It’s time to talk about the news.
This post was in part inspired by John Oliver’s recent segment on the gradual demise of print journalism (John Oliver on Journalism (might not be up in the UK yet)), but I want to take things in a slightly different direction.
Oliver talks about how newspapers and journalists are forced to drop more meaningful stories in place of pursuing clicks online, how they have to post a certain number of articles a day, and how they have to tweet a certain number of times, and of course what this all means is that real news is set aside in favour of puff pieces that draw in the braindead denizens of the internet.
I’ve complained about this before, about websites like Complex and the Huffington Post that have eroded the status of old fashioned real journalism, and have created a new generation to whom the very concept of a newspaper is alien.
Of course the news being online is nothing new, it’s 2016 after all, and every newspaper from the big national ones to local heralds have a website. People just don’t buy newspapers anymore, that’s a sad fact, and so they’ve had to focus on ad revenue online (or a paywall in the case of The Times) to keep themselves afloat.
For readers the advantages of websites like those above, not to mention the great internet Satan that is Buzzfeed, are obvious. You get concise stories, you get the basic outline, and you get a comments section so you can debate with equally misinformed people about who’s more wrong. Spoiler alert: it’s everyone. Everyone is wrong.
Add to that Facebook’s trending section, which many people will probably see as a series of headlines about the most important things in the world, only they’re not. They’re just the things that other people on Facebook are talking about, people who have also clicked on things in that sidebar, see the problem?
This dumbing down of what was once a very serious and very noble profession is worrying, especially for people like me who want their news unfiltered and unadulterated. Yes there’s bias in our media, especially in the UK, but the internet is just as susceptible to bending to the will of owners and benefactors.
However there is an even newer phenomenon which is starting to drive me up the wall, and it’s videos. Not videos in general, that would be daft. I’m not a 19th century Parisian to be shocked and awed by the concept of moving pictures, but I am shocked by the rampant popularity of the new breed of short form video “news” that is turning brains into mush and thoughts into a distant memory.
They’re absolutely everywhere, spouted by the aforementioned big hitters and also by smaller pages like AJ+, Attn., Viral Thread, and a whole host of other websites that nobody has ever heard of and have nigh on zero credibility.
They’ve infested my Facebook feed, liked and shared by friends and thousands of others, simple clips that could be from anywhere overlaid with short captions that often come with no citations or sources.
How did we let it slip so far? How did we get to the stage where even an article on a newspaper website is considered too much work by so many? It doesn’t take long to click onto the BBC, or The Guardian, or The Times or even the Daily Mail if you’re so inclined, and find a short to medium length piece about the issues of the day written by a real journalist and backed up by real sources. If you have digital TV there’s a whole raft of news channels, there’s the radio, there’s DAB radio, there’s podcasts from reputable sources, there’s so many options and yet so many people fail to utilise any of them.
Instead we have a generation of people getting their news from social media, news which is influenced not by actual events but by what other people are interested in, and what they are often interested in is not what needs paying attention to. You know what’s trending right now? Tim Curry talking about the remake of Rocky Horror and Pokemon Go. Yeah.
People are interested in celebrity and scandal, in sport and simplified science, and when it comes to serious matters like politics and economics and world affairs they don’t have any interest at all, instead they want the facts dumbed down and a point of view fed to them.
It gets even worse when it comes to social justice causes, the comments under every video turning into a nightmarish echo chamber of like minded young liberals who enforce each others views and fail to see that what they’re being presented with is no different to the hardline stance presented to and promoted by those on the other side.
The recent BLM UK protests (my opinions on which I will reserve) were accompanied by a spate of short videos overlaid with simple captions and accompanied by an endless stream of hashtags, the activist spirit is alive but its application is so far removed from the revolutions of old that it’s glaringly obvious to anyone who looks why things aren’t being taken seriously by a great many and why genuine change isn’t being made.
There are some things that must move on, but there are things which are better the way they were, and the news is one of them.
It’s all too easy to get your news and opinions from the wave of websites that exploit the inherent drawbacks and groupthink of social media, to have everything condensed into a listicle or a video, to nod along and like the comments of those who feel the same, to fall for confirmation bias and think “Yes, I thought the same so it must be right”.
All the while the newspapers that gave us real journalism, that investigate and interview and source, and as John Oliver says in his piece, still provide much of the information for television and internet news, fall by the wayside as we migrate to dumber pastures.
I ask, no, I implore anyone reading this, to stop falling for the short form mentality that has permeated our society and start reading and watching real news again.
It may seem long, it may seem boring, but it’s better to be bored and informed than entertained and patronised. I’d rather spend ten minutes with a cup of tea and a good article than thirty seconds with a video clip and the company of mindless netizens, and
I’d rather pay for a newspaper written by genuine journalists than put money in the pockets of faceless websites with advertisers to please and arbitrary article quotas to fill.
We live in a world of misinformation and misunderstanding, and if things keep going the way they are then that problem is only going to get worse.
Don’t be a moron, read.
xoxo, The “10 Reasons Why You Should Buy A Newspaper” Indian