Fake News And The Death Of Investigative Journalism
Follow the money…
Fake news is a term that’s been thrown around a lot lately. Misinformation and click-bait headlines bombard us from all angles. Sensational claims that were once reserved for satirical publications like the National Enquirer have become the standard. News outlets used to take so much pride in their in-depth investigations and accurate reporting. But the times have changed, and so have the demands the consumers and the marketplace have placed on publishers. It begs the question, how exactly did things come to be the way they are now?
If we want to know the answer we must follow the money. Newspapers and magazines used to have robust revenue streams from subscriptions and recurring ad spends. In fact, they were the only place a company could place an ad to have a regional or national reach for a brand. Then came the great equalizer: the internet.
The internet changed both publishing and advertising forever. The more sophisticated the data collection efforts of tech companies became, the more powerful online ads and publication platforms became. Then consumer habits began to shift. Searches for products that once occurred in the back of magazines moved onto a burgeoning selection of search engines. Google’s pioneering efforts set it apart from all competitors and empowered both consumers, advertisers and publishers alike.
But as more and more people came online the competition for their attention became fierce. As Google and Facebook’s ever changing ranking algorithms ruled publishers’ worlds one constant remained: content is king. The more often publishers released new content the better they would rank. This frequency of release as value was in stark contrast to the old model of quality over quantity. And so click-bait headlines were born.
Social media didn’t help the situation. Now people can share an article to their thousands of friends without even reading it. “Everyone will think I’m so avant-garde, look at this headline, no one is talking about this!” Well, true. But maybe no one is talking about it because the headline isn’t true. We have a social responsibility to realize the power of the media at our fingertips. The same way our words have power, so do our online presences.
Many newspapers and magazines don’t have the money to hire quality editors anymore. Now this is a crowd-sourced responsibility we all share. It’s more important than ever to perform due diligence before spreading information. We crave true stories above all. Though sadly, they’re in short supply and the ones that are out there are often times lost in the muddy waters of the internet. That hunger for truth is played on by click-bait kingpins who manipulate our humanity and our emotional urges.
Yet, there are still those news outlets who truly care about people, the New York Times and The Washington Post among them. There are publications like the Atlantic who employ relentless investigators like the famed Ta-Nehisi Coates. But for every Ta-Nehisi there are 100 click-baiters. That’s why in the end the responsibility falls upon us and it’s one we simply cannot shirk as the stakes are high. American citizens played right into Russia’s hands during the election and inadvertently shared a powerful misinformation campaign that many feel affected the outcome of the election. Now, in the 21st century, we must all do our part to make sure that the truth doesn’t drown in a deluge of lists and Buzzfeed articles.