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WTH Happened to the News?

On September 11th, a notable day in United States and by extension, throughout the world, Townhall (a clearly conservative political voice), rang the headline, “AG [U.S. Attorney General] Barr Rips National Media as a ‘Collection of Liars’ Over Riot Coverage.”

Now, before I fire you up about either side of the political aisle, the looming U.S. Presidential election, or the very important issues of race plaguing the United States, related to that headline, I want to steer your focus to the other side of the coin exposed in a headline like that.

Tonight, the first of Presidential Debate of the 2020 election will be streamed to millions of households throughout the world, and it was an Axios Headline thanks to the incredible media industry journalist, Sara Fischer, that caught my attention most, “Media prepares to fact check debates in real time.”

The Media today has to very clearly and publicly share how they’re fact checking… as though we’ve lost confidence that they are.

How did “Fake News” become an issue in society?

Certainly a critical issue of the times, media bias, integrity, and accuracy assuredly has more history to it than Trump Tweets, the salicious argument of the extremes of MSNBC vs. Fox News, or The Daily Show wit.

Media bias is real. One could (and frankly, should) argue that it’s not “Fake” but rather a very understandable, acceptable, and expected experience with News. Take a look at this and just try to convince me that News Media doesn’t favor sides; but then also try to appreciate that maybe it should – maybe it must – maybe the problem isn’t that it does but that *WE* aren’t introduced and taught how to deal with the FACT of it.

WTH Actually Happened to the News?

The internet happened.

Perhaps our greatest challenge in society today is that we’re not (we can’t easily be) taught, as children in school, how technology has forced media to change. But *that* is a critically important lesson because HOW the News Media works explains WHY it does what it does.

Fake News isn’t a cause of our problems, it’s a symptom of how things work.

The internet forced changes, decades ago; the business model died and revenue with it. We’re experiencing the consequences.

“The press has dropped, in my view – and I’m talking about the national mainstream media,” noted Attorney General Bill Barr in Katie Pavlich‘s Townhall interview, “Has dropped any pretense of professional objectivity and are political actors, highly partisan who try to shape what they’re reporting to achieve a political purpose and support a political narrative that has nothing to do with the truth. They’re very mendacious about it,”

Intriguingly, replace the context of Barr’s comment pertaining to politics with capitalism, social issues, local regulations, education, alcohol policy… literally ANYTHING, and you can (hopefully) pretty readily see how and why Media speaks to a distinct audience — and the mistake we make (and challenge we must overcome) is that we get influenced by what’s popular = what’s true.

Everyone became a reporter

Everyone became a reporter and in the process, devalued the News publisher and journalist (why pay for that when I get the tweet from my neighbor for free??)

To survive, News has increasingly tried to remain relevant in our era of Social Media engagement, influencers, and TikTokers, that is, they’ve had to “buzzfeed” their headlines with more sex appeal, blood, and scandal. And the proof to *them* that it worked? More traffic to their sites, retaining whatever anemic revenue they have left.

And while they perceive it’s working, because they’re getting more traffic and scraping by, they’re actually falling even further from being relevant… people increasingly realize they can get *that* drivel anywhere AND that we can’t trust it.

What might cause News to recover (and actually for once be meaningful), is that many Reporters and Journalists, who themselves as individuals have integrity, are learning how to self publish and make money themselves.

Driving the news: Nicole Carroll, editor-in-chief of USA Today, tells Axios that the USA Today Network, which includes over 200 local news sites as well as USAToday.com, will be live-checking the debate in real-time across all of its live video feeds and social channels.

Sara Fischer, author of Media Trends with Axios

How can we possible reach a point where we have trust in news without actually getting to know personally (accountably) our sources of news?

Yes, for once be meaningful. Did you know that “Fake News” dates back to the 1800s (at least!)

Look up “Yellow Journalism.”

The internet disrupted print first, killing a ton of it while leaving those left to subsist. Television saw the writing on the wall and became more extreme and biased, across the board, in its effort to retain any audience and cater to some advertisers.

Easiest place to see the trend in TV is The Daily Show, which originally was a fairly neutral News Comedy show. It became increasingly left wing and spun out a show initially rather “opposite” of that just for the sake of the split audiences.

What is social media?

Think about that.

Before the internet, Media was one way communication, available largely only to those who could afford to produce it.

What this meant, regardless of underlying intentions, was only what publishers/producers or government wanted communicated was communicated.

Sure, anyone could print a “paper,” broadcast on amateur radio, or get on the public access TV station, but beyond that, voices were silenced not by intention but circumstance.

