Truth has greatly decreased in value in today’s media environment, and emotion is now a far more powerful storytelling tool than hard facts.
This was the conclusion Guardian editor, Katharine Viner, came to in her recent treatise on the subject, which placed blame firmly on social media.
There are plenty of examples of this. Last year’s #piggate ‘scandal’ was reported around the globe despite no evidence. And even though ‘facts’ used by Brexiteers during the referendum campaign were disproved, it did not stop them from being utilised and reported.
But what role has technology played in this ‘downfall’ of reliable journalism?
News will eat itself
In the article, Viner stated that, increasingly, “what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these ‘facts’ to circulate…”.
It is an accepted truth that, in the UK, we have a media that is heavily biased towards certain political leanings – including the Guardian. But with the ‘echo chamber’ of social media, this bias has only been heightened for the individual.
In particular, Facebook has a large part to play in this new media landscape. Having taken over as the primary place to view news for many of its users, Viner argues that the algorithms used to peronalise content mean people only see half the story – i.e. the half they want to know.
In itself, this hardly prophesies the downfall of credible journalism – people have always leaned towards reporting what supports their own views. But it has given rise to a new, far more emotional way of telling stories, one which avoids facts in favour of scandal and shock.
In order to increase traffic to a publisher’s website, stories have to engage their audience.
The tried and tested way of doing this is to create an emotional response from the reader, who will then visit the page and hopefully share the article across their own social platforms, thus encouraging others to read and do the same, which in turn boosts advertising revenue.
Journalists also now have greater competition from untrained reporters. The citizen journalism generated during the Ferguson unrest and subsequent protests in the US is a great example of this. It drove the news agenda through emotive, first person storytelling via one person and a device to film on, which was then replicated across social media and picked up by major news outlets.
So where is journalism’s place in this modern, technological world?
It’s the end of the media as we know it, and I feel fine…
These new forms of journalism are now firmly embedded in the media environment – but the death of newspaper-style, fact-based reporting has been greatly exaggerated.
Click-bait articles are vital to protect news publishers’ incomes, while citizen journalism provides free, highly topical content for trained journalists to tie into the bigger picture.
It is the latter, in particular, which will have the most profound, and hopefully positive, impact on the news agenda. As Viner points out in her article, would the Hillsborough cover-up have happened if people were filming it on smartphones?
If anything, journalists are now even more accountable to facts. Their job is to help audiences shift through falsehoods, using technology as a platform to do so. Viner concludes her article on this point wonderfully: “Technology and media do not exist in isolation – they help shape society, just as they are shaped by it in turn.”