I Believe Reflection

I believe……

  1. that the role professional news organizations play in my life will continue to be important as a career; as a citizen of democracy and as a generally engaged person.
  2. that the future of news is largely negative; it’s hard for me to see how high quality journalism is profitable and sustainable.
  3. that my greatest strength as a journalist is my ability to craft a cohesive story by connecting a wide variety of disciplines.
  4. that my greatest challenge as a journalist is that I’m too sympathetic to others’ perspectives.
  5. that the best journalism acts as a gatekeeper for what is considered a “fact”.
  6. that mainstream media is too often maligned by progressive/radical political actors who don’t bother to actually engage with it in a meaningful way.
  7. that the biggest threat facing news organizations today is media fragmentation.
  8. that a great idea for a new way of delivering news is through smartphone notifications which integrate both news people nominally care about and news which the organization feels like people must see.
  9. that interviewing people about news is essential for fairly capturing all sides of a story.
  10. that writing for the general public is essential for our democracy in a variety of ways (e.g. making sure people are aware of the issues facing them, fact checking people who operate in the public sphere and cultivating a culture of literacy)

My second belief has been magnified the most, particularly following this election.  There have been all sorts of reports about the increasing presence and impact of fake news spread through Facebook.  I agree with Sullivan’s point that many people can’t differentiate between The National Enquirer, Gawker, the Economist and The Washington Post.  A recall reading that a group of Macedonian teenagers wrote hundreds of negative, fake news articles about Hillary during the election, many of which were shared tens of thousands of times.  These articles cost almost no money to create, are extremely profitable and take up valuable time and mental energy that could otherwise be spent reading real news.  I read another piece by the author where she recommends that Facebook hire an executive editor to filter out fake news which seems like a great suggestion.  Much of Facebook’s moderation team is outsourced to countries such as the Philippines with low levels of news literacy so her suggestion could be a potent one.

However, I don’t think that our current public discourse about fake news gets to the root of many issues facing journalism.  Public opinion about the news media has been in free-fall long before these fake articles became headline material.  Meanwhile, politicians have latched on to how criticizing news media can bolster the legitimacy of their opinions.  When Donald Trump castigates the media as an institution, he positions himself as a better arbiter of truth.  This isn’t exclusive to the left, Sanders has consistently criticized “corporate news media” as being biased against him, despite evidence that he got more positive news coverage than Clinton.  I don’t see a way for the news media to recover its reputation in these highly polarized, anti-establishment times.

Additionally, almost every traditional source of journalism is scrambling for profit right now.  Buzzfeed had an interesting model where they used fluff listicles to finance more in depth coverage, but, as the author points out, even they’re struggling.  I’ve been seriously exploring journalism as a career for the past year; this summer I got to the final round of interviews for an internship at Forbes.  I was really struck by their profit model whereby they pay people based on engagement with their article.  People are incentivized to write clickbait-y articles rather than excellent articles.  In essence, we live tumultuous times and I just don’t see how it’s going to get better.

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