Try this one simple trick… (The future of the media)
I’ve just found the motivation to haul my ass off the sofa. I have two university degrees, yet I spent most of my morning watching a series called Scrotal Recall (or Lovesick) on Netflix because I haven’t found permanent work in my chosen profession.
Now that isn’t your fault – well, mostly not your fault – but is in fact, almost entirely of my own making.
You see, I had a pretty good job, but decided to take a risk and try to make it as a journalist. I don’t regret that decision in the slightest, but it has seriously complicated the life plan.
The reason for this is fairly straightforward; paid, full-time journalism jobs are seriously hard to come by, and the skill requirements for journalists are evolving at a staggering pace.
The current situation
Now this isn’t meant to be a complaint. It’s simply a commentary on my views on the media and how I would try to fix the issues. So first, let’s take a look at why I think we’re in the current situation.
We expect more from the media than ever before. News and features have to entertain, as well as inform, and our generation has a constantly shortening attention span. Most of you have probably stopped reading by now, either because you’re on Netflix, (seriously, it sounds weird but it’s hilarious), or because you realised I’m not particularly funny. Yet despite this, nobody wants to pay for their news, and as a result, layoffs are happening throughout the industry, with 2016 expected to be even worse.
I recently completed a postgraduate journalism degree. I learned a tremendous amount, but unfortunately one of my main takeaways was that quantity not quality is what is demanded of journalists. Headlines must be SEO and social media friendly, multimedia content is a must, but heaven forbid your article goes over 600 words.
So where is the incentive to produce factual, in-depth work. This week, a fake news story suggesting Denzel Washington supports Donald Trump was shared on Facebook more than 22,000 times. It’s much easier to produce something empty and pointless, or potentially even totally false, than to source facts, conduct interviews and dive down into a real story. Give that article a clickbait ready title and away you go.
So in light of these difficulties in the industry, I found it pretty alarming following the U.S. election when headlines such as, “Media has itself to blame for epic election fail”, immediately sprang up. There were repeated suggestions that Trump’s rise to power was partly, or even completely, due to the way the election was covered by the traditional media elite.
However, the media is not solely at fault and it is a mistake for journalists to shoulder so much of the blame. A lot of good reporters did a lot of good work, but they were fighting an uphill battle. They gave the evidence that Trump wasn’t suitable to be president. Yet roughly 61 million people clearly just didn’t give a fuck about Trump’s less appealing characteristics and lack of experience.
Reporters went to the battleground states, they interviewed Trump supporters, but we all just sat here and laughed. Facebook, with its majority young and therefore more liberal-minded users, and algorithms that show you articles similar to the ones you have already read, gave us the sense that this was all just a comedy playing out. It was the same for Brexit.
Add in, that since 1990, nearly 60% of newspaper jobs in the U.S. have disappeared, and you begin to see why the quality media is struggling.
I think the simple answer to this, is that we actually need to demand more from our media, but we also have to be prepared to pay for it.
Next time you read an online feature, check to see if the factual statements have links or attribution. If it doesn’t, ask yourself if this is a story you really want shaping your opinions. Value quality, well-researched articles, and take the time to read them.
The U.K. and Canada are blessed with the BBC and CBC respectively. They are national, independent media companies and do a fantastic job of providing unbiased news and features. Aside from examples like these, ask yourself where the funding for something is coming from, and does the publisher have a particular agenda.
It would also help if Facebook actually gave a crap. Quite simply, there are an awful lot of bullshit stories, as the linked investigations from BuzzFeed show. Facebook even fired their human editors earlier this year, so trending stories are left entirely down to algorithms, without even the slightest bit of fact checking, with the inevitable fake news consequences.
So, when you do find a subject you care about, or a source of stories or news that you enjoy, please be prepared to support it, and pay for it.
This doesn’t have to be in news or politics, but whatever it is, value the quality of what you are reading and watching and actually support that. A subscription from Canada to the New York Times for example, is less than the cost of a beer each week. National Geographic can be even less.
Anyway, if you’ve got this far, congratulations. Here are some Biden and Obama memes as a reward. Also, please feel free to send me money….