I’ve been working for a large enterprise software organization for over a year now, and let me tell you, I fucking love it. I’ve spent the past 20 years working full time as a journalist, and getting this corporate job has been extremely eye opening. It’s like night and day.
The job of the journalist has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. When I started in this industry, the job was just like it was back in the mid and early 1900’s: you had a beat, you called a lot of people on the telephone, and you wrote about one story a day, if you worked at a newspaper. Magazine workeres had to do something like one story a week, or maybe more, but generally less than once a day. Some people wrote more, some less, but everyone knew what they were doing, and what was expected of them.
Then the Web took off. Over night, establishments that had once only printed their stories 6 times a year were suddenly being required to write and publish stories every day. As the advancement of the Web continued, that number increased as well. Today, it’s not uncommon to find news sites that churn out 20 to 50 stories every single day. They may be short, or maybe just a link to some sale somewhere, but they’re still publishing at a rate that is exponentially higher than it had been.
When I worked at MacHome Journal, for example, we’d hand the duties of updating the Website around the room. When it was your turn, you’d look up the day’s Mac news and paste 5 links into the CMS with little summaries. That was in 1999. That magazine died about 6 years later. The Web ate it alive.
What it was replaced with was a modern Churnalism; that type of site where 50 stories are posted every day, and only 2 of them are interesting and new. The idea of a site with that kind of throughput is horrifying to me. If the site had the type of staff that could keep up with that output, like a Washington Post or a New York Times, with thousands of reporters, then yes, you can crank out 50 stories a day.
But the sites I’m talking about here are nothing like the New York Times. They’re small shops run by minor media barons who are trying to live off of this stuff. They’re teams of 20 pushing dozens of stories every hour, and quickly firing anyone who cannot keep up. It’s a break neck pace that results in burnout, inaccurate stories, and less readers overall.
Kotaku has been going through this hell recently. I’m told the current person in charge over there does this routinely, and used to be in charge of Forbes. That site really cranked up its output, and has become something of a larger outlet since these changes were made. But I’d also point out that Forbes stories tend to be less reliable, to my mind, these days. They also tend to cover weird subjects outside of what I would call traditional finance topics.
Still, it likely doesn’t matter what they publish over there: the goal is to sell ads, and when they are focused on that aspect of the business entirely the actual journalism is basically forgotten.
I really worry about what will happen to Vox Media as this trend continues. Every time I see someone start a site to cover games or media, and they’re super hot to trot and explaining to everyone how they’ll be super ethical and super trustworthy, my first thought is to how long that will last. Eventually, almost all focused sites like these need to suck a little vendor dick, and that’s when things get messy.
When your only source of revenue is the same people you’re trying to report news on, it’s only a matter of time before those two things conflict with one another. And when ads are your only reason for existing, it’s very easy to throw the journalists under the bus. After all, this job is about playing games all day, right? We can find any old tool box to do that for almost free!
This is bolstered by the fact that no one seems to care about good writing online anymore. You have to be Ronan Farrow to actually get the word out about your work: touring Fresh Air and talk shows to promote the investigative journalism you’ve done. But if you’re not the illegitimate love child of Frank Sinatra, your stories are going to be read by a small audience.
We thought the Internet would make journalism easier and spread it further and to more readers. Instead, it’s lowered the level of all our best outlets, to the point where today the New York Times is being considered to be the same thing as Fox News, or Brietbart. They are VERY different things.
And this is what drives me nuts about people who talk about “Fake News” all the time. Just like retarded Gamer Gate supporters, these are people who will sit and explain to you in excruciating detail how the media works. All the while, it is absolutely painfully obvious they have no fucking idea what they’re talking about.
It’d be one thing if the Fake News crowd was pointing at Fox News, MSNBC, or any of the hundreds of other biased shit shack news organizations out there. But that particular brand of person seems only able to consider the actual mainstream media to be the culprits of Fake News.
So, OK, fine, you want to be ignorant and call ABC, CBS, NYT, WaPo Fake News. Can you cite some examples? Explain to me what makes these outlets generators of Fake News? Oh, of course you can’t. You just want to complain because they’re saying mean things about Daddy Trump.
If these people actually took the time to learn about journalism, they’d find out that there is, in fact, a MAJOR process behind every one of these outlets. Fake News fans are always talking aboutn how this reporter or that reporter just made stuff up and printed it because they hate Trump.
That’s actually completely, 100% impossible. Newspapers and TV news rooms do not work like that, at all. In fact, if that’s how you think the news works, you need to just shut the fuck up and staple your head to the carpet, because you’re completely fucking wrong and to top it off, you’re an idiot.
How a News Room Works
You see, the entire concept of Fake News was created by, guess who? The people who actually make up fake news! Imagine that! The Trump administration and its cronies LOVE to lie and spin and make shit up, so it’s only natural that they’d attribute all of their own actions to the other side and to the media. It’s the EXACT same reason that cheating lovers always suspect their partners of cheating. Or why my mother-in-law thinks everyone will make fun of her for having a bad foot. Why? Because she’d be the one making fun of someone else she didn’t know who wore a leg brace, so she assumes everyone else would be exactly as mean to her as she is to them.
In reality, a news room is built to ferret out and solidify truth. The types of discussions you will hear in a news room would make your head spin. They’re discussing the absolute basis of all sentences, lines, quotes, and facts. Right down to the individual word. “Are you sure we can say the car accident caught the CHP by surprise? Did the officer say that? If not we cannot say it.” Or “Did the judge say he dismissed the case due to the juror speaking to the press? No? Who said it? The juror? SOme guy on the street? Then we can’t say it. If the judge didn’t say it and we can’t get a quote from him saying it, we can only say something like “juror 12 said the judge dismissed the case,’ but we cannot confirm the reasons.”
News rooms have fact checkers. I recently did an interview with Wired, and they had a fact checker call me up and confirm every quote I gave to the reporter that made it into the story. Every single quote. That said, there are still some minor mistakes in the piece, but the underlying facts are correct. They just got the slogan for the MADE wrong, and mischaracterized what I said about pirates.
And that’s to show you that, despite all the infrastructure these outlets have in place to help them get things right, they still get things wrong a lot. And that’s because of the drive-by nature of reporting. The broad facts are usually correct, but when you get into the minutia of individual industries, little mistakes are often made.
And it’s those little mistakes that often get referenced as a reason that reporting is made up or fake. In fact, those mistakes can be corrected, and any outlet worth its salt will issue a correction if they are corrected.
So my advice is to email outlets you think are hosting Fake News and let them know what’s actually false about their stories. If you’re right, they will retract and correct the things that are wrong. If you’re just calling them out for being mean to Daddy, forget it. But if you genuinely see something incorrect in a press story, reach out and let them know. They want their stories to be correct too, so help them do that.
Meanwhile, try letting Fox News, MSNBC, or Brietbart know when they’ve made an error. 100% guaranteed they will not issue a correction. And that’s the difference between real news and Fake News. Fake News will never correct itself. Real news will.