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.

Comments on WTH Happened to the News?

  • Kristie Whites

    This is so insightful Paul! Thanks for sharing.

  • https://www.facebook.com/shaun.lamont.33 Shaun Lamont

    the first way to gain control, is to defame the foundation, and offer your own version as the only truth.

  • https://www.facebook.com/nick.roberts.988 Nick Roberts

    Hi Paul thanks for sharing. My favorite daily news is abc world news tonight. If I want to be angry about something, I move down the curve.

  • Nick Roberts

    And a lot of people enjoy the Outrage-Porn!

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Nick Roberts that’s the rub

  • https://dainamiddleton.com/ Daina Middleton

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’m advising the amazing CEO Vanessa Otero I Keating this charge.

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimmy-jaramuzchett/ Jimmy Jaramuzchett

    Wow surprised that according to the graph MSNBC is more to the left than Jacobin and Fox is more to the right than Breitbart! Super interesting graphic.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    I fu***** love data

    And by the way, I’m hiding “fudging”

  • Michael Lubker

    The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.

    – Thomas Jefferson

  • http://PartneringSource.com Bob Barker

    Paul, thank you for a truly excellent article. It’s also clear that a consequence of the rise in influence of social media has driven the current divide of the populace far wider than it would have been otherwise, creating a level of disunity among Americans that’s obviously unhealthy.

    For a better understanding of the process, see this informative documentary by NPR (https://www.pbs.org/video/us-vs-them-2t0c0s/?fbclid=IwAR1KbiAYvMmFJheqNYRTcUkFVZ-OI_FIOW4sDrb71fZW9W5XPZ0VBxcOf48).

  • https://twitter.com/sonic_sync/status/1311084843959226368 Sonic Sync

    Do you feel like facts matter much to the average Trump supporter? I don’t…emotion based voters and most of them are paranoid of the media.

  • Jonathan Daum

    Paul, I’m glad you posted this. It just affirms my avid dedication towards getting my political information from the weather channel has been an astute decision. Validation…finally

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    I’ve found voting based on the wind has as much hope of getting anyone respectable and capable in office as any other method of making a decision.

  • https://alchemyunited.com Mark Simchock

    This (link below) isn’t perfect but even as a B+ grade filter it tells us one thing…Most of our media, most of our info sources failed Journalism 101, and never make it to the 200, 300, or 400 level courses. This is not new. It’s not a post-Jan 2017 thing.

    It’s important to note that without a health Fourth Estate a proper democracy can not function. I trust y’all can do the math from here.


  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Really a great reminder Mark Simchock, that I neglected, that this really is just a reminder of the Fourth Estate and an alarm that we should be seriously concerned about how our lack of understanding it is likely the cause of a great many political, social, and economic concerns that are plaguing and distracting us otherwise.

  • Rob Smithson

    While I love charts like the infographic you used in general, that particular one is far from immune to its own creator’s biases. I recall the creator is a patent attorney who created this as a hobby with no real analytical backing to it.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Nothing is immune to bias; that’s rather the point 😉

  • Reuben Swartz

    There is something amazing about Bill Barr accusing anyone else of “dropping any pretense of professional objectivity.” I guess that’s a subject he knows a lot about.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Somewhat proving my point 😀 and yet we all keep expecting the next politician will do better…

  • Reuben Swartz

    We should. Most of them have, however imperfect.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Reuben Swartz have they? I mean really, think about it… have they? What has “The President” done (any President) that actually affects 90% of your daily life and how much of that that you think they’ve done is ACTUALLY a result of the Legislature, State governments, or even Supreme Court (yes, fully appreciating that POTUSes — POTUS-ai? — determines those justices).

    I’m not at all saying you’re wrong nor that you’re not correct that “we should,” I’m just questioning how much faith and empowerment the American Public puts in the one person representing the States and some 300,000,000 from an office in Washington.

  • Reuben Swartz

    Probably a longer discussion that doesn’t lend itself well to FB, but I agree that there is a problem at all levels of government. Also agree that politics will never be a squeaky clean business. But it is reasonable to expect “our” representatives to represent us and not just their contributors or lien holders.

  • Cauveé Kaw-vay

    News isn’t news, when it’s a for-profit entity, there is bias..! I can’t trust the source that is apparently and publicly declines neutrality. There’s an agenda on the front end, there’s puppet masters in the back in. That’s what it is! People who are woke know what it is. If you ever seen the TV show scandal, although it was a fictional story, this is the way it works

  • Liangjun Jiang

    This is basically the reason I stop reading politics news, even the pandemic news. Feels like every news of those kinds have some kind of agenda behind. I was from a communist country now I felt the news in communist country actually simply identify what is real and what is fake

  • Erin Geiger

    I love The Weather Channel.

