The State of Journalism, 2017

Braille

I

It is has been journalism's ugliest year because a rotting corpse is not a pleasant thing to look at or smell.

2016 marked the death of journalism.

It fell one by one like dominoes, but the falling down is not over in the communications industries.

2017 proved it was not in a mere slumber or coma, and it was a global problem. The patient was really, seriously, dead.

The self-assessments of what happened are useless.

And are as arrogant, ignorant, lazy, and cowardly as one can get.

What's going to save journalism? Really Nation?

Nothing. It is dead, you fashionably late sleep-walkers.

No, New York Post, the media aren't killing themselves.

They already killed themselves. Past tense. It happened, and no one bothered to spring for a coffin. Even the Pope should be informed he may have to preside over its funeral, rather than lecture them.

This 2006 journal article is a real knee-slapper of the worst sort.

No, Journalism Studies, j-schools cannot teach journalists how to save themselves because they are as clueless as the people they send out into the world to get slaughtered because your educational system did not expand their thinking, but seriously constricted it.

Just as educators think they are the smartest people in the room, journalists thought the same way, too -- and still do.

Yep, the patient has been dead for a long time. You can check back tomorrow, deniers, it's still dead.

The rotten corpse being held with some puppeteer's wire is not turning false hope into reality, kids!

The limousine liberals, champagne socialists, and the alt-right knuckle-draggers do not have the mindset or ability to save a dead corpse. What you need are radical centrists, not partisan propagandists who stoop to wearing the decaying mask of a once noble profession.

II

As I have no hard numbers as none were ever kept, I am fairly certain I am probably just about the only person in the history of the world who ever went into journalism for the express purpose of studying it. (If you went into that profession for the same reason, by all means, let me know, and keep track of this exclusive and eccentric little club. The more, the merrier, I always say.)

So I have no ego riding on its condition one way or another.

And I can tell you, it's dead.

I won't tell you all about my iconoclastic odyssey, just one part of the last quarter century to put something in perspective.

It was a decade ago when my Method Research took its next logical turn, I had to compare traditional journalism with a control group; otherwise, my findings would have no context, and would be useless.

So I decided to create a model of news gathering online with no one's meddling.

The number of experiments I conducted at this time were fast and furious as I had far more control over my environment than I did as a traditional journalist.

As I had experience in traditional media, I knew what I was looking for and how to find it.

Because the Internet is, essentially, just one giant vanity press, where any uninformed individual can pretend to know more than anyone else, it has always been a con man's game, and these experiments would tell me whether or not genuine journalism could work on this medium.

I had not only my own work, I could compare to other online news vehicles as well.

But I could not forget to use traditional media as a comparison, along with one other group.

At the time, Don Hewitt had just retired from 60 Minutes (more like unceremoniously dumped by his masters whom he served perfectly, but let's not upset the publicists). He was a shrewd man, and his methods were legendary. To get to a crash scene, he thought to charter a lone boat that was nearby -- which had been the only means to reach it -- and prevented other journalists from getting exclusive footage.

He wanted one anchor to learn to read braille so he wouldn't need a teleprompter, but the anchor in question refused. It was still a stroke of brilliance.

I was at the time actively experimenting with a transparent news vehicle -- a real-time behind the scenes sort of venture: I would pursue a story, explaining the steps and logic behind it. I would describe how I was pursuing a story, any missteps or strikes outs coming my way, my remedies, and so on.

People could watch the story unfold as they learned how difficult it could be to cover a story. It was like being in the newsroom and watching things unfold, and it was done long before other outlets tried similar tactics.

Hewitt had decided to start a media venture on his own that appealed to younger audiences. I simply offered to contribute in some mutually beneficial arrangement. I had included everything from a treatment to a business plan in my tome of a proposal. To my surprise, he called me back and asked for a demo tape, and we had a lengthy discussion over other things, from me underestimating the costs of my business plan to how to present news differently in an Internet Age.

