A Grain Of Saul

A Grain Of Saul: It’s Not The Media’s Fault, It’s Ours. But We Can Fix It.

Everyone blames the media for everything, and it's getting absurd.

While Americans harp on our divisions, there does seem to be something of a growing consensus: that almost everything is the media's fault.

Donald Trump's rise? The media's fault. Hillary Clinton getting away with breaking the law? The media's fault. People hating cops? The media's fault. People hating African American's? The media's fault. Gossip news, fear of terrorism, a divided nation? It's all the media's fault. 

Regardless of who you are or your political views, chances are you've blamed the media. The Clinton News Network. Faux News. Liberal loving MSNBC reporting whatever The White House tells them; conservative hubs of conspiracy theories like Breitbart and Drudge Report and Infowars spreading lies and half-reported stories without qualms. 

I'm guilty of it, too. I've lambasted mainstream cable for ignoring the death toll of a U.S. airstrike in Syria. I've blamed CNN for giving Donald Trump too much free coverage while ignoring Bernie Sanders. But the hard truth is that it's not the media's fault, it's ours.

If a paparazzi-style news story about a politician's sex life dominates the headlines, it's there because we keep consuming it. If someone reads something they don't like about their presidential candidate of choice, they blame the source for being biased, not their own unwillingness to see a candidate's flaws. If a quickly reported crime story has an error or misidentifies a prime suspect, it's the news outlet's fault for getting it wrong. Not our fault for demanding information on a breaking story at an unreasonable speed.

Every single time you click on an article or turn on the television, you should think of your viewership as currency. With each page view or commercial you watch, you're enhancing the value of whatever story you're following. The ones that trend, the trashy stories about sex scandals and fake issues, are trending because we the people made them trend. Journalists, television producers and bloggers report hundreds of thousands of things a day; but it's our shares, our clicks, our views that decide what stories spread, and are deemed important. 

Today, just 6 percent of Americans say they have "a lot of confidence in the media." That's the same level of confidence Americans have in Congress. The only difference is, Congress doesn't do their jobs. The media does.

And those same Americans who don't trust the media consume much of their news on social media, mostly through Facebook. Just last week, we saw why that was such an issue.

In case you didn't notice, your Facebook news trending bar has changed. 


Image via Facebook

That happened because Facebook purged an entire editorial team that curated the trending bar and left it to an algorithm that would prop up the most popular and clicked stories online. In a matter of hours, a fake news story about Megyn Kelly being fired from FoxNews because she supported Hillary Clinton showed up in the top of thousands of user's feeds.

"There are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality," Facebook said in a press release about the trending bar. "For example, confirming that a topic is tied to a current news event in the real world."

Since the press release, a video of a man performing a masturbatory act with a McChicken sandwich showed up in the trending bar. Stories about Will Smith attending a party and Rob Lowe bashing Ann Coulter were pushed to the top. As I write this, in-depth journalism about Hillary Clinton having a coughing attack and Sylvester Stallone not being dead (after a fake death hoax spread online) are both at the top of my trending bar. That's for me, someone who does his best to use his clicks wisely on premium, long-form journalism and stories that at the least feel like they matter.

Of course, these not-so-great things spreading in the social sphere might have something to do with the fact that 6 out of 10 links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. Is that the media's fault, too?

Perhaps the saddest and sickest irony is that there are so many incredible news sources out there that you can trust.

Yes, The New York Times is still a reliable outlet, no matter what Donald Trump says. If you're a Hillary Clinton supporter, and you blame the media for writing entire articles about her putting her hand on her heart, maybe you should be blaming her. She is the one, after all, who hasn't held a news conference in 276 days, as of this writing. 

Even if you work under the assumption that they have a liberal bias, seasoned political reporters and foreign correspondents from an outlet like The New York Times are well sourced in our government, military, and the governments of foreign allies and enemies. They are going to report the news much more accurately than a blogger at Breitbart or The Huffington Post

The same can be said for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and even recently embattled hubs of long-form journalism like Rolling Stone. If you can't read those websites because of a paywall, then maybe you should buy a membership.

Am I saying all these outlets are infallible? Of course not. Should you cross-reference them or use more than one source to get a complete picture of a story? Of course. But should you work under the assumption that these experienced journalists adhering to strict editorial guidelines are intentionally or unintentionally lying to you? When they're at the risk of being sued for libel? No. That would be dumb.

It's not just the major print to digital publications that have been losing public approval; less traditional websites like The Intercept are operating new-age media hubs that you probably have ignored. The Intercept was built in the spirit of Edward Snowden, pulling no punches on either side of the aisle and frequently using leaked documents or dark sources to build investigative and often times explosive stories. 

VICE runs some of the best video journalism in the world on its HBO show and several different online platforms. Here at A Plus, we're delivering current events and trending news through a positive lens, pushing back on the negative and depressing nature of news.

So many options are out there, but when it's left up to us, someone having sex with a McChicken sandwich is what's trending. 

If you hate the media, if you feel like you can't trust the media, you can help change it. Start elevating the work of seasoned journalists by sharing it and commenting on it and liking it. If you think the media is too depressing or overwhelmingly negative, follow A Plus. Stop clicking the stories about gruesome murders in a small town, and start clicking the ones about a cop's good deed or a politician who helped pass valuable legislation.

If you're tired of seeing Trump on CNN 24/7, change the channel. Or turn off your TV. I always say you should read your news and watch your sports, not the other way around.

If you were distraught that Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protest dominated the news cycle for three days, don't blame him. Or the media. I believed his message was important, but some people didn't. If you're one of those people, take responsibility and push back against the trend not with a negative comment, but by elevating the profile of another story you think is more important.

As The Atlantic's Derek Thompson wrote in 2014: "Ask readers what they want, and they'll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they'll mostly eat candy."

In that article, Thompson references a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism poll that showed "International news" being desired by a two-to-one margin against celebrity and fun news. Readers "wanted" national, local, economical and political news at an even higher rate than international news. 

Thompson goes on to show the difference between what seasoned journalists were telling us was important the day he published the piece (the splintering of Iraq) vs. what stories were most popular on the biggest news websites (the World Cup, a midwest tornado, and Benghazi). That Iraq news, of course, was all about whether or not we should use force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, more than two years ago. 

So when it comes to fixing the media, the solution is simple: people need to put their clicks where their mouths are. It starts the moment you leave this article. 

Isaac Saul is a reporter and columnist at A Plus. You can follow him on Twitter here. Catch his "Grain of Saul" columns on A Plus every Tuesday and Live on Facebook Fridays at 11 a.m. EST

Cover image via  LightField Studios / Shutterstock.


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