Journalism is Bullshit: What We Should Take to the Metaverse Instead
I was a high school journalism teacher for years. You’d think if there was one person who could believe in the field, it would be me. I lectured for ages about non-biased media and the magic of “getting the scoop” on a news story. I idolized Woodward and Bernstein. And despite investing a significant portion of my life idolizing the field, I can stand here now and tell you it’s all total BS.
Simply put: there is no way to make journalism good content. Let me explain.
Good Content is Authentic
Ask any of the millions of coaches out there right now, and they’ll tell you that getting in touch with who you really are is the best content. New social media forms like TikTok, praise the authentic. In fact, they ran their own Nielson study to quantify the success of their more authentic mode of content creation.
So what is authenticity at its core? I appreciated these 7 key attributes listed in this Psychology Today article:
- Have realistic perceptions of reality.
- Are accepting of themselves and of other people.
- Are thoughtful.
- Have a non-hostile sense of humor.
- Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are open to learning from their mistakes.
- Understand their motivations.
I think we can all agree that these 7 key signs of authenticity check out. Odds are your favorite content creator is doing just this or frankly, they wouldn’t be your favorite content creator.
But what about the news?
Good Journalism is Unbiased
Right after I welcomed my student into Journalism 101, I’d spit out this “fact”- it’s that core to the teaching of journalism. There’s this feeling in the field that what makes a “good journalist” is digging into the facts and not letting your own feelings or thoughts “get in the way” of good journalism.
Most modern media outlets continue to cling to this core belief. In fact, most are still racing to be true centrists in our polarized world.
What do we do with the so-called “outliers” of this centrist theory? We shame them. If you’ve ever thrown shade at someone for being a victim of misinformation from Fox News or called it the “Clinton News Network”- you’ve taken part in this ostracizing.
Journalism and Authenticity
You’d think that journalism and authenticity would have a lot in common. “Authentic” sounds factual and unbiased and those seem like the values Journalism holds dear. But let’s go back to those core attributes of authenticity and check-in.
- Have realistic perceptions of reality.
Well, not necessarily if you’re in journalism. In fact, the more attached you are to a story, the less likely you are to have a realistic perception of it. If you work tirelessly day in and day out to expose a political figure- you’re probably attached to that outcome. It’s literally your livelihood to do so. It puts food on your family’s table to finish that story. How can someone have a truly realistic perception of their world when so much is at stake? How can you see around your basic human needs and claim “Truth” with a capital T. Listen, I can’t be trusted to give you my honest take if I haven’t had coffee. And you’re saying these people can dismiss any pull to sensationalize their own stories when it’s their entire paycheck to do so? I call BS.
2. Are accepting of themselves and of other people.
Acceptance of others is pivotal to creating authentic content too. And in modern journalism, it’s not happening.
The polarized extremes of “less biased” news sources are constantly pointing fingers at their “less quality” counterparts. When you position yourself as a morally superior news source, you can’t possibly be accepting of other news sources and still maintain your own high sense of self. In this hyper moral world, someone has to be the good guy, and someone has to be the bad guy. The result? A high level of polarized crap talking competitive media outlets and a significant amount of ignoring their own shortcomings in the process.
3. Are thoughtful.
Thoughts are deeply human. The little brain synapses popping off in our heads all the time are part of the human experience- one that most AI still can’t recreate. They're a core part of the cognitive triangle. Unfortunately, modern media prefers to skip right over thoughts and stick to “just the facts”.
Facts are “thoughts” without self-reflection. It is not possible to accurately portray the “facts” of any situation while you’re still in a human body.
Sure your news crew is first on the scene at the local robbery, but who was there when JFK got shot or the first man landed on the moon? Conspiracy theories are directly correlated to how many different human experiences weren’t there at a time. In fact, the only reason conspiracy theories exist is because of modern media outlets and their inability to distinguish between thoughts and facts.
