When I decided to write an exposé on the problems of journalism, I knew that I wouldn't be gaining employment in the field after that. The industry holds vicious grudges, but the original intention of the book was not to be a consumer's guide to the ways of journalism, but to be a textbook for journalism students so they would know if someone was scamming them in order to manipulate press coverage.
But publishers rejected this perspective: no matter how many case studies were in my proposal and sample chapters, it was always the same: The problem couldn't be that bad. The End.
Really? Didn't you see the long list of real-life and verified examples? It is akin to a doctor showing a patient scans and test results of a cancerous tumour and the patient shrugs it off and say, "The problem couldn't be that bad. The End."
Why couldn't it be that bad? Why not? The results are staring you in the face. I had no reason to lie or exaggerate, and, in fact, I didn't use all the examples I had. These weren't minor errors and hoaxes: people went to war and died because of propaganda that was proven to be an outright lie. Innocent people were condemned for things they didn't do. People lost their life savings and jobs on scams that bankrupted entire towns.
So here I was with a proposal that was dismissed because of the assumption that things couldn't be that bad when, hello!, the publisher looked at all the examples, saw it was that bad but then rejected it because reality went against an accepted, but unverified narrative.
The news was full of lies and errors -- and there were reasons for it. I didn't just list hoaxes, lies, scams, and propaganda: I showed how they were disseminated to the public in the first place. There were real breakdowns and vulnerabilities that made spreading fake news through legitimate media outlets very simple. Children could and did game the system.
And the biggest weakness was that you had a profession that was convinced of their own infallibility despite evidence to the contrary staring them right in the face.
It was that bad. All I did was gather, research, and verify cases of lies making news and then list them on a proposal. It was right there in black and white, and I had enough to write a book clocking at 416 pages -- and could have written volumes more if I wrote about every case study that I had in my possession.
But I was careful to use only the cases where the offending media outlet conceded it disseminated a lie; so there would be no question of wrongdoing: all the parties agreed on the statement of facts. It was akin to creating a list of a criminal's guilty pleas, while leaving the convictions by trial out of the equation.
If I included those cases, it would have been even worse than "that bad."
And yet, I knocked on doors of various publishers only to be dismissed as some sort of hysterical exaggerator.
And then I sent my proposal to one agent who didn't dismiss me. She wanted to take on the project, but was vetoed by her boss. However, she made a suggestion to me to switch the focus of the book from being a guide for journalists to being a consumer's guide to verifying the news. I re-jigged the book to give lessons in how news was put together in the first place, and then used my case studies to back up my hypothesis.
That's when my fortunes rapidly changed, and the Disinformation Company took my book and published it without any editorial meddling whatsoever. There was no whining that things weren't that bad.
The book became Don't Believe It! How lies become news, and I honestly thought that would be my last foray into that world. No media outlet would take me on after that, I absolutely knew because you are not suppose to say in public that journalism is anything else but perfect.
I had just wrapped up writing the book, and was teaching at Sheridan College at the time. There was an academic conference that day called Make It So -- it was the day where professors were giving lectures to other professors, and I had not only signed up to take a workshop, I was also giving one about this new-fangled thing called a "web log" and how it had great potential for professors to use this blog thing to communicate to students in their classes. I was teaching creative writing students using the one blogging platform AOL provided at the time, and the results were fabulous. These days, blogs are standard in all academic institutions. Back then, I had people in the workshop ask me what was a blog and how do you use it.
It was during a break when my publisher called me on my cellphone with a shock request: Disinfo had a deal with the director of an upcoming documentary about the partisan and deceptive ways of the Fox News Channel, and would I like to write the companion book?
I thought Don't Believe It! was my swan song, but OutFoxed would be my encore. I happily agreed, knowing that this book would absolutely ensure my career as a journalist would be over because this book would target people who really, really, really held grudges. I wasn't naive.
The late Roger Ailes was powerful, and he had a mean streak. I wrote an entire chapter on him and how he operated.
Having two media criticism books come out exactly on month after each other sent a very clear message: the true state of journalism was truly that bad. It had vulnerabilities as Don't Believe It! proved, and it could be corrupted by partisan feints as OutFoxed proved.
Needless to say, I did not get any more gigs as a journalist, even though I never had trouble before the publication of those two books.
But I wasn't through with journalism yet. I ventured out on my own with Chaser News. I did other things, writing another book that was published by bluechrome, but that book was a fiction anthology. I taught art at Niagara College and the Dundas Valley School of Art. I even started A Dangerous Woman Story Studio where I wrote fiction stories.
But even with A Dangerous Woman, the nonfiction started to creep back in. It was eight years after the publication of my first two books, and in 2005, it was hard to imagine that the fortunes of journalism could be worse, but it wasn't just a rickety relic always teetering, but somehow it could still chug along: it collapsed.
Journalism imploded. By 2016, the narrative of "fake news" was taking shape, with the silent assumption that "real news" was truly real and "fake news" meant some sort of forgery or knock-off of the real thing.