I sent him one, and he then called me back in August 2007, being quite dismissive and insulting as he gave me no specifics as to why I would “never make a good broadcaster,” and we got into a heated verbal altercation where I called him a coward – and, yes he was, though I was not happy about the revelation at the time. I felt as if he insulted my intelligence, and he did. If he didn’t like how I saw things, he could have just said it. If he didn’t like my style, just spit it out.

If his venture wasn’t working out in the way he hoped, he could have said it. Even if he thought his reasons were none of my business, he could have said so or not gotten back to me at all. I wasn't hounding him or pestering him in any way.

The rejection, if it were warranted, merely required a yay or nay. The peculiar rudeness -- and a rudeness he by no means expressed in our initial conversation -- was out of line. I did not act as if I was above him in a pecking order, believe me. He was a master of the craft, and there was no question about it.

None of that would have bothered me in the slightest – I knew going in that it was a long shot and hinged no hopes on it; after all, I got that far with no one to open a single door for me and it’s better to end things before they get a lot more complicated and messy.  (His own venture never took off and he passed away a couple of years later, confirming to me on some level that my initial suspicions about that entire episode were most likely correct.)

It was his blatant dishonesty that unnerved me – and at this point of his career and life, he really should not have cared one whit about anyone’s opinion, mine included.

He said something else to me that upset me as much as it got me into one of my philosophical jaunts: he told me he worked with the likes of Diane Sawyer, Leslie Stahl, etc., and I said to him, so what? Was the Great Man telling me he wasn’t so great and scraped his success by hitching his ride on other people’s stars rather than the other way around?

Why the pathetic name-dropping when he was the one who propelled people like that to the top by making them look smarter than they were?

And that’s when it hit me how wrong I was in my initial assumptions and what I had failed to see before – the profession was built on a very specific flawed mind-set – it preferred the tried and true and everything that avoided risks, while hiding from the very things it needed to face to evolve and grow – just like the people who avoided watching the news for the very same reasons.

News producers could face certain dangers, but not the ones closest to their homes and that was the very reason they were going to have trouble surviving in this new world where even a mediocre competitor could wipe the floor with the old media’s collective faces.

That also meant the apparent age gap of the news wasn’t as important as I first thought because it was a symptom of a deeper systemic problem. It’s not as if there aren’t young people who are news producers – but they get paid minimum wage as they have no chance to truly ever move up the ladder with a respectable paycheck, and many have to leave broken and disillusioned as younger and more desperate versions of themselves are willing to work for free just to get noticed.

When everyone is hiding from the same elephant in the room, their age suddenly becomes irrelevant. A desperate twenty year old is as useless as a desperate eighty year old because both will make the same underlying assumptions that lead them to make the same mistakes.

I realized he was angry because he couldn't transfer his methods to a new medium, and it was a crushing realization. He was not yelling at me -- but himself, and the name-dropping was to reassure himself, not make me feel small.

And that was the day I told off a titan in the profession as I began to seriously wonder just how horrible the Internet would be to the very concept of journalism.

At the time, I just didn't realize why that was the case, and what secret rig stood in the way that neither journalistic legend Don Hewitt could figure out -- nor eccentric maverick Alexandra Kitty could riddle out herself.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have told him exactly what it was. Even if that was the end of that road, at least I could have given him something to ponder.

III

If someone as cunning as Hewitt couldn't handle the Internet when he could handle every other facet of the profession, then no one could, especially not in the long-term.

He was a legitimate news producer better than any of his peers before or after. His was not about attitude or image as he was in the background, and generals don't fight on the front lines.

While Roger Ailes was a master of carny and propaganda, Hewitt knew how to get the scoop like a soldier.

There was a reason why Hewitt couldn't make a legitimate success from the Internet: because he understood reality, and the Internet is not about reality.

It is about self-deception and fostering delusions.

It is about destroying critical thinking, and dismantling attention spans so people can no longer think and reflect, but react like spoiled children who are innately ripe for conning.

Hewitt's work hinged on reflection, and seeing a big picture, but the Internet has completely decimated that part of people's thinking.

He was not some relic: he was someone who could navigate in the universal arena of war strategy.

