Consensus & Error

Some weeks ago a study concerning news coverage in Germany during the financial crisis was released, giving low grades to most renowned TV news. The main reason for this, the authors say, is that news shows give too little background information and do not sufficiently examine all aspects of the issues. Unnecessary to mention the outraged reactions by the journalists.

The reason for this happening is not entirely human error, but the demands of the medium itself. When the author of a newspaper article can clearly take a stand on a given topic (because he has enough space he can fill), a TV journalist inevitably seems to aim for a consensus. It’s ok to give room for contrary statements, but in the end there must be a conclusion — and they are mostly ambiguous. Some areas of journalism call for compression when the topic requires expansion. Expansion that is necessary because the public is not educated on but affected by the subject. The reason behind that call for compression is the need to compromise between the demands of the ethics of journalism and the time a viewer is believed to want to spend on getting the news.

This is also reflected in the work of news agencies, whose job is to aggregate news and resell them to papers, radio, TV, news services on the web. And these customers have been and still are busy downsizing their news departments, or they never had one in the first place. So they ask for ready-to-serve blurbs, and because customer is king, someone in a news agency chops off whatever information he deems unnecessary, and voilĂ ! Good morning, this is the news…and remember: You saw it here first!

Since this is not going away anytime soon, we only have the choice of either being aware that anything that’s not getting to us directly from the source might not be what is was, or just stick with what Tim Ferriss said: If you’re not going to do anything about it, why spend your time on it just to know? By the way: This too is a consensus. Or just a compromise?

Unless we come up with a better idea, we can either go for full coverage of the topic (what news channels and newspapers do) or just publish headlines like a ticker. The 15-minute news show is a compromise. 30 minutes is a compromise. Some articles require days of research, so chances are you can’t deliver the exact same information in 2 minutes on screen. Or maybe you can, and people are too selfish to give away something for free they’ve put so much work in, when there is no other reward than the money they’re paid. So they mutilate their own work. If I can’t have it, no one shall. Sounds simple enough to be true. And these are the people we’re supposed to trust, after we’ve been told that we can’t trust our politicians, our priests, our partners. Boy we’re in trouble.

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