Scandals. Getting caught repeating disinformation. Harbouring hate-mongers. Forced retractions. Using unreliable sources. Publishing editorials as if they were news. It’s no wonder the reputation of the so-called mainstream media is in tatters.
Here are ten things the MSM must start doing if they have any hopes of the “information media” surviving another generation:
- Refuse to accept or republish government and military propaganda, especially from the so-called “intelligence community” citing “sources believed to be reliable” that “cannot be revealed for national security reasons”. When absolutely necessary to refer to such propaganda circulating on social media, include banner warnings that “this information is unsubstantiated and may be incorrect”. Because that’s the truth.
- Apologize when you were conned, expose the con, and reiterate the correct information clearly.
- If you use headlines like “What we know about x” (which are best avoided in any case) excise anything that is conjecture, or someone’s opinion, even if the source of the opinion is cited and is an alleged “expert”. An expert’s opinion is an opinion, not a fact that “we know”.
- All editorials and op-eds should be clearly marked as such right in the headline, so when the headline is republished in an RSS feed or repost, no one will mistake it for factual information. When editorials and op-eds are mistakenly published as news, there should be a formal retraction and apology.
- Abolish paywalls and other blockages for news. Citizens need and have a right to facts, free of charge and obstruction, to counter the firehose of disinformation propagated “free” on social media. Use paywalls for when you actually add value to the news — eg investigative journalism (remember when we used to have that?)
- Actually add some value to the news you report. Tell people what they can do in response to what is happening. Investigate and expose misinformation and disinformation. Do real primary research about outrageous abuses by corporations and governments of citizens and “consumers”. Offer solutions — what has worked in other places, and why it worked, that could help readers organize to address current problems. Actually help them organize.
- End the “both-sidesing” bullshit. Publishing a racist rant by a hate-monger beside a report of facts about systemic racism is not “balanced reporting”; it is encouraging and empowering racism.
- Do not provide any platform (column or interview) to known hate-mongers, plagiarists, racists, sexists, misogynists, crazies, or xenophobes. Banish repeat offenders like the execrable Bret Stephens for life. There is no place in the media in these tumultuous and precarious times for hate speech and disinformation.
- Self-police. Get AP or some other industry body to rate all the mainstream media on the basis of facts and professional analysis versus misinformation and disinformation, and to keep a Snopes-style list of misinformation and disinformation with the names of media publications that have published it.
- Don’t pander. If you want to publish some aw-shucks “good news” stories, that’s fine. But no sensationalism, no celebrity news, and no gossip. If your headline ends with a question mark, think again about including the item until you have an answer. And if you think you have to include celebrity news to appeal to your base, ask yourself what business you are in — information or entertainment.
The MSM are in deep trouble. Readership/viewership is off, their credibility has tanked, and they’re hemorrhaging financially. What they lack isn’t more of the drivel and pap of the entertainment media, it’s imagination. Their business model (relying on classifieds and other ads) hasn’t worked for decades. But there is a huge need for reliable information, investigative reporting, in-depth analysis of issues, and possible action plans that citizens and communities can take. And the MSM don’t have to operate like charities, publicly begging for subscriptions and philanthropy.
In many ways, information media and journalism are art forms. And substantially all of the arts and cultural “industries” are financially struggling and looking for new ways to be relevant and get sponsorship from younger generations. The social media and the music/film/TV entertainment cartels have not only starved out their competitors and reduced their suppliers (the artists) to being mere ‘products’ to package and sell, they have likewise starved out the information media with which they once overlapped.
That genie isn’t going back into the bottle. The social media and entertainment oligopolies will eventually implode, as their customers refuse the ‘price’ of their bloated, profit-obsessed, exploitative, unresponsive offerings, and abandon them in favour of smaller, leaner, more customized alternatives.
But the information media need not wait for that to happen. They can reinvent themselves as an essential public utility, whose products — the truth, and understanding — are as important to the health of communities and societies as water. It will take work, collaboration, patience, a radical shift in thinking and operations, and above all imagination. But it could be done.