But when people learn to click and react to whatever new stimuli they see on a screen, they are perpetually ripe for fleecing.

Journalism fell for the con game. They dismissed the hucksters, and then tried to become them, which made them into hypocrites.

There were ways to take on the Internet in such a manner as to remove the rigs, and ensure that there was a genuine connect between news producer and news consumer.

And journalism lost because they got on a battlefield they did not understand, and their enemies understood it, lured them on the field, and not just defeated them, but enslaved them, taking their spoils for themselves.

But the death of journalism did not mark a victory for the Internet.

In fact, when the Internet and social media's fortunes tumble in 2018, it will be precisely because it killed off journalism.

How so?

There is an old Serbian proverb:

Ко другоме јаму копа сам у њу пада.

Simply put, people who make traps for other people, fall into them instead. The Internet has not educated people. They have, most charitably, miseducated them with rote behaviour, turning people into reactionary animals, who do not see what has happened to them.

The problem becomes when people realize that their fortunes will not improve, and that their Twitter tantrums will have no long-term effects as the outrage brings back diminished returns, there will be a void.

#MeToo may very well be the vehicle that hastens social media's effectiveness as a weapon because expectations are high, but the ones who preyed upon their employees still have the funds, means, experience, and connections to form a counter-attack, and people do not have the patience for a protracted battle played out in public.

They want a contrived resolution, and then just forget about it.

And for people who were brave enough to speak out, the feelings will be painful, and then wonder what is the recourse now?

If you can't get what you want on the Internet, what's left?

And you can't get what you need or want on the Internet aside from a few trinkets you can order.

IV

The Internet is a medium that is destroying livelihoods, and attention spans. It wastes time on life-sinks, but for whatever time and resources it pretends to save us, it squanders it on things that are even more wasteful.

When the super-rich become the ultra-rich, and you are sleeping in your car with your doctorate in the trunk, you think it's just you.

But you can rant about Net Neutrality on your smart phone as you follow Jeff Bezos on Twitter.

Journalism has done not a thing to counter this sanctioned insanity, keeping too many delusions in place.

So why is #MeToo in danger of backfiring?

Because journalism's old narrative techniques have been used to tell this story, but the Internet is not equipped to handle it.

With too many splinter groups and micro-special interests who all expect to be taken as seriously as anyone else, everything spirals out of control at a much faster pace.

If everyone is a special interest, the Majority does not exist.

And then you are raging at no one in particular.

When a void meets an echo chamber, you have essentially place where you have given it your best and strongest hit, and lost every erg of your energy with zero to show for it.

And the Internet promised the opposite. It is typical bait and switch.

When people realize they are addicted to a nothing, the disillusionment turns into a different kind of rage because no one wants to be played for a fool.

Trump used Twitter to own the White House, and Twitter was supposed to be reserved for the little people to make themselves important and standout.

But then another billionaire got what he wanted, and they never will.

Even that dream is gone.

Just as journalists are throwing temper tantrums, so to are those social media addicts who shake in their boots that the end of Net Neutrality will mean their delusions will be proved to be just that.

The problem will be a complicated one: people will want to hold on to their illusions of being their own broadcaster, but they will not have the tools or know-how to actually be informed.

They allowed local information venues to be decimated, thinking that in order to look important and learned, you must solely concentrate on the "big" issues on a federal level, when they are being repeatedly abused at lower levels of government.

But we do not have journalists who are equipped or trained to gather information properly.

When national outlets keep botching up national stories, the writing is on the wall.

V

Regular citizens are now uninformed.

As in, reading so-called information, and not realizing they know absolutely nothing about everything.

They spew opinions that are meaningless because they have absolutely no idea of what is happening. They do not know their city's own by-laws. They do not know what laws their governments are enacting. They do not know how their town's wealthiest citizens are really making their fortunes.

It is catching up to North America fast, but if something strikes North American fortunes, other countries will not benefit from it, either, even if they believe that they will.