  • Kerry Wells

    Good stuff, Paul! Remember when “Fake News” meant The Onion or Weekend Update?

  • Beth Snellen Roberts

    As far as what happened, I think it started with the CNN and the beginning of the 24 hour news cycle. Had to feed the machine with content and grab TV audiences’ attention with sensational. Then the internet took away print media’s income (ads and classifieds), so they couldn’t support quality journalism they way they used to.

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/justin-boger-5a88a817b Justin Boger

    There is no left or right in reality. Just ideas that move society forward, keep it stuck or move it backwards.

  • Lyndon Johnson

    The problem, from my perspective as a former news journalist Paul O’Brien, is that traditional media is trying to compete with speculation and rumor that “breaks” on social media with no fact-checking and no understanding of context.

    It can be fixed with a few changes to the language being used – breaking becomes developing after the story has been broken [it only breaks once], ‘according to unconfirmed reports’ to announce un-checked speculation, we need to disclose sources affiliations [insiders, pundits, donors, supporters, law enforcement, etc.] and also differentiating between online, unchecked rumor and news.

    I also think that the “bias” – otherwise known as editorial line – is overblown. As long as it is transparent, it doesn’t matter what your political view as a media outlet is; it’s when it is not made clear that the problems arise.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Very very well said Lyndon Johnson .

    #education about and transparency in media.

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacobgebrewold/ Jacob Gebrewold

    Coming alongside those who have been building what we’ve been missing is the move, in media, business and many other arenas — thanks for spotlighting those putting in the work Paul!

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-hayes-555b463a/ Michael Hayes

    Terrific article, Paul! And yet, I wonder if we aren’t allowed to hold journalism to a standard. “Lies, agendas, bias” – one of these is not like the others.

    I can accept that journalists have biases, but facts are facts, and it is the conflation of fact with opinion that seems to be a frequent lost nuance.

    It is a fact that the sun crosses the sky every day. Is it being pulled by a chariot or a dogsled? (We all know it’s a dogsled.) In the current climate however, we are told: No, the sun actually did NOT cross the sky yesterday. The sun actually doesn’t cross the sky every day. That’s not how the sun works.

    That is the Fake News that concerns me. Yellow Journalism seems quaint in comparison.

    Is there a journalistic equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater? Free speech doesn’t mean you get to say anything at any time anywhere. Whether it may be called censorship, it is still a reasonable and appropriate limitation so that our fellow humans don’t get hurt.

    I love your call to action seeking out journalists with integrity. I just hope we all understand what “integrity” is. Because lots and lots of people think it means “conviction.” It doesn’t. But if enough people think it does, then it might. And how do we fix that?

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Great points Michael Hayes. I think we can and should hold jounralists to a standard; the problem in society is presuming/expecting that that ideal = obligation.

    We’ve perpetuated this idea that News = Facts and since that ideal is not reality, we’re now pissed about Fake News and expecting someone do something about it and to hold those parties that violate that ideal as accountable.

    We’ve established the wrong basis.

    News is not facts and we should never trust that any source of information is 100% accurate. FROM that basis, we can then hold everyone to a higher standard.

    The difference is, “This is true because CNN said so.” which we all know is one perspective causing problems in society. To instead being, “CNN reported this so what are other sources saying and how do we arrive at the facts?” And don’t get me wrong, that’s not a knock against CNN; replace CNN with *anything.*

    Teach people that nothing is accountable for being truth/facts and always start every consideration of what’s reported with speculation and scrutiny, not blind certainty.

  • http://www.worldwidehuff.com/ Will Huff
  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Brilliant! Thank you, cleaner. And easier (and more troubling to see) how American media consumption is largely on the extremes.

  • Will Huff

    Paul O’Brien it really is. And how even within organizations it had to be separated. Online versus print.

  • https://wesavemusic.com Jesse Guglielmo

    Great read Paul. ??

    Another lens to consider is the “product” of interest.

    While we are the input and can blame no one but ourselves, the output being data and insights driven by our activity that is sold, was also amplified dramatically.

    So we are the input, data is the output, and the customer is the brand.

    Maybe that recipe has been around for a while, but as the Internet happened, the access to humanity, now digitized, has been abused for commerce and changed the product.

