How do we improve the news?

One of the issues I keep chewing on is the fundamental weakness of journalism today. A combination of factors ranging from the ability of fake news to spread via social media to the economic pressures that encourage our formal outlets to pursue sensationalism and fence-sitting have made it such that misinformation rules the day right now.

I want to work on fixing that, but I don’t know how.

I’ve seen people say “we need to subscribe to paid outlets so they can afford to do proper investigative journalism.” Is that the answer? I’m not sure. I have no guarantee that’s what they’ll spend my subscription dollars on, and no certainty that even if they do, it will have a noticeable effect. So I put it to you all: what’s the best place to apply leverage to improve the state of journalism today? Is it a newspaper subscription? Some organization? Does anybody out there have a real, practical solution to this problem — or at least a convincing argument for one — and if so, where?

6 Responses to “How do we improve the news?”

  1. twistedchick

    Newspapers took a huge hit in funding because of Craigslist — it took away a large proportion of want ads, and those are what pay for the news. The result was layoffs, reduction in paper size and the shrinking of the news hole — the amount of space allocated for news, not ads. So, paying for a subscription to a good paper, one you already like and whose reporting you trust, is a way to help make sure more good reporters aren’t laid off, are paid their salaries, and are able to do good, depth reporting. The other thing is interaction: when you see something in that paper that you know is an error, and you have the proof of it, contact the editorial staff and tell them so. Give them the facts to work with. Papers need community support in that way just as they need funding. It’s a corrective for the tendency for a reporter to lean in one direction or another after covering the same set of stories for a while, the same beat. If you know more than the reporter does, say so — tell them what you know. Everyone benefits from the truth being made available.

    • David M. Crampton

      I’d have to argue that laying all of the blame at Craigslist’s feet is simplifying the matter. Would it be more accurate to say that many factors, including Craigslist, amateur journalism, blogging, and the news industry’s slow grasp of the internet contributed largely to the decline in funding?

      Would it be accurate to say that 24 hour television news channels are also contributing to this effect?

    • swantower

      So, I get that — but I also have unanswered questions on a broader level. Is encouraging people to subscribe just on the grounds that we need paid news enough to sustain the industry in the long run, or will that amount to life support for something that no longer fits into our social ecosystem? Are newspapers the most effective place for me to spend my money, or are there alternatives out there, new paradigms that will thrive and have a stronger effect than the old models?

      I genuinely don’t know the answers to these questions.

  2. Margaret (Peggy) Squires

    Such a good, important question! I’ve been wondering that myself. Twistedchick gives one good answer and I want more. I’d love to think there are a number of practical actions we could take that would tackle this problem. Because without an informed electorate, democracy can’t really function. More ideas?

  3. Jaws

    This is not new news. It is not a new problem. It stretches back to the day of Fleet Street broadsheets; Swift complained about it more than once, and I seem to recall that Pepys did half a century before that. And the less said about the history of “fake news” in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire, the better. And conversely, there’s little one can say for Col McCormack’s paper (and the Hearst empire) other than that they ran on “fake news” a century ago.

    In short, I think this is a cyclical problem awaiting a new revenue model to restabilize things… for a time.

  4. Kacper

    During one of our classes (I study National Security), we have been faced with a similar, very dangerous problem: due to recent boom of popularity of Facebook in our country, people started trusting their Facebook wall more than anything else. Official channels of communication are distrusted due to general distrust of TV News (as it’s a “common knowledge” that major tv news shows are representing a certain ideology/politic, newspapers too), and for some reasons, “TV News” and “official channels of communication” are considered to be one and the same. People are far more likely to believe what they see on their Facebook wall, due to the fact that it’s posted by a “real individual” who is either their own friend, or friend’s-friend. And because people love reposting stuff, it leads to a plague of false information spreading and considered as truth because “our cousin posted it, he would never lie/he is a smart person so I guess he is right”.

    How is this relevant to national security (or security in general)? People believing everything they see on Facebook + reposting it vigorously leads to massive disinformation, and in case of situations that are potentially dangerous, this leads to unnecessary panic at best and real damage in people and equipment at worst. And what’s the worst, this information noise totally hides the official and useful information, or even makes people doubt it as a cover up/incompetent info.
    And there is no immediate fix for this problem. Some institutions (for example, police of certain cities) try to combat it by using Facebook themselves and building a reputation of trust and authority; however, majority of the government institutions flat out refuse to have anything to do with new media, which makes them terribly inefficient in reaching people.

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