Saturday, July 14, 2018

Journalism (Part One)

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) — the Stickies — to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My beautiful muse and back scratcher 
Iggy -- My designated Sticky
Dana -- My designated gentlereader

"With freedom comes responsibilities."  -Eleanor Roosevelt

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies,

When I was a callowyute several thousand days ago when the Black&White ages were drawing to a close, the world, and how it worked, was presented to me in a black and white fashion by the Sisters of Mercy at my Catholic grade school.

It occurs to me, although it was probably a coinkydink, that the good sisters dressed in black and white.

I was recently reading an allegedly straight news story that was an editorial wearing a clever disguise. It reminded me of what I was taught journalists do for a living.

As objectively as possible, they try to discover the who, what, when, where and why of a given news story so that we all might know what's going on in the world and conduct ourselves accordingly. Let's label this professional journalism.

A noble calling, yes?

Of course, this was a black and white and simplified version of reality -- grade school. At some point down the road, it was revealed that this version of journalism, the one that strives for objective truth, was a relatively recent upgrade.

For example, the phrase yellow journalism, and its meaning, was at least cursorily discussed. Remember the Maine! The hell with Spain! I was not taught that The hell with Spain! was the second half of the famous slogan. I offer this fun fact as a public service, in case you were also unaware.

Wikipedia: "Yellow journalism and the yellow press are American terms for journalism and associated newspapers that present little or no legitimate well-researched news while instead using eye-catching headlines for increased sales."

The two versions of journalism presented above are logical opposites, black and white. Another version, let's call it traditional journalism -- proudly, frankly, openly, and unashamedly partisan -- was the norm in America till the early 1900s.

Now that I'm a sexy senior citizen I realize that no H. sapien is capable of pure objectivity. Also, that truth is provisional and subject to modification.

However, when objectivity is called for objectivity is worth striving for. Truth that stands up to objectivity, reason, open debate and an open mind is good enough, close enough, and absolutely necessary if we're to survive and thrive.

Please check your postmodern nihilism at the door.

At the moment, my Dear Stickies, journalism is a mess. What do you get when you combine professional journalism, yellow journalism, traditional journalism, infotainment, propaganda, public relations, etceterations, and the internet?

Purple journalism.

Purple journalism: a form of journalism combining multiple elements. The purpose varies depending on the source. Most common motivating factors are profit, fame, and ideology.

Journalism, like everything and everyone else, is subject to the high-velocity disruption that is a hallmark of the age I'm living in. I wonder if you will take high-velocity disruption for granted and regard me as quaint?

At the moment, we're treading water in the Dizzinformation Ocean, including those young enough to take this for granted. Any given trusted, go-to source for news (brand name or otherwise...) may be currently featuring a story that's been tainted by professional trolls whose job it is to do so.

While everyone's aware of the blurred and ever-shifting lines between the components of purple journalism mentioned above and...

Nope, don't think so, not everyone. Not even close...
No way, Poppa.
Non-non-non. I don't think so either. 

I've just been the victim of a collective interruption by Dana, Iggy, and Marie-Louise -- in that order. Fine, point taken. The question is, what, if anything, can/should we do about it?

Assuming you prefer living in a country with free speech and a free press (my personal preference) your options are limited if you wish to avoid stepping on other people's right to run their mouths.

Another of those black and white notions imparted to me by Sister Mary McGillicuddy and her... well, sisters, was that with rights come responsibilities. Same coin, different sides.

One of the primary responsibilities that comes with any given right is acknowledging that the other kids on the playground have the same rights as you do and that you're gonna have to find a way to share the swings. I may have mentioned this ten or twenty times before.

How To Get a Clue & Maintain Your Bliss

Select a limited, cross-section of information sources that you can comfortably keep track of and ignore the rest.

Make sure that at least one of them pisses you off and that at least one of them is a bit over your head.

Fire up your cynicism, skepticism, experience, and knowledge.

Never forget we've evolved (or were created) to be tribal and that confirmation bias never sleeps.

Maintain (try to anyway) an open heart and an open mind.

When I become king I'm going to require that all news media of a certain size or larger (metrics to be determined) must declare that they are partisan, in what way, and provide a simple, short, clear statement explaining their approach to the news.

If they're about lurid pictures/video, lurid stories, and making as much money as possible that's fine -- as long as they acknowledge it. Easy peasy, right? Poppa loves you.

Have an OK day.

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©2018 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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