The Real Question
In the Digital Age, the Difference Between News & Widgets Seems Lost
photo by Bob Giglione
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past four years, it’s this: News, unlike virtually every other industry, doesn’t have the luxury of hiding its flaws. There’s a huge lesson to be learned in that, as the public tends to place too much emphasis on a story of the moment, as opposed to how (and if) that story fits into life’s larger picture.
A widget-maker may produce widgets throughout the day, but those things come from one mold, used over and over again. If the mold breaks or some other production mishap occurs and the widgets end up looking more like donuts instead of rectangles, a meeting’s called. The problem is fixed. Rectangle widgets once again are spit out by machinery, while what to do with the weird donut irregulars becomes a challenge for the marketing department to brand and sell. And the only people who are privy to the mistake are the employees, not the customers.
News, as an industry, creates an entirely new product, continuously. It has to: Information has a very limited shelf life. It expires rapidly. Sometimes, it expires even before a story is even delivered to you. (That was the weakness of printed newspapers.) What’s news this hour may not be news in the next hour. It’s a situation that not only burns out newsroom staffers but is a constant stressor in all of our daily lives.
Yet the biggest difference between the news makers and the widget makers is this: In news, any flaws or mistakes are played out directly in front of its audience. The thing is, only sometimes are those mistakes are corrected. Some mistakes come under scrutiny, and only corrected if said mistake was deemed to be “of substance.” Probably the hardest mistakes to correct fall under the category of the line-by-line information being correct, but the premise of the story being completely wrong. These are the donut-shaped widgets of the news industry. Many a newsroom will uphold the tried-and-true “we stick by our reporting” standard when, in reality, that standard costs them credibility with their audience.
So, one question is, who decided it was a weakness for a newsroom to stand up and set the record straight? Acknowledgment of mistakes, and apologies when warranted, take great courage, and illustrate that inside each news product is a soul with a moral responsibility to the public it serves. This seems to have gotten lost or perhaps even forgotten in today’s digital age. If you think there are no ramifications for the news industry to dismiss its inner voice, then the real question is this: Why is it that the notion of the news media as the “enemy of the people” resonated so loudly with so many Americans?
Find the answer, and strengthen the industry.