4. Have a non-hostile sense of humor.
The news? Funny? I can’t tell you the last time I laughed at a news story. Covid 19, the war in Ukraine, inflation rates… there’s nothing funny here. Sure you can share a viral video with a cute dog, but often it’s just an attempt to soften the blow between another heart-wrenching story.
Not just unfunny, this study found watching the news to be psychologically damaging. According to the study, “These findings demonstrate that watching the news on television triggers persisting negative psychological feelings that could not be buffered by attention-diverting distraction (i.e., lecture), but only by a directed psychological intervention such as progressive relaxation.” Essentially, the only way to watch the news and not project those negative feelings elsewhere would be to intentionally turn towards meditation after watching.
Furthermore, if the only humor the news can share is used in an attempt to manipulate, it also misses the mark. No amount of heartwarming “feel good” stories can soften the blow if they’re being used to simply manipulate us into stomaching more of the awful stuff. Moreover, humor makes us feel good, the news does not.
5. Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
Emotions and journalism don’t go together. While the field is trying to push towards empathy, it’s falling short. Check out this article from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Journalism Ethics. In this ultimately pro-feelings article, they state, “the emotions that motivate reporters need to be tested and channeled by the desire to be objective”.
There is nothing less objective than a human being with feelings. Simultaneously praising the media for being feeling and also not having those feelings, isn’t exactly a clear goal even if it were possible.
6. Are open to learning from their mistakes.
Now, I’ll give it to them, journalism does do its fair share of self-policing. There is a large portion of journalism ethics that addresses corrections to stories.
However, learning from these mistakes is another thing. The way most journalism outlets are learning from their mistakes is by being more careful with their stories. They have their writers and researchers double-check facts and get better sources.
However, real learning isn’t just not making mistakes. I’m a teacher remember? Believe me, learning isn’t just fixing errors in red pen. Real learning here would mean reflecting on why you were so quick to publish in the first place. How were you emotionally attached to publication prior to fact-checking? What would it mean for your media source and you if you got the “hot scoop”? I don’t think this level of self-reflection is going on in newsrooms today.
7. Understand their motivations.
That brings us to our most pivotal media misstep. Modern journalists and news outlets do a poor job of understanding their own motivations.
The motivation in question? Your attention and the money that gives them.
We live in a capitalistic society that is driven by the need to purchase. One of the largest causes of mental health issues is low socio-economic status.
It’s simple logic really. If money entertains us, if our entertainment creates emotions, if media reports on those emotions… media would need to make money to continue the cycle.
Let me visualize it for you. Our money buys us a ticket to go to the Oscar’s (or a cable subscription and a TV to watch it if you’re poor like me). At The Oscar’s Will Smith hits Chris Rock. We all feel the human emotion that happens when a man defends a wife. The media then reports on this story of Will Smith and Chris Rock ad nauseum so as to get clicks for their advertisers because it’s making everyone feel something. Thus continues the cycle of “spend to survive”.
This means that your news outlet’s primary intention isn’t to “inform you of top stories” but to “entertain you long enough to buy something”- and their lack of clarity on that? It gives me a large reason to distrust them entirely.
The Future of Journalism
I promised myself I wouldn’t end in doom and gloom. There’s enough nihilism in the world to go around and I don’t mean to add to the dismal outlook for the future.
Whenever I’d come home with a new crisis, my mom would say, “the only thing that matters is if you’re happy.” It’s a sentiment that I now repeat to my own children.
In a society where money isn’t the only predictor of happiness, much of our issues with modern inauthentic news outlets go away. The more we reconnect to our own world, feel financially safe, and tell our own stories, the better. Am I suggesting a large-scale societal shift? Yeah. You should be too.
A decentralized media is what I’d like to bring to the metaverse. The bloggers, the content creators, the YouTube personalities- these are the people authentically sharing their stories. I think we need to start giving them the respect they deserve for making this world a better place.
P.S. I’m one of them, so I guess read this with a grain of salt.