The Evolution of Journalism.
Playwright & Screenwriter.
“I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”
Before it All Began
Before the advent of journalism, we used less formal methods for the dissemination of news and information. Stories of important events were mostly passed down through gossip and conversation. Dockworkers would gleam information from merchants and sailors, and town criers walked the streets proclaiming world news to the general public.
Manuscripts, letters, and even ballads were also frequent forms of storytelling. Still, all of these methods were slow and often had the issue of biases and interpretations of the individuals conveying the news. A medieval game of telephone. (Sound familiar?)
Along came Gutenberg.
Everything changed during the 15th—century with Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press. News and information could now be widely accessible through mass production and distribution, but there were a couple of massive impediments to widely informing the general public. First, the literacy rate during this time was around 10%, and second, receiving printed material was not for the impoverished.
Newspapers started to make their first appearance around the 17th—century as literacy rates started to rise to as much as 60% in many urban areas.
They began as simple news sheets reporting on relevant issues; wars, economies, and other important events. And in 1622, “A Current of General News” was published as the first English-language weekly magazine.
By the 19th—century the general public’s access to elementary education propelled society forward as the masses became literate consumers of news and information, and with more eyeballs it didn’t take much time before advertising quickly became a sought-after source of revenue. Lowering the price made the newspapers more widely distributed, and with wider distribution, there was a massive increase in advertising revenue.
And of course, with wider distribution, it’s no wonder that political parties started taking an interest in reaching a wider audience.
All of these factors led to news and journalism becoming a recognized professional industry that greatly influenced politics, economies, and public attitudes.
“Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.”
20th. Century Explosion.
The Golden Age of Radio occurred between the late 1920s and the early 1950s. Millions of listeners would tune in to hear their favorite comedies, serials, and variety shows.
A Second World War meant the public was now consuming news and information as fast as it could be produced and distributed, and while radio was hugely responsible for elevating journalism to higher heights, it was television in the 1950s that forever changed the landscape.
Not only was news and information available in real-time, you could now see it all happening from the comfort of your living room. Journalists were now broadcasters. Radio had personalities, but television truly created authoritative celebrities.
But all these technological advances still had one major hurdle. They required the public to tune in at a specific time and date to consume the content. And they did. The nightly news was something the masses would rush home from work to ensure they were staying up to date on current events and the state of the world.
There were still limitations that forced constraints. While newspapers (that were still widely popular) could expand upon issues and events, the nightly news had to cover everything within an hour (including commercials.) It had to be focused and concise. Simply put, it was just the news.
June 1st., 1980.
On this date, a successful media entrepreneur by the name of Ted Turner launched his cable news network (CNN.) His was the first 24-hour news channel and it was during the coverage of the Gulf War in 1991 that the general public found themselves glued to their television sets. Never before had they been given a front-row seat to war, live and in real-time.
Around this time, MTV the 24-hour music channel launched, and the media industry was forever tied to non-stop, topic-centric broadcasting of anything imaginable; News, music, and even weather were all available during any hour of the day.
The public was now expecting to be entertained 24 hours a day, and this created an obvious problem… There was only so much content to fill the void. This led to what could be argued as one of the most controversial features ever implemented into the industry…
Everybody has one.
If there isn’t enough content to distribute… generate it yourself, and that’s how news went from relaying it to the public to commentary on it.
Now when a story broke there were dozens of commentators to let us know what they thought of it, and how we should feel about it. The news went beyond factual, it became emotional, and worse… the public rapidly consumed it as a new form of entertainment, and while print journalism was breaking the news, the talking heads were applying what would become a common term… their “spin.”
This was the start of the echo chamber. A place that only catered to our existing views, and our inherent biases. It was a warm bed to curl up in and shut out any opposing perspectives.
In the past, we turned to one news service over another because we liked the anchor, their delivery, and their personality. Now we were either a viewer of Fox News or MSNBC, and each fed us what we wanted, a confirmation of our view of the world. We didn’t want reporting on the news we needed to hear, we demanded reporting on the news we wanted to hear, and with that, confirmation of our deepest fears, suspicions, and biases.
Poet & Playwright.
“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”
Going Off the Rails.
It wasn’t long before the public started thinking, if all these “journalists” could spout their opinions… why can’t I?
Starting in the late 20th century, and coming into full-blown prominence in the early 21st century we were all connected to the greatest achievement since the wheel… the internet, and it unarguably changed the world. It was connected to every part of our lives, and we were connected to it as if we were plugged into a pod in the Matrix.
Social networks became the hubs for sharing and distributing anything and everything, and now not only were we watching 24-hour commentary from sources like CNN and Fox News, we suddenly had access to commentary from the masses.
Internet influencers became as great, or in many cases greater celebrities than television personalities, and now everyone had an opinion they could share, and anyone could consume it as a “valid” source of information. What made it valid?… We agreed with it. It fit into our bubble.
