The news business today in no way resembles what it was two decades ago.
The internet has changed the way news is made, the way news is reported and the way news is received.
But mostly, it has changed the definition of news.
Large media companies complain about fake news.
They say fake news is ruining the reputation of “legitimate” news companies.
Here’s a dirty little secret.
There are no “legitimate” media companies.
NBC, CBS, USA Today FOX News ABC, PBS, The Washington Post and others all fret about fake news.
Politicians, led by President Donald Trump, are calling the media out for leading their newscasts with “fake” news.
Barack Obama didn’t use the term “fake news,” but he made certain the public new that every negative article written about him — especially those that came via Fox News — were made up or had no basis in fact, and were, therefore “fake.”
They’re all correct.
And, they’re all wrong.
Whether news is deemed “fake” or “legit” is determined by just one thing.
Our own prejudices.
We created this media monster by not holding it accountable.
We are responsible for the mess the media has become.
And it may be too late to fix what has gone horribly wrong.
There is no longer a middle ground in America, well, not a middle ground that is covered by the national media.
You’re either left, or right.
Which means you’re either right, or you’re wrong.
But even before this nation became so polarized, the media had a problem figuring out what “real” news is.
They cry foul at companies they say “manufacture” fake news.
Media companies are the ones who blurred the line between what is “fake” and what is “legit.”
They no longer have a clue what “real” news is.
I blame smartphones, and the internet.
Smartphones gave nearly everyone in America the ability to make a video at the push of a button, which led to“real” news companies forgetting what “real” news was.
Television news producers determined that a video of a cat stuck in a tree, or a horse stealing flowers, or a goat fainting, or a pot-bellied pig stuck in its owner’s bathtub constituted “real” news.
So local news — and then national news shows — were filled with this kind of crapola. It was cute crapola, and people laughed and smiled it. But it was not “real” news.
Each time an obese thief got caught in a grill hood in Smallville, USA, or each time a bumbling bandit got drunk after he robbed a home, and passed out before he left the premises, or he got drunk and posted a video on Facebook about his caper, it made local newscasts across the nation.
It wasn’t news, but it was entertaining.
S0on, every TV news show and every newspaper in American started using cute videos to lure people to their websites.
People were paying attention, and that’s all that mattered.
More cute, stupid videos led to more website visits, which pushed more and more “real” news to the back burner.
The ONLY thing that matters is how many people visited a company’s website, what they looked at on the website and how long they stayed there.
Watch any local TV news show now. It includes maybe 10 minutes hard-hitting news, followed by unfunny humor, cute videos, weather videos, sports fans and players doing stupid things and inane, forced conversation between the newscasters. Local news anchors aren’t typically stand-up comedians. They should quit trying to be funny.
The definition of what is “real” news is seriously skewed. It now is defined as anything that can be posted on a website or newscast that someone will watch.”
So what is “real” news?
I wish I knew, but no one really knows anymore.
News companies don’t know.
And neither does the public.
Whether news is “real” or “fake” depends on your point of view, your own passion, your own biases and prejudices.
“Real” news — to large media companies — is anything that lures followers and that promotes or pushes their own agenda.
And EVERY media company in American has its own agenda.
The journalism playbook I read when I was in college had a definition of journalists that went something like this: “report the news in an unbiased way and report all sides of a story.”
Journalists should not be in the businesses of supporting ideas or programs or rules or laws or agendas or candidates. Nor should they be in the business of destroying those things.
They can have opinions. But opinions are for opinion sections.
That’s a noble idea. But that’s never been the case.
More than 200 years ago, when the first newspapers in America were being printed, they were very openly biased and prejudiced. But they didn’t try to hide the fact they had an agenda.
But at least those agendas and biases were out in the open.
If Fox News, or CBS, or CNN or USA Today would only admit their biases, it would be easier to identify “real” and “fake” news.
But they don’t. And they never will.
Surveys and polls tell us Americans no longer trust, nor believe, the media.
Americans no longer trust, nor believe, media companies that don’t share their own political beliefs.
Those media companies that think like we do, we believe everything they tell us.
And everyone else is delivering “fake” news.
Community newspapers come the closest to actually delivering news in an unbiased manner. And even we miss at times.
But when we write a controversial story, or print a controversial column or letter to the editor — if we are doing it right — we receive flack and complaints and anonymous threatening phone calls and emails from both sides of a situation.
That should be our goal.
Our job is not to protect or advance a point of view.
Our job is to report and let readers form their own opinions.
Sometimes we fail. But community newspapers are held accountable by readers.
Large media companies are not accountable to anyone.
And that’s the problem.
I’m responsible for everything that goes in the Galion Inquirer. If something is wrong, it is ultimately my fault.
And I’ve been called to task more times than I can remember when we do something wrong.
We try to play it down the middle. And if we do it right, we’re not going to be liked by someone, but hopefully we’ll be equally disliked by all.
But at least we’re — well, we hope — we are respected.
Large media companies can and do what they want. They answer to no one.
Those who ingest news daily have also played a role in determining what is “real” news and “fake” news.
Readers say they want more “real” news. But analytics tell us is that what readers actually “consume” is anything that has to do with new restaurants or businesses, crime reports and drug busts, and any article that contains a picture or mention of someone they know … or a cute cat stuck in a tree.
Across his nation, “real” news is defined as any news that agrees with your own point of view.
If it does not indulge your beliefs, it is “fake.”
Donald Trump complains about “fake” news that is only put in newspapers or magazines or TV news programs to make him look bad.
Those who hate Trump think anything that puts Trump in a positive light is “fake” news.
The majority of those who actively read or listen to the news don’t want to listen to a “newscast” or read a “story” that is right down them middle. They may say that, but it’s not true.
They only want to listen or read or peruse the websites and newscasts and newspapers of media companies that believe as they do.
Which means, the line between “fake” and “legit” news will continue to be obscured.
That may not be what Americans want. But it’s the media we helped create.