There’s a Denzel Washington video clip, originally from 2016, doing the rounds again. Hardly surprising given the topic is perhaps more relevant now.
Washington said back then ‘If you don’t read the newspaper your uninformed, if you do read it you’re misinformed.’
When prodded by a journalist, ‘so what do you do’ , Washington goes on to ponder what is the long-term effect of too much information?
He was of the opinion one of the effects is the need to be first, not even for information to be truthful anymore. As he stated ‘it’s got to be first, just say it, just sell it, we don’t care who it hurts.’
This is a valid point. One a majority of journalists would likely agree with and live by. And whilst the teaching might well have been squarely aimed by the movie star at mainstream media at the time, even back then there were extended elements perhaps not quite considered.
Firstly, as we know, a mass audience gladly consumes and buys into fast food styled media. If there wasn’t a demand, it wouldn’t exist to the degree that it does.
Secondly, much of the same mass audiences are no longer merely readers or consumers. They are simultaneously aggregrators or even publishers via blogs, podcasts or simply sharing on social channels.
So much content could be metaphorically described as a good old fashioned Roman orgy: frequently uncurated and a free for all, often not held to the same levels of scrutiny or accountability as typical, legally registered mainstream media channels might be.
In an age where popularity frequently trumps credibility (or accuracy) there’s enough of the global population celebrating untruthful provocateurs, or extreme views, even going as far as to put them on pedastals or at the minimum give them significant air time.
All too often we hear how icons rising quickly might topple just as fast and hard once actual investigative journalism is conducted and the truth does out.
We’re in such a rush that diligence is too often put aside or ignored. It’s clear there is a vast audience who no longer prioritise diligence, scientific facts or even truth to the same degree.
Truth itself, as many people will also be able to relate to, is also a little tricky at times. Facts are part of truth for sure, yet facts alone are not the entirety of truth: opinions, perceptions and perspectives do come into play.
Considered journalism exists in high numbers and by a majority who take pride in plying their craft, yet never was there a truer time to say ‘blink and you miss it’.
The label ‘Blnkist’ may well have started life as a popular book app, which has a place, but I’ve written separately an extended piece on the fact that ‘ist’ is a tribe and blinkist is now a full on movement. (PIPA Advisor Edition 19, Pages 22-23). Abbreviators in all walks of life, not always a good thing, live in high numbers amongst us.
Many people skim read more frequently. They move on to the next subject or they channel their response faster.
The stats on ever increasing Internet content consumption (time spent online and type of content consumed including increasing volumes of quick short video) backs up this splurge in our speedy usage, behaviour actions and reactions.
Human beings are ‘meaning making machines’. It’s natural people simultaneously have instant opinions and give meaning to whatever they are consuming.
And if the topic is provocative or polarising enough (often it will be otherwise it wouldn’t be getting air time as much anyway in a society equally valuing the extreme) it’s only natural opinions will also be leapt to in the blink of a moment.
Reactions, offered opinions and responses are equally then given without necessarily fussing about such things as taking time out to read articles in full, to the depth, detail or context with which a story or subject was proffered.
How often are sound bytes taken completely out of context for the sake of a good story? Many people would see that to be a simple truth. Never let a fact get in the way of a good story is virtually a motto for some.
There’s also layers of human behavior at play where being right is more important than having an open mindset.
Which itself negates a sense of reasoning to engage in healthy debate or perhaps seek first to understand before being understood. Which happens to be a popular philosophy and habit #5 often quoted from the popular book ‘Habits of Highly Effective People’ written by Stephen Covey.
There also exists now, amongst some considered and respected journalists, an element of fear or resistance to publish. Why?
Well, in a cut off, name and shame, cancel culture, where enough people jump on a bandwagon rapidly, it’s easier to hold a little back or stay silent on some subjects altogether.
Even where you have the science or facts, why risk an onslaught of scathing and not necessarily by hoards of haters or trolls alone.
We’re in a cancel culture, so for many journalists, especially in fields of science and research, if you reach conclusions that won’t be popular then one is faced with the dilemma: to publish and perhaps be roped or digitally stoned or not?
It’s also fair to say, coming back to the point made by Denzel Washington, that even where considered journalism is still at play in mainstream media, elements of the industry still does itself a dis-service by allowing political bias, vested or conflicting interest, to skew a slant or on occasions antagonise situations with deliberate click bait or excessive fear driven headlines.
That is also a quandry and I don’t envy Editors jobs these days. It can’t be easy balancing attention-grabbing headlines whilst vying for attention in a world frequently driven by the provocative extreme.
Disruptors we know leap in to market gaps that exist in almost every industry (like Uber or Airbnb). The digital media and social giants identified the cracks, snuck in and have pulled those cracks wide open.
Fair play to them, they’ve used their trump cards well: an ability to gather data, appeal to behavioural patterns, aggregate content far more effectively to keep their own audience hooked or to allow any Tom, Dick and Harry, (even Donald) credible or not, to amplify their personal brand and opinions. Mind you, it seems this hasn’t always been done acted on through fair play though either.
The over cited hashtag of fake news, even when something isn’t, is now such a worn out old hat that it’s thrown against anyone with a different opinion or view as a way to discredit or diffuse any healthy debate.
This is standard tactic used by some elected to top positions where perspective and patience matters even more: Think Trump.
Considered journalism does still exist yet if we really care for it to not only survive but thrive amidst the wild West of the digital age it will take more people to pause and perhaps adjust their own sails.
We might be more mindful to some of the themes we propogate or the manner in which it is done.
We might pause before leaping aboard a band wagon so vehemently or we may be more selective as to who we follow or what we share by recognising popularity is no guarantee of wisdom, fact or truth.
And we may be a little more cautious before playing the cut off or cancel culture joker card so liberally. It’s perhaps the digital equivalent of extreme sentencing or even capital punishment. We see in the news often enough real-life legal cases where lives were upended, at risk or even ultimately forever ruined as a result of faked or manipulated evidence or via too swift a judgements.
For considered journalism to survive, to minimise the race to be first, to be more diligent about facts or the truth, may well be a great point by Denzel Washington, yet it’s everyone’s responsibility, not just mainstream media alluded to in his clip, as both readers and writers of all manner of content.