About a year ago, I wrote about the degradation of journalism inherent in the turn to digital; I emphasized not only the corporate greed for advertising revenue at the expense of real journalism but the consumer apathy and lack of desire to pay even small amounts of money for sensible content that helps us navigate the complex world. The sub-title of the piece –“Paying for Nothing is Paying for Something” seems to be more apt now than ever given the role of “fake news” and the spread of hateful nonsense in digital media.
Well, we let it get there. The implications of the rise of “free content” in a capitalist society are clear. There is never a real “free.” Consumers always pay their way in privacy or tracking costs, time spent excavating the caves of idiocy that pass for thought on the web, or via donations. Why we refuse to subscribe to digital media when it’s the sort we consume the most is a case-study in unintended consequences and those consequences carry a real payload.
Take the “extreme” case of fake-news (fake news has real outcomes- check this out)—by most accounts a real factor in the election of Donald Trump. While disgusting, fake news is a natural outcome of click-to-play “journalism.” What better way to get clicks than sensationalism? If publishers are dependent on clicks then you can bet your bottom dollar that people will find a way to optimize their own financial outcomes, producing pabulum at times or hateful, dangerous diatribes at others. It’s a natural outcome of the very system we seem to support with our apathy.
The turn to digital relegates the “burden of authorship” to the dustbin. If indeed everyone is an author and there is no process of vetting, fact-checking, and reckoning in publication then every half-baked or vile idea finds immediate expression. Add to that the ease of forwarding, retweeting, and other methods of distribution and before you know it, you get a tidal wave of nonsense or filth inundating the digital commons.
So what needs to be done? I can think of a few things:
1. Stop clicking on, forwarding and retweeting random, unprovenanced material.
2. Make your views clear to the publishers of these sites- that you want real, fact-based journalism and not opinions and vituperations with no substantiation and connection to logic.
3. Financially support real journalism.
4. Subscribe to print publications that produce thoughtful, meticulously researched materials
5. Demand more from every journalist and every publisher
These 5 pointers are relevant irrespective of political position. If you are human, you certainly care about a real analysis of society and environment. Or you should. Engineers don’t build bridges on opinions nor do planes fly because we want them to.
The Post-Modernists and the Rightwing agree on one thing- we live in a post-Truth era. But the rest of us should reject that and defend Truth with all the resources we can muster. And we must usher in a new era of journalism, based on research and data not on titillation and click worthiness.
Romi Mahajan can we reached at firstname.lastname@example.org