CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?
April 6, 2011 — New York City
So, I’m adding some new links on my Blog Roll and went to the ArtsJournal: Theatre Daily News site for its http address, when an article from a few days ago caught my attention. “The Tangled Web of Broadway’s Spiderman,” read the headline. And like an idiot, I clicked on it, hoping to find something valuable. Of course, what I found and read was exactly the opposite. As 88% of all music has the same chord progressions, 99% of all news media, today, has the same “Opinion Progressions.”
Yes, the Idealist in me proves powerfully stubborn because of a personal faith in our culture’s positive aspects. Especially when it comes to seeking Journalism in an era when News Media has been absolving itself of whatever moral and ethical structure journalists hold as unspoken and sacred. The Newshounds and journalists out there, risking their lives in the field and/or battling to maintain a standard for the moral and ethical guidelines of their profession, DO EXIST. But can we, the readers and consumers, tell the difference between Op/Ed Conjecture and Op/Ed Journalism? Specifically, are we aware of how to differentiate between an article forming its conclusions based on incomplete information and one that forms its opinion from a complete analysis of evidence and source material?
Remember playing “The Telephone Game” or “Operator” when you were a kid? I do. I think my first memory was from around 1984…. The teachers instructing us how to play, as we, little fidgeting students, sit in a circle on our classroom floor….
“Now, I am going to whisper something in Ada’s ear,” the teacher said, “then Ada’s going to whisper it into Nat’s ear, and so on. Now, after you have passed the message along, try to remember what you heard and what you whispered to the person next to you. Once it goes all the way around the circle, I will ask Ada to tell the class what I whispered in her ear. Then, I will ask Tommy, who will be the last person to hear the message, to tell the class what he heard. Let’s see what happens!”
Everyone erupted into astonished giggles when we heard Ada’s answer and then, all began laughing uncontrollably when Tommy answered. I forget exactly what the little messages were, now that I’ve grown up, but I remember how much they were changed as they passed from one person to another. For kids, discovering how easily misinformation occurs and how silly it is that words can be misunderstood or changed, makes for a fun game. We all were shocked and excited by what occurred, eager to play again. All talking at once, telling each other about “what I heard and passed along,” because it all differed from the original message and then, even differed from the final message. For children, this is a wonder to learn and a big deal when first confronted with this kind of inexplicable chain of reaction. I’ll never forget the experience and the lessons of this little childhood exercise in communication.
After a few rounds of playing “Telephone,” eventually someone realized it would be even funnier to deliberately change the message. After the results caused mass hysteria among the 18 pint-sized rugrats, they quieted everyone down and turned the game into a lesson. Suddenly, it was no longer about playing a game and we listened solemnly to our stern teacher. “See what happens when we gossip? When we whisper secrets to each other? How easy it is for us to either misunderstand or, ON PURPOSE, change the story, even by just a little bit? This is why we do not tell secrets and why you cannot trust gossip to be real. Because even if we are honest and do not mean to, we all can easily miscommunicate and easily misunderstand.”
No, Don’t Play Into “The Blame Game.” It Starts and Stops With YOU
The whole purpose of understanding the difference between what kind of news is based on conjecture and what is based on opinion, gives the reader a necessary foundation to filter out most “Opinion Progressions,” plaguing our news media. With so many different outlets now competing for an audience, what used to be a discipline has become a free-for-all. It’s not the seasoned journalists losing discipline, I think, but the writers/editors who masquerade a self-proclaimed ‘journalism,’ attempting to hide an absolute lack of experience and discipline. These are the “Dirty Spin Doctors,” who produce content disguised as news but underneath the facade it’s only Telephone Games.
So many feel free to manipulate information, it’s getting increasingly difficult to trust what’s real and what’s not. Even the established brands of great repute have divisions who share no accountability for misinformation, especially when it leads to the qualifiers that quantify market value. Blaming the Media, however, has little effect if the people continue to consume the products generated by the Telephone Game and swallow the pills prescribed by Dirty Spin Doctors. Thus, we return to the issue at hand, which is whether or not you can tell the difference yourself. Are we playing a childhood game? Or are we looking for information to help further our understanding?
Developing technology affects the kinds of distribution and results in exponential internal changes the news industry must face. Despite their awareness for what has been occurring over the last ten years, these changes are so dramatic and so rapid, many people — readers and journalists alike — have been left in the dust. All of a sudden, online press now dominates an industry that depends on a discipline these sites are not required to uphold. An audience accustomed to the antiquated way of interpreting news and information has not changed or adapted to interpret the hundreds of new media outlets. Consequently, we trust too much in what we read or see, and allow misinformation to spread like it does during a game of “Telephone.”
The Information Age has spawned viral news media, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We just have to adapt ourselves. Beginning to understand how these new distribution sites do not require writers and editors to uphold the moral and ethical structure employed by Journalists, is an important first step. The second, stop interpreting what we read/see as absolute. Knowing when opinions are pure conjecture, we must challenge the writers and editors to a higher standard, but most of all, we must challenge one another to a higher standard as well. Whether or not you’re getting the whole story, questioning whether or not the information is accurate or the source is reliable, these used to be up to the journalists alone. But not anymore. Too many news outlets and too many people playing games have flooded the market, drowning legitimate journalism in a landslide of amateur Op/Ed spin.
It’s up to us now to employ a discipline for our own good. Nothing will protect us better from the viral news media infecting our social, political and cultural understanding.
And we better start soon because the real propaganda hasn’t even warmed up yet.
Copyright 2011 by Kimberly Cox