It filled our echo chambers, and it took the term “road rage” to another level. “Comment rage” was born, and from the safety of our devices we were capable of becoming the foulest versions of ourselves.
And all this emotional content, all this manufactured drama was way more entertaining than absorbing information than having to “read a newspaper.”
Our attention was now significantly challenged, and even still, all this consumption of emotionally charged content wasn’t fulfilling our needs. Now we wanted it faster, and in much shorter, easily consumable bites.
Why read an entire article full of informative details when you could get your fix from a 30-second rant from an unconstrained online personality?
The news profession was lowered to compete with online trolls and user-generated content was elevated to the same level as a well-written, editorialized article, crafted by professionals who were held to industry standards.
Journalists were lumped in with all the talking heads, influencers, and noise of the internet.
Mainstream media became a targeted villain, and the profession of being a journalist was suddenly looked upon with the same disdain as a local dog catcher.
Somehow we had gone full circle, where once we received news and information through gossip from dock workers, merchants, and sailors, we’ve now reverted and expanded our access to receiving news and information from nearly anyone and everyone.
Now everyone is an expert, so we no longer trust qualified experts.
Now everyone is a journalist, so we no longer trust journalism.
And now, everyone has an opinion, and is it any wonder that we no longer trust anyone’s opinion?
“The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.”
And now… this.
So how can this possibly get any worse you might ask?
Now technology has advanced to where we can artificially create content in the form of ai-generated articles, deepfake audio/video, and bots that can now answer, argue, and aggravate us to no end.
We’ve reached information overload, and where it took a nominal amount of time for humans to generate content, we’ve created a way for bad actors to generate massive amounts of misinformation in an instant, potentially flooding our digital landscape with enough noise to compete, or even drown out any form of professional journalism.
And because it fits our pre-defined narrative, we’ll devour it, share it, and fact-check it later (if ever.)
Okay, So What’s the Solution?
I realize that this article took a hard right towards doom and gloom, but it’s all in the interest of showing that there’s a way to course-correct this mess and that we, the general public have the power to fix what’s broken.
We can begin by changing our habits, and start responsibly holding ourselves accountable for our own interactions and promotion of news and information.
Paying attention to the sources of the news and information we’re consuming is key.
If we distrust professional outlets, how can we possible justify our consumption of unprofessional sources?
Is the news we’re consuming factual, or emotional? Are we consuming information or outrage?
Is the person presenting the information qualified? Did they conduct interviews? What access do they have? Are they simply commenting on a breaking news article? Are they offering more information, or their interpretation (and embellishment) of an issue or event?
Does the source have any editorial oversight? Much of the content we consume is “instant-posting”, meaning it’s simply generated and posted without being subjected to any form of fact-checking. Write it. Shoot it. Post it. Hardly the acumen of trained journalists.
We can demand features like downvoting to hold sources accountable, warn readers of clickbait, or simply provide feedback without being angry, or divisive.
If we read something that seems a bit “crazy” or “unbelievable”… maybe it is. A ten-second Google search might make us rethink consuming news from that source again.
If we simply implemented these points in our daily consumption of news we could start living in a more civil society and maybe even find ourselves better informed on the issues, events, and topics that interest us.
I often ask people if you don’t get your news from the news… where do you get your news?
If you don’t get your information from qualified sources, how do you qualify your source?
And if you don’t like the news you’re presented with, is it because it’s factually incorrect, or emotionally not aligned to your viewpoints?
We’re absolutely entitled to not like, respect, or even disparage professional journalists and journalism, but we should equally be open to judging our own sources of information through the same lens.
There’s a lot of noise out there, and we have the power to filter it, or even cancel it, but it begins with an unvarnished view of our sources and a bit of self-reflection.
Is it easy? No.
Is it important? More than ever.
Curating the news with Topico.
Topico is a mobile app for the user curation of news articles.
Our goal has always been to create an environment where we can comfortably share the news.
There are plenty of places to share the news, but those places also allow you to share photos, memes, and personal rants.
It’s our belief that to comfortably share the news we needed to build a platform that’s dedicated to only sharing news links, essentially Topico providing a way for people to create their own news aggregators for others to follow articles on the issues events, and topics that interest them.
User-curated news provides various perspectives and unique sources to showcase an infinite amount of personal curations.
Are humans far from perfect? – Of course, but they’re still the most capable of applying critical thinking and understanding context and nuance.
While A.I. has a place in finding relevant news and information, it’s our belief that human intelligence through personal curation is still needed to provide the general public the ability to actively participate in the sharing of knowledge and information.
Additionally, there’s an aspect of human curation that is often overlooked when discussing A.I. and algorithmic curation, and that’s the inclusion of creativity, aesthetics, and the most human of qualities, empathy.