State of Media Report: 2018

Accuracy Does Not Equal Truth

One stunningly transparent thread in news evolved in 2018, and it’s this: There is a great divide taking place in America’s news ecosystem, and the cause behind this new have/have-not scenario, interestingly enough, is the quest for accuracy.

News today feels light years away from where it was when the internet emerged as a threat to news as you know it. The concept of news on demand was a powerful, jarring, disrupting force. So much so that the not-so-tech-savvy-but-otherwise-brilliant newsroom staffers seemingly lost their minds during working hours. A “me-first” mentality took hold, as in, “We may not be right but we got the story first.” A dubious badge of honor, but a badge nonetheless.

Fast forward through a litany of major reporting mistakes, from the “early days” of 2006 — remember Sago, W.Va.?  — to 2017, where big oops continued to occur. Check out Poynter’s roundup of stories gone bad, here.

There was plenty of wrong news happening around us in those hurry-up-and-file days, which then ushered in the even more hideous “posting-the-story-to-the-internet-is-for-unedited-drafts” phase. All things considered, by the time fake news was ready for its coming out party, it was nothing short of a debutante ball.

How could anyone blame the American public for losing faith in the institution of media?

All of which brings us to the now, where newsrooms have placed a new and most welcome emphasis on accuracy. Accuracy over speed, even if newsrooms are only willing to wait a few more precious minutes before they hit that send button — make no mistake, this is progress. “Is it accurate?” is the phrase repeated incessantly inside newsrooms across the land, right now.

This is progress worth celebrating, if only for a minute. After all, if you think newsrooms still work at too fast a pace, take into consideration the rapidly diminishing attention span of the American public. Therein lies the rub.

OK, minute’s up.

Here’s the most accurate way to express the problem of accuracy-focused newsrooms: Accuracy doesn’t equal truth. In fact, accuracy doesn’t even equal journalism, and that’s why so many newsrooms are failing the public every day.

The great divide in news today? Exceptional storytelling is being done by those outlets and individuals who understand accuracy is only part of an equation — an equation that must also include fairness and perspective in order to reveal truth.

All you need to do is look at the #metoo news coverage to see the great divide in action. Done well, the stories of the movement have shed light and helped victims move forward. Done badly, the stories have made a mockery of the movement and incriminated its subjects, both victim and accused.

Headline writers are as much at fault as reporters and editors, in this regard. The headlines of 2018 boil down to two basic ideas: ‘The world will end today,’ or the much more optimistic, ‘The world will end tomorrow.’

The only thing worse than a headline writer who puts the world in one of two camps, the right and the wrong, is the headline writer who adds an adjective in there and editorializes a news story that deserves far better treatment.

The hope for journalism in 2019? Don’t simply seek accuracy. Find truth.

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