We have, in the U.S., the 1st Amendment to ensure everyone CAN use those forms of media but make no mistake that those forms of media were expensive and regulated such that while freely available, they weren’t terribly meaningful to 99% of the worlds’ voices.

Ponder that.

We have freedom of speech and the press BUT, who appointed capable enough companies, wealthy individuals, and government to communicate what should be said??

And before you argue, “we did” (because we elect those officials or that “anyone can do it” because it’s available), please appreciate that what I need you to grasp that is opportunity is NOT the same as accessibility or ability.

We all could, but overwhelmingly most couldn’t.

Along comes the internet.

And like it or not, everything changes. Suddenly, people are empowered. In time, increasingly, we have, access, affordably, and we’ll have voices.

As a result of that, a form of media accelerates.

Think of this too… social media is NOT new.

You could call the radio show. You could write a letter to the editor. You could do a YouTube video on the Cable Access Channel.

Social Media is just the word coined because the internet made that connection between content and audience more meaningful.

And because of the internet, we all have it.

That is incredible. That is revolutionary. That is precisely what humanity needs to emerge better.

With that comes a downside but make no mistake that that downside was ALWAYS there. BOTH the benefits and the risks aren’t new, they’re amplified.

What is the downside of media? (appreciating this reality?) Lies, agendas, bias.

Those downsides aren’t new.

You’re implying or thinking that that moron on TikTok who won’t wear a mask during coronavirus, means TikTok is the problem???

You’re implying that that elected ignoramus on the radio who sparked a riot, isn’t the SAME circumstance; that the radio is the problem??? Or that the “Yellow Journalism” of publishers biasing news isn’t also the same thing??

The problem isn’t the media… the CHALLENGE that falls UPON US is teaching that this is HOW it works and enabling the world to better appreciate the role of News Media and HOW to consume FACTS. In the process, teaching and enabling the journalists of exceptional integrity, to thrive (to make money) in this changing economy.

Social Media has given everyone a voice. We’re seeing inside N. Korea, the protests in Hong Kong, we see the abuses of people throughout the world, we know better which government officials are thieves and liars, we can add our voices to the chorus of what’s wrong with humanity.

Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat aren’t the voices. They aren’t the publishers. They’re just platforms. They’re platforms of us.

And if we don’t like what’s there, we have no one to blame but ourselves for being that there.

Sure, we can point at one or the other and say “bad them, for not censoring that stuff we don’t like!” But … come on, that’s censorship. We already know there’s all kinds of things wrong with anyone else preventing what anyone can say, even if what they say is wrong.

We are the voices. For good and bad.

And it’s far better world with this media on which we all have a voice, than the world in which most of us don’t.

People will increasingly “subscribe” to not news outlets but the reporters themselves; people who will strive to make sure their own reputation is solid, through honesty and accuracy.

Need proof that *that* can work?

Start with (and where to follow them directly), Judy Woodruff, Bob Woodward in the WaPo, Any of the NBC or ABC anchors. Brian Williams and Lawrence O’Donnell, or the Sunday New York Times, tend to provide a broad spectrum. Look to people like Sara Fischer, directly, for exploring the news, or to journalists like Cherie Hu, in our industry, who are covering an industry because they personally care.  PBS News, The AP, NPR, Reuters, The BBC, The Hill, Bloomberg, The Economist… There are places to get more balanced and fact based news. The responsibility is on us to know how and where to identify fake from real; and to support the journalists with integrity.

Granted, we’ll still have a bunch of crap peddlers trying to make a buck getting those subscribers for themselves, but at least we’ll be able to start seeing and identifying great journalists of integrity, pay to support them, and get some truth back in reporting.

Paul O'Brien

Silicon Valley technology and startup veteran, Paul O'Brien is affectionately known as SEO'Brien for an extensive past in the search industry. Today as CEO and Founder of MediaTech Ventures, O'Brien works in Venture Capital Economic Development, serving the investment and venture capital economies directly, through thought leadership, consulting, and startup development. More, a regional Director of the Founder Institute incubator and mentor in DivInc, Galvanize, and various startup Accelerators.

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  1. The chart is conceptually problematic on many different levels. To start with, there is no such thing as news gathering that is “unbiased” – even the choice to either pursue or not pursue a story is anchored in the beliefs of an editor / journalist.

  2. Very true. I think the goal with it is to first understand and seek reality of the circumstances. Only then can we honestly attempt to overcome the bias or find alternatives to bias in media (if that’s even possible)

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