The Media Must Re-Embrace Accuracy over Being First
A Chinese proverb states: “May you live in interesting times.” It is actually meant to be a curse, as it means living in a time of great change. Breaking News! We live in interesting times.
The era of information technology is evolving expeditiously, and the use of these platforms has often resulted in unexpected consequences. These platforms provide media outlets with powerful means to disseminate information at speed never seen before in the history of humanity, and as Voltaire wrote, “With great power, comes great responsibility” and that includes the responsibility to provide accurate information to society’s stakeholders.
The media is one of the stakeholders in our society, and as such media outlets must have high reporting standards when addressing a public issue. A story of public interest must be substantiated with facts, and that means all the facts. A single data point is insufficient to substantiate a story of public interest, especially when the story may result – intentionally or unintentionally – in having inflammatory overtones.
When a single document is available, it must be corroborated by multiple sources, and such sources need to be thoroughly vetted, especially when a reporter is fully informed that more documents are forthcoming. Hence, all data points concerning the public issue must be fully analyzed prior to publishing a story. It is not sufficient to get information to the public, it is necessary to ensure the holistic inclusion of all the entities involved in a public issue.
The public may indeed have an interest in the story, but the public has the right to be accurately informed. If any of us is not confused in this environment of information overload it means that we are not paying attention.
Are we as a society paying attention to what we are paying attention? A very recent poll appeared on CNN Politico, shows that 64% of Americans believe that the media is dividing us. This is a troubling statistic.
A much respected actor, one of my favorites, Denzel Washington, addressed the media with the following impromptu statement as he was arriving at a red carpet event: “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you read it you are misinformed. What is the long-term effect of too much information? One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore.
So what is the responsibility you all have? To tell the truth, not to just be first, but to tell the truth. We live in a society now where it’s just first. Who cares? Get it out there.
We don’t care who it hurts, we don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true. Just say it. Sell it. Everything you practice you get good at it.” Ladies and gentlemen, indeed we live in interesting times.