    It is no longer about fact or fiction. It is simply about reaction to feed the machine and give it what it requires to retain its ultimate customer.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Very good point Jesse Guglielmo
    In News Media, we (the consumer) have actually always been the product. The Social Media era notion that We the People are what are being monetized (i.e. by Facebook) is NOT new… That’s how it works with the Press too.

    We’re the product the press sells to advertisers. We’re the input that informs the media how to “optimize” their product to better monetize it.

    In many ways, we have no one to blame but ourselves for causing Fake News and shoddy journalism; because the publishers are merely reacting to what we consume, and providing more of that so that we’re satiated.

  • Jesse Guglielmo

    Elegantly put. If that is indeed how we are inspired to give the machine what it needs to commercialize our activity, seems we are the root of our own inconvenient “truth.” Another not so new decree…humans getting in their own way.

    Meaningful conversation…thanks for provoking it

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryonmorrison/ Byron Morrison

    This is a great piece, Paul. Thanks for posting. While I usually tout the benefits of social media, I think it might be unfair to expect everyone to “get it.”

    This publisher paradigm changes so quickly it can be difficult for any common person to understand. The volume of content is also incomparable. I’m fairly anti-governmant involvement in most things, but I do believe controls have to be put in place.

    As an example, media is managed by the FCC, but no one is really managing social media. As you noted, we’ve always had freedom of speech, but most didn’t have the means to amplify our message. Once it became more accessible, and simultaneously monopolized by large corporations, it needed regulation. It allowed people to grow with media and become more savvy to it. I’d say we’re at a similar inflection point with social.

    I would also argue the social media companies actually are publishers. They determine who sees content via their algorithms. That content isn’t shared on the basis of being informative or balanced, either. It’s shared to generate engagement and ultimately revenue.

    Yes, we all need to learn how to discern what we’re viewing, but it’s getting harder every day and we may be asking too much in some cases.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    The FCC being involved in the internet greatly concerns me because of that question: is Social Media the publisher?

    1. Who defines Social Media?

    2. What makes The New York Times, which decides what it published, after an editorial review, the same as Twitter, which does not?

    3. Isn’t social media merely public commentary? Similar to the Letter to the Editor or Call to the Talk Show Host? The FCC has rules about swearing and such, in such cases, but it doesn’t get involved in what can/can’t be said (nor the accuracy of it).

    What makes the medium changing force a website with public commentary, to be seen as the same as the company that determines what is published?

    I vastly prefer the FCC stay out of the internet. We may not like the implications but suggesting that what happens online should be governed, by one country in a world of dozens), opens a greater can of worms than people not realizing how to take everything with a grain of salt.

  • Will Huff

    What do you think of the commercialization of local news? If local news couldn’t sell ads during the time slots it is on, maybe at least it wouldn’t be about ratings.

    We are in a world where news is expected for free. So the outlets have to separate themselves from others by doing something to get loyal bases and now the consumers don’t seem to want to have news counter to their opinions.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Eh…… PBS and BBC are “publicly” funded and don’t need to commercialize their message, but do.

  • Will Huff

    Paul O’Brien Because these stations have to cater to the donors. If local stations made their money from ads of regular TV but news was off limits, I wonder if it would matter. I suspect the producers would be the ones deciding.

  • https://seobrien.com Paul O’Brien

    Will Huff with you. I don’t think you can remove the bias merely by addressing the capital. The influence on media exists because we’re fundamentally biased people; the mistake society has made is trusting (and expecting) it to be otherwise.

  • Michael Hayes

    Paul O’Brien agreed on all points! Critical thinking is a fading practice I sometimes fail to practice myself. I just wish it wasn’t so necessary where the news was concerned ?

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-teague-140a568/ Brian Teague

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a complex subject! Interesting that you don’t find Judy Woodruff & PBS Newshour biased these days. I don’t even recognize the National News networks that I used to respect & trust. It’s really sad & horrible for our Country! 🙁

  • https://twitter.com/merket Merket

    A gap formed. That’s what happened.

  • https://twitter.com/merket Merket

    Also, a key part of history that I think you’re missing is that Roger Ailes, the Bush Sr Communications Dir was tapped by Rupert Murdoch to be the first President of Fox News. Fox News was the first news network created to push a political agenda, openly.

  • https://twitter.com/merket Merket

    Outfoxed (from 2004!) is a great documentary covers the history and internal editorial guidelines of Fox News even back then.

WTH Happened to the News?

by Paul O'Brien time to read: 7 min