I read the news”paper” most mornings, in quotes because it’s an on-line replica of the paper version that doesn’t require tree-felling, wood pulping, and ink-smearing.
In it I read an article about what Facebook is doing to combat the extensive disinformation it helps disseminate. Mostly, its plans sound a lot like trying to extinguish a forest fire with spit.
But not being one to criticize someone’s solution to a problem without having a better idea, I asked myself what my better idea was. Happily, I have one.
I have the solution. Not a solution. Not a partial solution. Not something that might make a positive impact but not much of one.
I have the solution! And because you’re a loyal KJR subscriber I’m going to share it with you. Not only that, I’m going to invite you to share it with everyone you know.
Bob’s Big Idea:
-> Read news and opinions in newspapers. Socialize on social media.<-
If every voting-age American would follow this simple guideline it would, in one masterstroke, neuter all actors, both foreign and domestic, who are trying to pollute our political dialog with their repulsive, fabricated, preposterous, divisive falsehoods.
Well sure, you might be thinking to yourself. Bob is a well-known liberal, so of course he’s going to recommend sources with a leftwing bias.
I’m not. Read the Wall Street Journal if you want to avoid the leftwing slant on things, and that’s assuming the print media as a whole has an actual leftwing bias — a debate I’ll leave to those who research and tabulate such matters.
How about cable news? That’s a gray zone, for three reasons.
Reason #1: No matter how much or how little that’s truly newsworthy is taking place, cable news has to stretch or cram it into its 24-hour news cycle.
Reason #2: Because cable news is such a visual medium, dramatic visuals crowd out the mundane, even when the mundane shows what’s typical.
Reason #3: Shouting heads are cheap. Reporting is expensive. A face on a screen making noises, even a well-compensated face, doesn’t cost very much. Inviting a second or third face in to offer their commentary is still economical programming.
Sending a reporter and camera crew to where news is happening costs a whole lot more … and that’s also in comparison to what it costs a newspaper to send a reporter there.
So on cable news, economics favors shouted inanities over reliable information.
All of which goes to demonstrate just how pitifully the newspaper industry has responded over the past 25 years to the threat to its existence that is the Internet.
Newspapers could have pooled their resources to provide local and national classified advertising. Instead, they gave up the field to Craigslist, Monster.com, Autozone.com, and so many other list services that would have had to compete with newspapers if only newspapers had decided to compete.
And that’s the revenue side of the industry. How about content?
Imagine newspaper companies thought in terms of competing for news consumers’ business. What might they do?
I’d think they’d advertise, offering engaging accounts of how they ensure the content they publish is both newsworthy and reliable … the steps they go through and the principles they adhere to before committing content to printing plates.
If they were even more bold they’d contrast their process to the vetting that precedes posting on social media. They’d portray, perhaps, a bunch of Russians laughing as they clink their vodka-filled glasses and click their mice, or perhaps a few deranged individuals with poor personal hygiene, popping pills and screaming into microphones as they click.
The fact of the matter is that most newspapers do adhere to a code of ethics, do have processes and principles in place to keep misrepresentations out, and issue corrections when their preventive measures fail.
Social media sources are the polar opposite.
What does this have to do with KJR’s mission of providing practical advice people in business can make use of as soon as they finish reading?
There is, unsurprisingly, a business parallel.
Just about every business function is, for those outside it, an arcane, needlessly complex, expensive waste of corporate resources. Few decision-makers outside IT understand why it’s so hard; likewise CIOs looking at Marketing, Chief Marketing Officers looking at Accounting …
Every business decision-maker and influencer benefits by understanding why what other parts of the business do is so hard. If the CEO doesn’t insist on this sort of information exchange, the rest of the executive leadership team should take the initiative.
The alternative? Look at how well social media works as a source of enlightenment.
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Like this idea? Know anyone in the newspaper business? Please don’t hesitate to share this with them. Who knows — maybe someone will pay attention.