News gathering is an essential service, but not in its current rancid form. Something far more sensible needs to replace all those impossible temper tantrums that sound just as ignorant as someone's Facebook feed.

For a new form of news-gathering requires to counter the rigs set by social media, that benefits no one but those who run it.

The Internet robber barons destroyed journalism in order to be top dog, but the Internet itself is a grifter's medium: it took the deceptive parts of television news (such as the illusion that an anchor or reporter is in your home looking you in the eye) -- and used it to create an even more deceptive world.

When the very rigs of social media are challenged effectively, only then can a new form of information-gathering take root and grow.

There is also an old Japanese proverb:

虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず

You have to go into the heart of darkness and danger to get that sacred cub -- an uncorrupted opportunity to begin again. The tiger will try to maul you -- but you cannot get to the cub any other way.

But in this case, society needs to do this twice over: to find the cub that will provide the proper medium to disseminate information, and the one that provides the method to do this properly.

Journalism is dead, and social media's fortunes are on shakier ground than people realize. It is only an illusion that is in an inevitable force that cannot be defeated or made to bow.

Hillary Clinton tried that invincible gambit in 2016. It didn't work for her, either.

And just as Clinton believed she had power to reach out to people, those who use the same platforms to spew their vitriol think they are reaching out and will cling on to that delusion until that delusion bites them in the face with contempt.

VI

People are going to keep turning up their noses at any new form of journalism or medium so long as their illusion of power remains unchallenged, but when a high-profile movement such as #MeToo begins to splutter or peter out, and workplaces become unchanged or worse than before, the memories of the short-term highs will be replaced with long-term reality.

And with actresses threatening to make a mockery of the movement by voguing in black at the Golden Globes, the critical changing of laws and regulations get pushed back.

And ultimately be left untouched until predators see what happened to their predecessors, and then lobby governments to give them more control; so that another #MeToo doesn't make trouble for them.

As you are fuming at me, you may be wondering why I am writing this on the Internet.

You obviously haven't been paying attention or actually read a word I wrote. You missed the subtext entirely as you were too busy stewing at the reality and truths you fear the most.

That is your problem, not mine.

Journalism also threw fits when people like me told it to their faces that if they didn't face problems head on, that they were going to implode.

Denial saves no one.

And that's why 2017 marked the first anniversary of the death of journalism.

And 2018 will spread the fatal disease to the Internet.

And I won't be sitting around doing nothing about it.

My experimental odyssey has just about wrapped up this phase. It's time to tackle social media -- and by extension -- Internet rigs so that people hold no illusions, to make a better kind of news production thrive.

We don't just need better information. We need better factual literacy that makes people recoil at littering their Facebook walls with propaganda posters with pretend facts that they just posted without verifying. People on the Left do as do people on the Right.

Those two factions have a lot in common.

And both are factually malnourished.

The Internet did nothing to inform or educate a populace.

And neither did journalism.

But while journalism always made it clear that citizens did not know everything, were not perfect or all-powerful, and had to actually be informed and responsible, social media flat-out deceived them by telling them all of the knowledge they needed was magically there in front of them by a mere passive click, and they could know everything, and hence, needed nothing else.

Never in the history of mankind have we had so much reading, and so much output, and less reliable and valid information than we do now.

Someone can spew some sophistry about how perhaps I want people to think the way I do, but not at all.

I know there are a lot of things almost no one on the planet knows about -- me included, and I really would like to be informed about it -- I cannot have an opinion one way or another on things hidden from view because people are too busy clogging social media with their opinions on Star Wars and Fuller House -- and starting flame wars because someone thinks it's stupid to clog social media with that garbage -- to notice or demand the voids be filled.

And we have nothing but voids.

That is the state of affairs for 2017.

While this is supposed to be the last written entry for me in a while (one more podcast to go, and a couple of surprises), I am off to my laboratory we call planet Earth to test not another theory, but a prototype.

Because it gets boring watching dominoes fall, and there are things to be built without the games or misdirections that covertly bring passive actions to us. The next wave to fall will be no different; and so, off to other places for a much-needed change of view.