I’m going to seriously date myself here. When I started out in journalism, I typed my college papers on a typewriter. And the crude word processors we used at the campus newspaper limited you to X number of characters. When you ran out of characters, you had to start a new file on your floppy disk. Really!
Back then, you had to wait for the evening news to find out what was going on in the world, and in print, that meant waiting for the neighborhood newsboy to deliver that day’s paper to your parent’s front step. Can you imagine anyone being willing to “wait” for their news fix today?
While it’s possible today to get a story “out there” much faster than I would have ever dreamed possible decades ago, today’s breakneck media pace isn’t necessarily a good thing. Ryan Holiday, a media columnist and author of Ego is the Enemy, puts it so well that I’ll quote him here. “You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it.”
Let me read that first sentence again. “You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well.” In my day, an editor would not have accepted a story that didn’t have two sides to it. If you were talking to a Democratic candidate and you didn’t get the Republican’s point of view you didn’t have a story. Period. If you were under a really tight deadline, you “might” get away with saying something to the effect that…. “John Smith, Republican candidate for …. office, was not available for comment.” In that way, readers knew that you were at least trying to get a balanced story.
News takes time to gather, check facts, proofread, and have an editor look it over for grammar and context. But in today’s mad rush to fill the numerous news channels and electronic outlets, it’s more like write first, post first, and if something isn’t accurate or misleading? That’s okay, we’ll deal with that tomorrow, if at all. I “love” reporters’ statements like… “Unnamed sources said…” I was taught that if a source wanted to be anonymous, then you didn’t have a story … an individual had to be willing to “go on record”. Period.
I also liked the other part of Ryan’s statement about absurdly brief Twitter messages. Here is an example of a tweet that would likely be misunderstood. “Women are like bacon. They look good, smell good, and slowly kill men.” No doubt many women reading that would be pretty upset! But wait! The problem is, many people would probably miss the next tweets in which the “poster” said that “this was just in jest.” “This was a Sarcasm Society note.” And finally, “I just meant, you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t live without ‘em.” The point is, how many times hasn’t the intent of someone’s statement been misunderstood because what was reported was so brief?
Or what about videos? Post a picture these days of a police officer being rough on a suspect and right away people will scream abuse. “Look at that cop, how dare he restrain that man like that?” Now it’s certainly possible the officer abused the person he arrested, but what were the circumstances? “Did the man resist arrest?” “Did he threaten the officer?” “Was he high on drugs?” “Was he armed?” Put yourself in the officer’s place with a split second to make a difficult decision, and you might look at the situation differently. This is what Holiday meant by, “losing large parts of it [the news].” A story that’s done well will offer a proper context, and not just a brief video clip or sound bite that shows you something but doesn’t really tell you anything.
The information that’s available today is incredible. It’s mind boggling that you can find out something today in seconds on Wikipedia that would have taken hours to uncover in a library. But knowing something and understanding it isn’t the same thing. Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom, and in today’s crazy, 24/7, go-go-go society, we need less knowledge and more wisdom, fewer pictures and videos, and more details and meaning.