Thursday, 06 April 2017 21:10

Call fake news what it is: for-profit news

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Editor’s Note: This is not news. It’s not even for-profit news. It’s an editorial, which is an editor’s opinion. News articles are nonfiction works that strive for objectivity, because that’s how you reach the widest variety of people. Only small, local newspapers do this well anymore, and there are fewer doing it well every minute.

The problem in American journalism today isn’t fabrication of the news or biased media organizations. It’s not even biased journalists or an undereducated audience. It’s capitalism. Profit motivates news content in this country, and controversy and sensationalism result in clicks, which result in cash. If I can either please you or enrage you with a headline to earn a click or share, the bottomline is black and the boss is happy. Informing you is unnecessary if I can appeal to your emotions. I probably did with that jab at capitalism, didn’t I? This idea of fake news is not new. I’ve been writing about it since 2012. I just called it Gonzo rhetoric back then.

American journalists have been writing fake news since Joseph Pulitzer sent Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman to make Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days a reality back in 1890. He had already adopted first-person narration in his newspaper articles; now what he needed was a hero.

American reporters want to be heroes involved in the story when they should be flies on the wall. But the readers want sensationalism, too, so that’s what they got and continue to get. This “Yellow journalism” snowballed into a pissing match quickly. The war for readers between Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s Journal got nasty when Hearst started selling newspapers for a penny. Karen Roggenkamp’s essay “The Evangelina Cisneros Romance, Medievalist Fiction, and the Journalism that Acts” explains Hearst’s intentions.

“Making no attempt to discern truth from falsehood, fact from fiction, the Journal published story after unauthenticated story of fierce battles, daring exploits, and – Hearst’s favorite – Spanish atrocities against innocent Cuban maidens” (27).

In 1897, Hearst sent Karl Decker, writing as Charles Duval, to Cuba to free Cisneros, an imprisoned Cuban maiden charged with attempted murder. Hearst’s readers weren’t concerned with her criminal record, though, and ate the story up.

“Hearst encouraged his writers to blend the apparent facts of the news with specific literary vocabularies, creating a meta-fiction that Journal readers consumed voraciously…Hearst created the meta-fiction because he wanted his readers and the government to act, just as his was ‘the journalism that acts'” (25).

Only vain, American assholes could take something as solemn as journalistic integrity and sacrifice it for fame and fortune. Nowadays “journalists” are so rushed to get clicks, fact-checking takes a backseat to headline writing. Nowadays journalists spend the same amount of time or more on writing a headline than writing the actual content of an article or editorial. That isn’t going to improve the quality of information readers receive.

If news organizations were never required to make a profit, the news would be less fake. It’d also be pretty boring but likely more effective in effecting change. So instead of calling it fake news, call it for-profit news. And if you’re looking for news organizations that don’t have this profit motive, look no further. The Institute for Nonprofit News can direct you to investigative reporting that has made a real difference for real people and not for profit.

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Last modified on Friday, 22 March 2019 19:51