I woke up thinking, what is news good for? No, I was not being snarky. It was just a question: what is the purpose of news. After two and a half decades in the media trenches, the way I thought of news and its purpose was simple: one, to inform. And second, to educate the reader (or viewer.) And in doing so, it allowed readers to act upon it. That made news valuable.
For example, in the past, if there is news of wildfires and the news report tells you to evacuate, then the story has done an excellent job. Radio or TV reporters would talk to relevant authorities and relate that information to the people. Today, Twitter accounts of the California authorities of various stripes, brought that information to the people. The media outlets eventually caught up and added their twist on actionable information. However, by then, the information was already widely available.
Want to know about the Democratic Party’s conference? How about the Republican Party’s conference? Guess what — you could see it all on YouTube. You can form your own opinions, talk about them on Twitter, and go to the publication of your political persuasion to read columnists for confirmation bias.
News, as we knew it, is a victim of Dave Winer calls “sources going direct.” Blame it on the increased velocity of our times, the news already feels old in our lives moving at neck-snapping speed. Maybe that is why the news has become a tool of entertainment and titillation. Perhaps that is why it is hard to tell fact from fiction.
In the world of business, bad news used to impact companies’ stock performance. Now, it is merely an opportunity to earn a bigger Christmas bonus for crisis management experts. There was a time when you could glean a lot in the news about a company’s prospects or an idea. Now, not as much. You can’t even get the essential essentials.
Take the example of Palantir S-1 filing today. The total energy of news coverage is spent on what Palantir founder/CEO Alex Karp wrote in his letter included in the S-1 filings. This is an excellent example of today’s business news about being the spectacle. It distracts from the fact that despite doing all the work for the government agencies — dirty and otherwise — the company is still bleeding money. I would love to know why? As a joe-six-pack investor, that would come in handy.
Of course, we live in the Robinhood era. Reality doesn’t matter. The stock market is a video game to keep the players distracted from a crumbling economy. Business news doesn’t matter.
Technology’s news complex is so stage-managed that I don’t think it has any real value. As I pointed out in my post about Yelp and its narrative-driven coverage doesn’t really bring anything meaningful to the conversation. Most of the time, the news about the technology industry doesn’t really inform or educate. It is news about funding that happened many months ago.
Some stories inform, educate, and entertain you at the same time. They are memorable. I will settle for words that inform and educate and make me think better, like this one from the New York Times about Palantir. It doesn’t explain why the company lost almost $575 million two years in a row.
August 26, 2020. San Francisco
From the archives: The Journalistic Orthodoxy