Last night I was talking to one of my students about the state of journalism and the Dunning-Kruger effect. Basically, why it’s a pain in the ass to be a journalist today. It goes something like this:
Them – What do you think is the reason for [Insert almost any topic]?
Me – Oh yeah, sure. I’ve been researching that. It’s because…
Them – BENGHAZI!!!
Me – Wait…what?
Them – FAKE NEWS!
Me – audible sigh
Them – DEEP STATE!
Me – I wonder what jobs are posted on Indeed?
And it’s also like this:
Here’s my story, it’s been fact checked by multiple editors using established and well documented editorial standards. Also here’s a list of my sources which have also been vetted.
Random guy on social media… isn’t that all just subjective liberal media BS?
And as if by design on a Facebook post I made today, that exact scenario played out in the comment section. And it plays out because a certain demographic of people think they know a lot more about journalism than they actually do. Me? I teach it for a living. I do the thing. I’m what you might call an expert on the subject. But, that won’t stop them from telling me all the ways I’m wrong. The thing they’ll never be able to get their heads around is that I’m actually really thankful when someone lets me know about something I got wrong. I want to make the correction. I want it to be right. Always. Even if it’s personally embarrassing. Because that’s what actual journalists do. That is, if I’m actually wrong and not just relaying a narrative they don’t want to hear.
But, that’s what never happens in these scenarios. It’s always conspiracy theories and outcries of liberal media. But, the funny thing is they never show their work. They never tell me why it’s wrong. Just that it’s wrong. That I’m a bad person. That I’m a liberal. And in today’s moment of insanity, that the civil war has begun and I’m clearly on the wrong side.
I live and work in the American south which means most of the batshit crazy I deal with comes from the right wingers. If I was in Portland, I’d be dealing with the batshit crazy left wingers. But I don’t. I deal with the batshit crazy right wingers. And right now, amid the beginnings of a probable Trump impeachment, the hornet nest has been poked and batshit is flying with impunity. These are the same breed of people who claim to know more than doctors, scientists, and scholars. They run ready to fight THE media just as they’ve been conditioned to do. Reasonable people usually don’t lose their minds on social media. They may get drawn into an argument from time to time, but they don’t rush in with a fresh jug of Kool-Aid. Everyone I know who does this job feels the abuse. We all get accused of some politically motivated conspiracy theory. Then we all search the job boards for some other way to make a living when we think nobody is looking.
What so many don’t understand and probably can’t understand is that they are propagating the very thing that they accuse us of doing. Spreading lies, falsehoods, exaggerations, fake news, whatever. Too many people have lost faith in too many institutions because too many lesser sources have nurtured and spread doubt in those institutions as a means to promote their own. Too many people end up thinking that the New York Times is bad because they think FOX News is good and FOX told them so.
Sometimes I think it’s simply because truth hurts more than they are capable of bearing. To acknowledge something they’ve denied and the reality it could potentially bring is more terrifying than they are capable of enduring.
Within any field you have experts. People who just simply know what’s real and what isn’t. Farmers understand farming way better than anybody sitting at their computer in New York. Whether we’re talking farmers, doctors or engineers, they understand it because they do it. They know the difference between hype and reality. I was talking to a musician friend about this today and I told him that I think the last Florida Georgia Line album is way more complex, heartfelt and nuanced than Tool’s latest. Honestly, probably better than anything Zeppelin ever did too. While we were on the subject, I told him Harmony guitars are every bit as good as Taylor. He told me my words were heresy. If you’re not a musician or have a deep appreciation for music then that may not make much sense to you. But if you are, then you understand the insanity of what I just wrote. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Florida Georgia Line, but they aren’t even in the same game as Tool.
So what I’m saying here is when somebody with zero background in journalism starts telling me how things are supposed to be, I look at them with the same level of disbelief and awe as my musician friend looked at me. To put it more succinctly, Fox News is the Florida Georgia Line of journalism. Or maybe Old Town Road if you’d like a different example. Weirdly appealing, but there’s no depth there. When you rail on about the liberal New York Times/Washington Post and follow up with Trump/Alex Jones talking points, you basically just told me Harmony guitars are the greatest guitars known to man.
I am definitely judging you. The fact that you don’t understand why is most of the problem.