases flowing from government where are found more, better paid, and usually more knowledgeable people writing the first draft of the “news” to be rewritten by journalists to greater or lesser degrees.
Ever wonder why crime news factors so heavily on all the mainstream media websites in Anchorage?
It’s because the Anchorage Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers neatly package up information for delivery to the media.
Ever wonder why you read so little about what’s happening in and around Mount Denali (formerly McKinley) these days?
It’s because the National Park Service moved its news online to its own website and now rarely notifies the media about anything other than fatalities.
There was a rescue on June 6 that went unnoticed outside the climbing world. Eight days later, Anchorage’s Channel 2 News headlined “Alaska State Troopers rescue 67-year-old hiker on Flattop Mountain” and linked to what was basically a promo for the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and the troopers Helo 3 helicopter.
The man wasn’t identified. The story was more “olds” than “news.” The rescue was reported to have happened “earlier this week.” The unidentified man was said to have injured his leg. How seriously was unclear. What happened to him after he was taken off the mountain was not reported.
Whether he was an old tourist from Iowa on his first trip to Alaska or one of the various old men who live just below Flattop and hike up it on an almost daily basis might never be known.
The story wasn’t even a real story with any sort of beginning, middle and end. The story was simply a headline pasted above a handout from troopers.
This is how much of the news works now. KTUU does it. KTVA does it. The Anchorage Daily News does it.
Publish or die
They live on “traffic,” the churn of viewers on the web. Immediacy is viewed as the currency of the day. The goal isn’t really to cover anything; it’s to get as many different things as possible into play as soon as possible.
Fact checking? Fact checking?
Who has time for fact checking?
Go read any of the aforementioned sites right now, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a story that doesn’t even meet the basic journalism standards of covering the who, what, when, where and how.
In comments below news stories on media Facebook pages now, you will often these days find readers asking questions a reporter should have asked or providing information a reporter should have included in the story.
As a journalist, it used to be embarrassing. Now it’s just the norm.
Crossing the “T”
Where exactly simply bad reporting and made-up reporting merge is hard to say, but they clearly connect out there somewhere.
The Jussie Smollett story wasn’t made up, but it might as well have been. The lack of healthy skepticism on the part of the media was almost nowhere to be found. The questions that didn’t get asked when they should have been were many.
Smollett – an African-American celebrity who claimed to have been attacked by two white men yelling “this is MAGA (Make America Great Again) territory” on a cold street in the wee hours of the morning as he walked home from Subway in his upscale neighborhood – might have been the one actually making up the news, but he had a lot of help in spreading it.
Because it was an explosive story: Gay, black celebrity beaten by white supporters of President Donald Trump for being gay, black and a celebrity.
There’s traffic there. Liberals will rush to it to reinforce their fears that this is what America has become. Conservatives will be unable to stay away out fear that some lunatics actually went and did something as crazy as Smollett alleged.
What does it matter what really happened? He said it. Chicago Police say they are investigating. Run with it.
This is how the news works these days. It’s a wonder anyone believes any of it anymore. But they do, or at least they do if it tracks with their political leanings, according to a report out from Nieman Lab last week.
“In many instances, we see large differences between people on the left and the right in terms of how trustworthy they think news brands are,” Nieman reported. “Overall, most mainstream news brands in the U.S. are trusted more by those who self-identify on the left of the political spectrum, while those on the right tend to be much more skeptical of news organizations, with the exception of right-leaning outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart. The differences were very large for outlets like CNN (7.08 score for left-wing individuals and 2.4 for right-wing individuals), The New York Times (7.55 for those on the left, 3.04 for those on the right), and Fox News (2.44 for those on the left, 6.94 for those on the right). Broad trust is rare in the U.S.”
Which begs one big question: Who can the 35 to 45 percent of Americans who identify as independents trust?