Real news a bigger problem than fake news?

Some interesting views on real news versus fake news.

Disclaimer: with my news criticism, I *am not* jumping on the “blame the media” bandwagon. I’m just as concerned about the growing hostility towards journalists as my colleagues at news organizations the world over. When I say news, I don’t mean *all of journalism*

On the other hand: I do think that the hostility, distrust, and cynicism towards media is a good reason for way more fundamental introspection within journalism circles: why are news media hated so much?

A common answer is: ideological bias. People hate you when they don’t agree with you. But I think the problem is more fundamental: news just doesn’t live up to its most basic promise, which is ‘telling you what’s going on in the world’.

Quite the opposite: news as we know it, tells you almost constantly what’s *not* happening in the world around you. Here’s why.

Although news is too big of a concept to accurately define, I think the definition I came to after studying the phenomenon for over 15 years comes pretty close: news is all about sensational, exceptional, negative, and current events.

Those 5 words capture exactly what’s wrong with news. It’s all about the highly visible, extremely unusual, depressingly terrible, bizarrely short term, and simply momentous. Which means: it leaves out the slow, the structural, the hopeful, the long term, and the developing.

Because of this, consuming news (and as a society, there’s almost no source of information we consume more of), fundamentally misinforms our view of the world. We see the bad weather, but have no clue about the climate.

Consider this: why do almost all systemic shocks – the financial meltdown, Brexit, Trump – end up in a debate among journalists about the question: why didn’t we see this coming? “Liberal” or “corporate” bias, is usually the answer we leave it at.

But I think it’s not so much liberal or corporate bias, it’s *recency* bias. If you can only talk about what’s happening *today*, and never about what happens *every day*, you end up clueless about the fundamental forces shaping our world.

There’s a reason why the lead role in The Big Short, who saw the mortgage crisis coming, ignored one source of information consistently: daily news. As the saying goes: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed’.

Not only does the news misinform us, it also breeds cynicism, polarization, and distrust. It’s no coincidence that divisive figures like Trump are in the news constantly. It’s not because he’s “a master at it”, it’s just that he fits the definition of news perfectly.

I’ll even put it more boldly: if I were a populist with autocratic tendencies seeking power through polarization, I would without a doubt pick “daily news” as my go-to means of propaganda.

Because news, regardless of political leaning, is one big commercial for a worldview that says: the past is better than the future; other people can’t be trusted; the familiar is better than the foreign and civilization will fall apart without a strongman holding it together.

News media push this world view twenty-four seven, under the banner of “objectivity”. It’s an autocrat’s dream.

That’s why I think we should reconsider the definition, funding, and production of news altogether. Not by just “giving you the facts” and hoping you’ll like them. Not by “echoing your world view” and thinking that will restore trust.

No, we have to *unbreak news*. First, by getting rid of the ad model, freeing ourselves from the century-old incentive to sensationalize for attention grabbing sake, and instead focus on member funding to serve only the needs of readers.

Second, by being transparent about the moral convictions that inform our storytelling instead of hiding behind the misleading ‘view from nowhere’ also known as “objectivity”.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, by collaborating with readers to uncover problems that actually matter to them instead of those that just make them tick.

Rob Wijnberg –

What is worse – obviously fake news, or plausible but poor real news?

Leave a comment


  1. Trevors_elbow

     /  13th September 2018

    He has hit on one aspect… and that is why niche paywall is succeeding.

    But he has also ignored the fact that too much reporting is lazy and slanted.

    The poor student loan and evil property speculators post on YourNZ today is a prime example. Slanted and set a scene that property speculation is not targeted by IRD when in fact it is and the bright line test is just a tool to be used by an existing IRD team when assessing property transactions.

    If I was cynical I would say that Student Loan story was deliberately misleading….

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  13th September 2018

    An interesting and thoughtful analysis. News has degenerated into an entertainment reality show. For information there is the internet.


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