The Chaos Before The Breakthrough

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The Chaos Before The Breakthrough

By Jaci Clement, jaci@fairmediacouncil.org

We’ve watched — sometimes in horror — as the news media has gone through life cycles.

In fairness, what’s happened in news isn’t all that different from what we experience in our own lives. We all have good days and bad. There are times in our lives when things amp up, we’re in demand, and we need more hours in the day. Then, there are those dreaded dead zones, when nothing changes, and we roll with it until forced to make a decision: Either we remain where we are, half alive but in familiar surroundings, or we face our truth. If the latter is the case, we find the source of our unhappiness and muster up the strength to send it packing. The void that’s been created now gives us the room we need to redesign our lives. 

How long you’ve walked the earth will dictate if some or all of the above applies to you.

What makes the life cycle of news so similar to our life cycles is the fact that news is a living chronicle. That’s also what makes it so different from other products. News stories are always emerging and changing. Each time, the news product changes, too. News doesn’t really begin or end anywhere. It just is. 

If we were to take the news model and apply it to other things in our lives, extreme weirdness would take hold. Imagine if the U.S. Treasury created a brand-new currency daily and voided what was currently in our pockets. Or if your place of residence suddenly disappeared in the evenings and had to be rebuilt every morning. Such would make for quite a trippy experience, wouldn’t it?

So there is a great divide between news and everything else we know. But there’s something else, too. While every person and every industry will undergo change, it won’t necessarily happen out loud, in front of an audience. But that’s exactly what’s been happening in news. Doesn’t matter if it’s live on television and radio, on the internet, or in newspapers. The nature of its existence means news reveals all of its troubles on the public stage.

Somewhere in all of this, we’ve watched news trade trust for audience approval. It was justified as an industry-wide move which, loosely translated, means if they all made the wrong move together then it must be the right move. The footnote to this period of history may refer to it as the era when the public, in search of truth, realized they should look up to comedians, not news personalities. 

When news bosses decided to blur that line between news and entertainment, did they have an inkling that Netflix, with its roster of stand-up comedian specials, would supplant them to become the place to look for today’s truth-tellers?

Perhaps that’s a sign news has hit bottom — and that’s actually a good thing because there’s only one way to go from here: Up.

But there’s another hopeful sign that the news chaos has finally hit apocalypse level on the activity meter. We see it happening in today’s political coverage, perhaps thanks to another round of widely-reported election predictions that didn’t pan out. News outlets are finally breaking away from each other to rethink the news standards that sent them into the abyss together. The mere idea that newsrooms are starting to think for themselves after decades of working in unison is nearly revolutionary. 

It’s been a long time coming, but the future of news is happening now. 

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