A return to journalism could save journalism


Occasionally I like to throw down a diatribe about the state of journalism, something of which I’m more spectator than participant. But seriously, it’s impossible to study journalism, to give a crap about it, and not see the state of Journalism The Institution and not freak the hell out. I’ll try to keep the freak-outs to a minimum.

My most recent cold sweat at the thought of what our jackass country is doing to the gathering and dissemination of information came from this Poynter article, which discusses the fact that news magazines like “Newsweek” and “Time” don’t employ fact-checkers. This was important because the cover story of the latest “Newsweek,” which happens to attack President Barack Obama’s track record as president, also happens to get, like, a lot of things incorrect.

But hell, why bother to get things right when you can just be loud? That seems to be the prevailing wisdom in media for the last decade.

It’s especially frightening when you read stuff like this NPR story discussing how Mitt Romney and his campaign are claiming that Obama is removing the work requirement from welfare law. Here’s the thing about that — it’s a lie. It’s absolutely false. Even a republican who helped write the goddamn law says it’s false. Yet the lie isn’t going away as it gets exposed, it’s being trumped by more people, more loudly.+

Do we not care about facts?

I don’t think that’s the case, personally. Journalism has gotten out of hand in the last two decades or so, and facts have given away to punditry because some suit somewhere thought punditry was making him more money than facts. I believe that’s not the whole story.

My viewpoint says that if you want to bring back a world in which fact-checking is the norm, knowledge is valued and people actually care about the truth, you have to make the truth important. You stop treating people like idiots. You engage their intellects and you let them know that you trust them. And more than anything, you give them reason to trust you.

Here’s what you do. In a world in which fact-checking has been stripped to save costs, you and your publication redouble your fact-checking efforts. You hire and train journalists of the utmost integrity, with spotless reputations; true believers. Zealots of journalism. You value your journalistic efforts above everything else. You are transparent as s–t. (Not, you know, literally.)

Then, when you have all those elements in place, when you’ve done everything you can to become the greatest bastion of journalistic integrity going, you never shut up about it.

We hire fact-checkers because the truth matters to you, and it matters to us.” “We only hire the most trustworthy journalists.” “We don’t care about being first — we care about being right.” Create for yourself a pillar of trustworthiness unimpeachable by the douche-mop pundits. Put your goddamn money where your mouth is. Do. F–king. Journalism. Do it better than anyone else and laugh in the faces of the people who think they have to create an inferior product in order to be a viable business. Instead, put out a superior product — the absolute best product you can — and let everyone know that’s exactly what you’re doing.

That’s how you make facts matter (and I also think it’s how you make a profitable publication). I heard when I was back in school that rank journalists somewhere near used car salespeople in terms of trustworthiness. Holy crap, that’s insane. If your industry is considered as dirty as jawa traders, you have to do something about it. Firing your fact checkers is the exact wrong thing to do in that case.

Whew. Sorry. I get all fired up about that crap. You see, a bunch of corporate ass-hats bought up all the newspapers in this country a few years back and then simultaneously ran them into the ground. Dinosaurs roam the earth, printing paper publications that no one reads, refusing to change or adapt, and then wondering why they’re going out of business. Meanwhile, thousands of young, talented, hungry journalists languish and end up pushing PR for similar corporate overlords, and psychotic clowns spew slanted lies on TV. It’s enough to make you take an ice pick to your own temples.

Anyway (I’m really enjoying my ctrl+i today), on to other crap.

Yesterday I asked if anyone had anything they wanted me to write about in this thing, as I’m still hoping that I’m going to stay serious about this and keep it up every day. Only one person responded because I’m still a nobody on the Internet: one Christopher Sturtz (@ProfessorPher) suggested “Wildebeests practicing Krav Maga.” I have a sneaking suspicion he was joking.

Anyway, I whipped up a little Photoshop hack-job that would make Mufasa tremble with terror.

wildebeest krav maga meme

Because if I’m gonna get all angry about stuff, we at least need a little levity.

Whatever readers are actually around really can (italics!) leave comments about crap you’d like me to cover on here, though. Some things I intend to get to: my writing process, stuff about doing fiction, the process of pitching SO YOU CREATED A WORMHOLE, more stuff on getting into games journalism, and some talk about horror. Also — Slenderman. That thing creeps me the hell out.

Haven’t decided what tomorrow will be about, although I have a number of things half-written. So sound off if you wanna know about book stuff or gamer journo stuff or about some cool new movies or games.

(+ Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney or the current republican party [not super-happy with Obama, either — that dude likes drones a little too much, and we all know what happens when you put excessive trust in robots], but those two examples were not politically chosen, they just happened to come to my attention. A fun place to visit is factcheck.org, where the truth is wrung out and drip-dried from tall tails spun by both parties.)

Published by Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

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  1. Yes….this pleases me….

    Honestly, though, it’s really tough to say journalism has always been about fact-checking. There are always going to be some brilliant journalists out there who care about journalistic integrity and will risk careers/readership to bring a hard-hitting story to the public mind.

    Others are going to start a war with Cuba just to sell papers.

  2. @ProfessorPher

    God yes. Definitely true.

    But this is me addressing this greater idea that the industry is currently shrinking, falling apart, unable to figure out why no one wants to buy their product anymore. I’m probably overstating the importance of fact-checking, but I really do think there’s something to building some trust in the industry that’s not there anymore. That starts with changing some perceptions in the public and putting a lot of effort into doing a good job.

    I mean, in theory, anyway.

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