It’s been a turbulent few years for anyone in the media. With social media and un-syndicated sites gaining significant amounts of audience share, the mainstream news has been forced, to a certain extent, into a position where it has to report on the topical news of the day, rather than informing the community as to what has occurred. As a result, and as is expected in an election year, United States politics has dominated global headlines over the last year.
However, with the Trump White House openly declaring war on certain media entities, the stakes have risen exponentially, and unfortunately, many media outlets are responding in kind. Both sides of the political spectrum – including, but certainly not limited to the left-leaning CNN and Fox News on the right – have chosen to be flag bearers for their respective parties, candidates, and rhetoric. Coverage that has not been adequately researched and headlines that attempt to delineate complex issues into a few words, without any attempt to appear bipartisan are becoming more prevalent. Added to this, that due to the 24-hour news cycle, additional commentary by political experts and commentators, adds fuel to the fire and makes a dangerous claim –if you don’t believe what we’re saying, you are obviously foolish or uneducated.
News companies with political affiliations and leanings are nothing new, and scandal on behalf of their chosen candidates has been commonplace for many years, including Fox News being brutalised for prematurely announcing the election of George W Bush during the 2001 campaign. However, innuendo and rumours stated as fact have never been quite so prevalent as they are now. From the limitless amount of unfounded accusations squared at Hillary Clinton by reputable news media during the campaign, covered up by statements such as, “If she has nothing to hide, she should be more open.” To the blatantly irresponsible coverage of an unsubstantiated document from a Russian insider, claiming sexual depravity on the part of Donald Trump, which was shared online by Buzzfeed. CNN, who earlier in the day had used a sensationalist headline to garner interest in a similar story, which claimed that Trump had been warned that the Russians may have gathered embarrassing intelligence on him, did little to distance themselves from the Buzzfeed story, adding fuel to the fire, and turning a rumour into part of the international commentary of the day.
The argument isn’t whether these stories are true or false – it’s how they are being positioned, and it presents an interesting ethical challenge for news businesses around the world. In spreading claims before they are verified, news outlets are failing to report the news – instead choosing to encourage discussion, and dictate the conversation in advance. As mentioned, with panel discussions and experts being prevalent in the 24-hour news cycle, planning is critical. You can’t plan for something that hasn’t happened yet, but when you are controlling the conversation, experts can be gathered, and potential implications shared with the public.
Walter Cronkite famously refused to mention rumours of John F. Kennedy’s death, despite the claims of reliable sources. He waited, despite risking ratings, until the White House made the formal announcement, not wanting to put his reputation on the line. The new cycle now is undeniably more complicated, and commercial news businesses do a tremendous amount of good; but as the world moves online, and conversation becomes far more reactive than watching the news at 6 PM each night, the responsibility and onus on reputation becomes even more important.
Google, in realising the importance of quality information has begun prioritising topics at the expense of keywords. This is designed to encourage blogs, news sites, and pundits from attempting to use exciting keywords and catchphrases to generate clicks. As those governing the various sub-ecosystems of the Internet become more aware of the importance of truthful, ethical journalism – and people’s desire to find the truth – this type of guardianship will become more important, and apparent. Of course, this raises the eventual question as to how Google will remain globally bipartisan, and eventually, where its ownership lies. In the meantime, it’s the responsibility of individuals to search out truthful reporting, and enjoy biased commentary for what it is.