Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alternative Facts and the Rise of Fake News

"A modern revolutionary
group heads for the
television station."
Abbie Hoffman
"We are the ones that determine what people's attitudes are. It's in our hands."
Ted Turner

Although some people deny that the media can control the way they think, it would be hard to make the case that the media don’t affect what we think about. Editors and producers decide which stories appear at the top of the hour or on the front page. They also decide which stories are worthy of coverage and which can be ignored.

Reporters have a hand in deciding who to interview and what questions to ask. They decide which opinions merit inclusion in stories and which do not. They decide which sources of information are trustworthy and which are not. Then they put stories together in the way that seems most logical to them. One ever-present objective is to do the job in such a way that the boss is happy with it.

Video editors look at the footage available to them and decide what the story is, from beginning, to middle, to end. They decide which portions will be best for telling the story. The power to leave one thing in and take others out is tremendous. One of the key considerations for news video is that it’s interesting to look at. Stories with no interesting footage don’t make producers happy. A marginal story which comes with great footage will usually win over a substantial story with lousy footage.

When I was pitching stories for a non-profit, there were several events per year - seminars, workshops, etc. - that my bosses wanted to get covered on local TV. Time after time, I had to explain that even though the subject was utterly fascinating, talking heads would not get coverage unless one of the talking heads was a celebrity or the event took place on a very slow news day.

I always knew that unless I could provide producers, editors, and reporters with what they needed, there was no point in pitching anything to them. People in the media are usually in a hurry and working to get things done before a deadline. If I put the resources together for them, that would make their jobs easier and get me a step closer to getting the kind of coverage I was looking for. For print stories, I even took pictures so the editors wouldn’t have to send a photographer.

Why do protestors get covered more than speakers at conferences? Because they can be relied upon for interesting footage. Why did Donald Trump get more coverage than other candidates while he was campaigning? Because the media could always count on him to say something interesting and/or controversial. Why do the media gobble up negative stories about Trump? Because, like most people, they tend to believe stories that cater to their beliefs and biases.

It doesn’t seem possible that all of the nonsensical statements, and even the alternative facts, coming out of Team Trump could be unintentional. They may be cranking some of it out with the objective of distracting the media, sending reporters on wild goose chases that lead to stories that aren’t very significant. 

Politicians tell lies. So do their press secretaries and other hired hands. The big surprise is that anyone is surprised by that.

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