Over the summer I have worked as a journalist for a small newspaper. The experience has given me a fresh take on the problems that journalism faces today.
One would think that our current age would be journalism’s golden age. After all, we are currently in the age of information. Such an age should be the perfect habitat for journalism, considering that journalism is to “gather, process, and inform the public about news via media outlets like newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and internet.”
Alas, this theoretical golden age turns out to be an nightmare for journalism. Here I present three reasons for why journalism struggles.
As Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” He died over a century ago, yet he felt that journalism faced the same problem of misinformation as it does today. However, I believe that this problem takes a different shape today.
Mark Twain points to the unreliability of valid information. Knowledge was not so well documented back in the day. We produce an incomprehensible amount of data these days. In 2021 we produced 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. In 2020 and 2021 90% of the world’s data throughout all recorded history was created. In short: That is a lot.
Whereas Twain struggled to even find information, today we struggle to find valid information. You see, there are two ways to keep people uninformed: Either deny them information, or bury it in misinformation.
Misinformation acts like noise. It corrupts your knowledge of the world by disturbing and distorting it.
Battling misinformation takes time, which leads us to what I believe to be journalism’s second big problem.
What separates a newspaper from a magazine? They both inform the public about just about everything: culture, politics, economics, etc. The answer is time.
Newspapers delivers the freshest news possible. This naturally impacts the articles. Newspaper articles do dig, but they do not explore the topics or interviewees as deeply as possible. Moreover, today’s tabloid news is an even faster edition still, making news a fresh product. In terms of time, newspapers are fast.
Magazines are slower than newspapers. Often issued monthly or weekly instead of daily, magazines are expected to deliver longer stories to their readers, exploring topics to a more satisfactory level. Magazines have thus abandoned the chase for “you heard it here first” and tries instead to tell stories as best they can.
I believe that newspapers are too fast. They do not allow for “slow” facts to be at the root of the story, only as an extra. Thus, newspaper articles are often willing to interpret findings too creatively in the interest of getting a catchy title to ensnare readers.
But time is not just a problem for the newspapers in my opinion. Given the lack of real wage growth in the middle and lower middle class in the west for the last 50 years, along with inflation and increased prices on everything, time has become precious for readers as well. And when the public do not have the time to inform themselves, we have a problem.
For a society, this is a terrible illness. As Noam Chomsky said: “People not only don't know what's happening to them. They don't even know that they don't know.” With such a status quo, we cannot expect society to improve for everyone, only for someone.
The last point is a hit to news outlets directly.
When Julian Assange revealed the U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, there was not a single major news outlet that did not print it. Wikileaks has gone on to maintain 100% accuracy in what they publish. Assange’s Wikileaks is not short of a modern tale of heroism. But this tale seems to be a tragedy.
Assange is currently in Belmarsh prison in the U.K. After being more or less trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy from 2012 to 2019, British police was invited into the embassy after a decision by Ecuadorian officials.
But Assange’s story is gravely underreported. While some journalists show their support, media as a whole has not told his story cohesively to the point where we have a clear understanding of what is going on with him. This is an ugly part of today’s journalism, and concludes my top three problems that journalism faces today.
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