a blog

by Josh Nicholas

Fixing the news

...the news actually fails to deliver on its single biggest promise: to tell us whats happening in the world... It portrays the world to us as a never ending string of sensational, unusual, terrible, rapidly forgotten events. In contrast to fake news, which is misleading because its simply untrue, real news misleads us in a more subtle and fundamental way. It gives us a deeply skewed view of probability, history, progress, development, and relevance...

This is from a piece by Rob Wijnberg, founder of the Dutch media startup De Correspondent. It is something I desperately wish I had written.

I became a journalist because I love learning and telling stories. I have a peculiar bent on the world and wanted to throw that into the mix. But I've found myself constantly foxed by many of the journalistic conventions that Wijnberg writes about.

The laser focus on the aberrant, the binary rather than probabilistic nature of expression, outsourcing of analysis to the establishment or a small pool of experts, bothsidesism, viewing everything through the lens of politics, and the need to publish discrete rather than iterative content.

These are just some of the many biases in modern journalism. But, unfortunately, none of them seem to be about fostering deeper understanding.

Most of all, I found my life ruled by "hooks" - filtering stories through arbitrary calendar events or something that has just happened. There needs to be a reason to publish this now, it goes, and the lens we have chosen is time. So we forego the issues that should always be published.

...news also makes us blind to the influential that is not exceptional at all. Thats why we often don't hear about major developments until something highly improbable happens... The 2008 financial crisis, for example, didn't become huge news until the Lehman Brothers investment bank filed for bankruptcy  a highly unusual event. But the lead up to this event -   banks that kept piling risk on top of risk, little by little, day by day   never made it to the front page because of the fundamental mismatch between what was happening (gradual risk increase) and the way news commonly signals what is happening (event-driven sensationalism)...

I'm not sure if De Correspondent's model is the antidote, or part of a suite of necessary reforms (I almost just fell into the binary trap there again), but it's certainly one to watch.

...the first thing we do is teach our correspondents to seriously moderate their own consumption of news. We encourage them to seek inspiration for article ideas outside of the days newspapers, talk shows, and tweets  by going out into the streets, by reading books, and, above all, by asking our readers the question, What do you encounter every day at work or in your life that rarely makes the front page, but really should?