Content has never been less important

In contemporary news and media, the conversations we are having risk becoming increasingly nebulous. This article hopes to elucidate how these changes affect us today.

Since the advent of the internet, physically issued press and media has been under threat. In contemporary correspondence, news and information can become so widely spread within minutes that the process by which physical-press distributors can disseminate the same information is quickly becoming defunct. For the people who wish to maintain themselves in up-to- date information, the digital alternative for news is becoming their only source for a global discourse. With this however, comes risks. In the 24-hour news cycle, the rate at which news outlets can be concurrent and up-to- date matters most when hoping to maintain a competitive edge over other news organisations, which can then often risk the factuality of their reporting.

In a recent example, ABC News’s reporter Brian Ross in America reported misinformation surrounding the former national security advisor Michael Flynn, indicating Flynn’s intent to report collusion between ‘candidate’ Donald Trump and Russian officials. The factuality of the report was that it was ‘president-elect’ Donald Trump who ordered such a meeting between Russians and his staff, an understandable act for the soon-to- be president at the time. ABC soon retracted the news, corrected the piece and suspended Brian Ross from reporting on Donald Trump in future; but by this point, it was too late. When it comes to the high standard of news reporting, what is often said first matters as it reaches the largest audience. Only a fraction of people will have heard about the retraction of the report and will go on believing in acts of collusion between Donald Trump during his candidacy and the Russians. With such a large news network as ABC in America failing to keep itself to high-standards, it only feeds into the controversial domain of ‘fake news’ journalism that propagates in news rhetoric today.

In response to this, print and television media has become less fact-based journalism and more a focus on opinion-piece articles and debate. As such, news as we conceive it has changed dramatically from a circulation of factoids, figures and statistics and instead towards conversational topics where concurrent events are discussed amongst professionals and amateurs alike and are far more directed towards individual demographics.

No News is Good News
What news means to us can be entirely different when it comes to the scale of the individual, whether by personal or professional interests. For example, a fisherman might be more interested in weather reports and shipping forecasts where as a local councillor would perhaps be more interested in political debates or legislative reporting. It’s easy to understand that we filter our news by interests on an individual scale, but with this filtering comes some consequences. News outlets focus their reporting’s to specific audiences, hoping to influence them the most, and by extension create large disparities in discourse.

Illustration: Silje Olsen

News organisations like Russia Today, NRK, BBC, FOX NEWS, CNN World and Al Jazeera all focus their news towards different demographics, whether it’s by nationality or political affiliation. With so many different outlets for news, comes the issue of the editorial process. Each outlet, however much they might try to remain neutral in their reporting, cannot escape biased journalism completely. Can institutions like the BBC or NRK be truly impartial when their influence comes as part of a government-operated institution? In some cases, News broadcasters can report very differently from one-another by the nature of their affiliations i.e. FOX (privately owned, capitalist news organisation) vs RT (state-funded, anti-capitalist organisation). Some even go so far as to have whole segments devoted to one person’s particular view like the ‘Hannity Report’ on FOX News, vastly increasing the scope of individual influence.

With the capacity for so much disparity between their reporting’s, news cannot be viewed as one homogenous understanding of facts. But rather, a larger conversation dependent upon the interest of the individual and their personal or professional affiliations.

Yesterday’s Papers
A concern from such intensively edited media is, how much can we be individualists when the news that we consume is so heavily managed? Even fact-checker organisations online like Snopes or PolitiFact, who operate as a form of ‘checks and balances’ to online publications, choose which facts are checked and thus biased by editorial. The only way we are able to navigate these mazes of influence is to employ our personal judgement on how much we trust and respect the influence that is being applied against us as consumers of news. I myself exert this judgement on a daily basis, primarily getting my news updates online from the YouTube figure Philip DeFranco in his eponymous online programme The Philip DeFranco Show. The reason for this being is that I can gauge his opinions against my own as a long-time viewer; his persistent feedback and communication between himself and his audience as well as the very minimal editorial process that comes with being the creator and presenter of his own news show online. With this example, we see this mode of news becoming a benefit to the effects for producing and transmitting news.

Video Killed the Radio Star
The influence of news is not limited to what it transmits but also how it transmits. Increasingly in the past decade, social media has become the domain of up-to- date news and communicative journalism. Twitter for example, has become a massive platform for influential areas of discourse. Recent movements in Hollywood like the ‘Time’s Up’ initiative or earlier movements with ‘Black Lives Matter’, all garner massive support from the influence they present online. Being consistently visible in the eye of the public audience is what makes social media such an effective platform for influential news. Even the sitting President of the United States, announces many of his policy changes and legislative processes through Twitter and other online mediums. Staying concurrent has never been more digitalised.

As consumers of news and influence, we all like to think of ourselves as autonomous thinkers. Able to process information without cognitive dissonance. In a multi-factoral world however, where presidents can supply ‘alternative facts’, opinions can be nurtured in such a way as to be wildly different from others around you. To then factor in that news is becoming increasingly saturated with opinion pieces in print media versus the large-scale data that can be spread in a digital era, it’s not hard to understand why people are choosing to become more selective with how they consume
and respond to news.