01 Mar The importance of being edited.
Events in journalism in the past 6 months scare me. Several news anchors are having trouble with the truth, and having their past words examined. Brian Williams has dropped from the headlines, and will probably not return. Major publications have printed stories that have proven to be false or poorly reported, and have been withdrawn.
We have to regain a sense of ethics and integrity in our media, as the press is a crucial check and balance to our system of commerce. Trust is the foundation of capitalism. If you can’t trust your bank, you hide your capital. If you can’t depend on your insurance company to share the risk, you take fewer chances. If your CPA is not a trusted advisor, your metrics are suspect.
My point is that trusting our media is fundamental, and a key part of that trust is having a news organization that acts as gatekeeper or editor behind the face or voice that delivers the news. The purpose of the “editor’s desk”: is to add critical thinking skills to the process, to confirm the objectivity and accuracy of the reporting. We all need that objectivity as a fundamental part of our commerce system. Simply put, we need an edited press.
In my first journalism job, I respected the power of a good editor. When I turned in a story with two sources, it was rejected until I had at least three. I was told there were always more than two sides to a story. When I drafted a column, I learned that what I wrote as a finished work could always be polished, adjusted and improved. As noted editor Harry Shaw said in his book “Errors in English and Ways to Correct Them”, “There is no such thing as good writing. There is only good rewriting.” I used to attribute that to Faulkner, but did my own fact checking, and now attribute it correctly.
Some cities have lost their formal media to the internet. Here in Central Indiana, we are fortunate to still have some good reporters working with good newsrooms backing them up. I can name some names if you wish – John Russell at the Indianapolis Star, Greg Andrews at the Indianapolis Business Journal, and several others – and their work is objectively looking at our business world through objective eyes, and asking the tough questions that keep commerce ethical. For example, Russell broke the story about hiring and managerial problems at Duke Energy’s Edwardsport plant, and Andrews printed the first rumblings about the collapse of Tim Durham’s Fair Finance Co. Both were well reported, objective stories, reporting that would not have had significant impact if they had been only been published on a blog.
I am pointing an accusatory finger at blogging, YouTube and comment forums, a world of writing with no third party editing. These unfiltered voices are like hot, fresh doughnuts with sprinkles. Fun to read, but a constant diet of nothing but blogging is not good for objectivity in the long term. A number of blogs can be a part of your media diet, depending on blogs alone many disrupt your mental nutrition. Blogs may be fun to read, but each writer’s personal opinions, when crafted in an unedited vacuum can drift off target and become a spiral of self-serving thought.
The few good content providers in social media that are out there are often swamped by the high volume of “cut and paste” thinkers – not adding value or shaping the conversation, but adding to the noise of everyday life. Looking at my Facebook world for the past week, 10 out of 100 posts are interesting, thoughtful and worth my time. 90 are shared inflammatory quotes, “clickbait” tests that have no purpose, or map pins that show an airport or a restaurant location that reminds me that I need a vacation. Instagram is the same thing, only more visual.
Clearly, the importance of the press was significant enough to our founders to include it in our first amendment rights. However, the first amendment does not guarantee quality, only freedom. It’s up to us to support an objective, edited media that can keep our commerce ethical and our economy healthy.
The quest for reclaiming trust in media starts small. It can start with you, right now, and your posts on social media. In my work with social media, the ratio of 100:10:1 has emerged. Of 100 participants, 90 read, 9 comment, 1 creates. The person that creates for the 99 has significant responsibility to get it right.
Want to make a difference in your own world? Start by fact checking anything that you are sharing or posting in your Facebook timeline. There are several objective “fact checker” sites that, if used, will allow you to exercise some critical thinking and allow you to forward shared posts that are true. Pick one, and use it. Then, become a paid subscriber to a press resource that has a formal, edited newsroom. They are an endangered species that is worthy of our loyalty.
Getting trust back in our shared media takes time, and should start now, with you.