But that was a lie, too. Stephen Glass wrote fake news for national news magazines. Jayson Blair wrote fake news for the New York Times. Here I had two books showing that journalism wasn't a real diamond while the others were just a cheap glass version: the so-called diamond was made of glass, too.
There was a reason why my initial idea for Don't Believe It! was always rejected, and it went back to motive: if journalism was truly about the mundane task of finding facts and giving them to the public, then a book showing future journalists how to find real facts would have been welcome. You would want j-school students to be proficient in spotting lies from truth -- not just for the noble reasons, but to ensure the product is never tainted or corrupted. You would expect those academic institutions to welcome such a book and devise courses in information verification as standard practice.
So to reject any overture hints that journalism's motives aren't all the noble or sincere. Why isn't such a book standard? In fact, had journalism done its job, I would have never suggested it because there would have been many such books on the market with one that would be the classic gold standard. There would be no reason for me to pursue that venture because it wouldn't have been a problem in the first place.
So how can we have denials that things weren't that bad, but then never have that genre of book for j-school students at all?
You can imagine having doctors come out of medical school, but have no training in differentiating sickness from health, or false positives from real positives because misdiagnoses isn't that bad.
This is how primitive journalism was and still is in 2018.
I felt like Ignaz Semmelweis -- the poor doctor going out of his mind telling his fellow doctors to disinfect their hands before delivering babies because their corpses they were handling would bring infection and death to mothers and infants -- and instead of just disinfecting their hands, they threw the messenger into an asylum where he died -- until years later when others finally clued in that the mortality rates during child labour actually plummeted when the stupid doctors disinfected their hands.
I started researching the state of journalism once again -- seeing that the profession had neglected itself to death, and that things were much worse in 2016 than they ever were in 2005.
Things were really so bad that they got to be the worst.
And then I proposed another book, which Zer0 Books accepted and When Journalism was a Thing will be out this July.
Unlike my first two books, this one chronicles journalism the way a coroner explains how and why a patient died.
It was through my work as a book author that I gained a deeper understanding what journalism always needed: it needed to pay attention to their own faults, not just other people's shortcomings.
Journalism is a profession that completely ignored its own rot. It always dismissed its own foibles and weaknesses, and then had the nerve to whine about "chilling effects" when outside players such as corporations and governments meddled and stymied their work.
What about the chilling effect of journalists who report lies as news because they were never formally trained to do so in j-school?
Or the chilling effect of ignoring people who take the time to research, analyze, and figure out the vulnerabilities of the profession, and then publish those results?
Journalism is dead, and that's that. When you refuse to take a curable if potentially fatal diagnosis seriously, dismiss what the hysterical female doctor tells you, and then pretend you are healthy as you continue with your unhealthy ways, there is no other outcome.
If you are convinced that you are both infallible and invulnerable and that any warning is a lie because things aren't that bad, you are not going to make a single change because it is all about your ego, and making changes would be a de facto admission that you were wrong and less than perfect.
Like Don't Believe It!, my initial intent with When Journalism was a Thing was to show how the profession could resurrect itself, but the more research I did, the more I realized that could not actually happen. The motives for the profession were too tainted and corrupted.
But I didn't need an outsider to tell me that this time. Zer0 Books were also the kind of publisher that gave me full control of my book and didn't meddle with my vision.
I had a revelation that journalism would rather die than change. I didn't write my first two books to put a nail in the profession's proverbial coffin: I wrote it so it could get healthy again.
I worked as a journalist and covered the business of journalism: I wasn't some armchair busybody. I knew what I was talking about and could see the problems.
Because my motives were solid, and not about my ego. It wasn't about anything else but ensuring reality and truth were presented to the public.
But it wasn't the same for the profession. It liked making decrees, spewing opinion, and even being social engineers who rigged results of certain events by skewing their coverage. Journalists were no longer the soldiers who liberated truth from lies: they fell for the enemy of lies and switched sides along the way.
And just as I knew my journalism career would be buried after the publication of my first two books, I knew there was no saving journalism.
But journalism doesn't have a monopoly on journalism.
You can replace the journalism. It is not a sink or swim scenario where journalism is the only hope to inform a public. Nor is that the only model of informing people.
You have choices.
And that's when I started actively working on F.R.E.E.D. with that idea in mind: there are better ways of fact-gathering. There are better ways to train fact-gatherers and information-hunters. You are not beholden to stick with a dead model because they think they are irreplaceable.
So when my books is finally released, I will not be talking about journalism anymore.
I will, on the other hand, be working and discussing F.R.E.E.D.
As usual, it is a one woman army paving the path.
As usual, I will be ignored or slagged as some hysterical woman who always makes it sound as if things are that bad.
As usual, my operating budget will be zero.
As usual, there will be a million distractions.
As usual, there will be those who will try to surreptitiously use my ideas without acknowledgement, thinking they understand enough of what they crib that they can save themselves by muddling with other people's work.
It doesn't matter. There is a positive alternative, and I am focussing my energies on a new life, not a dead corpse.
And so, it begins...