How to Differentiate Authenticity and Falsehoods in Today's News.

The Fall of the Fourth-Estate Pt.2:

A Re-examination Of Modernized Media Outlets Credibility

Direction and production dictate what the eye of the camera sees rather than objective reality. A clear intention is necessary to push the record button and for a story even to exist. Attempting to separate the author from the subject matter is a dangerous course of action when it comes to evaluating media credibility. From fiction, tv, and the web, an increasingly applied use of the previously mentioned sub-genres of realism has begun to fracture the trust incurred by modern “news” outlets. Individuals who aim to create commit to an idea; the idea leads to the building of a narrative which no longer is inherently objective. As never-ending streams of entertainment begun infiltrating all aspects of daily life, previous dynamics of “public/civilized” discussion has shattered. Hardest hit are mainstream news sources, while the questions of reliability begin to seep into the mass-media-sphere[i]. Currently, a fundamental resource for through objective-realism, documentaries, web “news,” and digital audience interactions, continue to shift towards biased repetition and stagnation of content[ii]. Attempts to return previous relationships between information distribution is needed if an appropriately informed society is the goal.

A specific type of non-fictional film constituted new breakthroughs on presenting both how particular events happened. Popularity in the genre of Documentary ruled with manufactured and objective realism. Flaws eventually were found and abused twisting reality using implied authenticity to falsify audience understanding of events. Specific implications of this practice led towards a sense of propaganda in such content like Newsreels[1]. A non-fictional material as a process has become even more widespread and culturally appropriated. Production has continually growing patterns of tightly focused and intimate characters propelling the credibility of the genre further than previous standards. Heroin(e) (2017, Netflix,) manages to focus on an individual facing an unstoppable wave of drug overdoses that many states are unprepared to stem. Narrated from a specific angle, the actual action of the main character saving real people from near-death emergencies generates empathy while enhancing suspension of disbelief. Amazingly, Heroin(e) (2017) manages to magnify a broad issue through micro-level focus rather than attempting to cover the national epidemic[iii]. Concentrating on incredible medical services provided by a powerful woman proves that working from the inside-out, small scall presentation can efficiently highlight the scale of this painful social cancer. Similar approaches have attempted to drag these micro to macro narratives and have achieved high success among viewers. VICE MEDIA (pre-buyout) is a phenomenal example of blending the elements of documentary and talk show/news show into an in-depth humanistic study[iv]. From these small-scale perspectives, a conversation continues between the lines about the broader implications and dangers of particular issues.

Digitalization and the increase in creator distributed content present a never-ending dilemma of reliability since federally supported Newsreels began showing. While initially trusted, any sense of guaranteed honesty with “news” over time degraded as Newsreels were discovered to be propaganda implied-realism. Nationally the blow to trusting what audiences are told or see is irrevocable, and seemingly an irreversible practice. Discovery Network, a former stalwart for educational entertainment has been continually caught faking their narratives[v]. While that sounds bad, go visit the History Channel at any point, and there will be experts on “real aliens” or other unbelievable nonsense. Commercially this practice is an undeniable temptation. Certain precautions legally protect networks from the financial backlash if uncovered for fraud fostering a whole new audience instead regularly delivered untruths.

Moving on to an in-depth look at news delivery and consumption, on the other hand, continues an extreme version of implied realism. Currently, there are two types of news, the 24-hour news cycle visually / verbally consumed, and journalistic reports written and read individually. Credibility and focus became an increasingly important conversation questioning the journalistic ethics and news consumption aspects of documentary work. Rippling out of the massive shift in narrative delivery specific outlets previously thought of as “legitimate media resources,” have fallen into politically distinct camps. Audiences have begun to face a repetitive process reinforced by echo chambers of conversation and agreement. Consider the new degree of corporate interference of content with native advertising and the trust begins to fall apart nearly universally. Before Orange is the New Black Season 3 premiere, in the NY Times was a wonderfully beautiful piece on women conditions in prison[2]. Unfortunately for avid readers, the story is an amazingly difficult to parse advertisement inviting many viewers to “learn more[vi].” As these previously relied upon informative pieces shifted, news punditry evolved through the 24-hour news cycle followed by even more untrustworthy advertising additions.

If we were to weigh media honesty and audience trust on the scales of Horace, I believe they would tip towards the non-traditional news outlets. Television talk-shows intentionally, sometimes accidentally, became a new method of information dissemination starting around 2000[3] (fated- more on this in the next piece). The Daily Show and the comedic take on presenting news affected audience members to the point of disillusionment. Audience members would traditionally rely on their local news, papers, and national journals to understand from various semi-biased points of view. The show garnered more praise (and 25+ Emmy’s) and consequentially more similarly themed sources would appear to bring audiences not as engaged in the daily political changes to new forms of political discussion and representation. Using comedy and sanity as diametric performance methods, this new wave of honest-comedic-news would activate countless individuals to approach their civic duty with a renewed sense of vigor. Timing is everything, and unfortunately, this new approach to audience engagement had arrived too late. Political punditry (A.K.A acting) re-enforced the echo-chamber approach to building and maintaining demographics[vii]. “Both sides” presented by new outlets kept widening a crevasse of civic discussion and activation. Infinite arguments exist referencing the cause and effect behind the rise of the 24-hour news cycle, yet the proof is in the audience pudding.[4] The National division is only going to increase unless as a community a merging of ideas and conversation can be brought back to the forefront of news dissemination.

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The Fall Part 3: A Mad Mad World.

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[1] "Showdown in Vietnam", a February 8, 1965 war propaganda newsreel by Universal Newsreel.

[2] https://paidpost.nytimes.com/netflix/women-inmates-separate-but-not-equal.html

[3] More on this in our next Shop Talk series: Post-Golden Era Media Impacts.

[4] See Ratings… the things that measure audience viewership.

[i] Vittoria Sacco, Yan jun Zhao, The Impact of Curation on Stories' Objectivity: Audience Criteria of Perceived, Objectivity of Storify, The official research journal of the, INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ONLINE JOURNALISM, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 2014

[ii] Regina Marchi, With Facebook, Blogs, and Fake News, Teens Reject Journalistic “Objectivity”, Journal of Communication Inquiry XX(X) 1 –17 DOI: 10.1177/0196859912458700, http://jci.sagepub.com

[iii] Helen G. M. Vossen, Jessica T. Piotrowski & Patti M. Valkenburg (2017) The Longitudinal Relationship Between Media Violence and Empathy: Was It Sympathy All Along?, Media Psychology, 20:2, 175-193, DOI: 10.1080/15213269.2015.1121825

[iv] Nate Berger, The Shift in Media Consumption: Convergence and Streaming Services, KnockMedia, May 25, 2016

[v] http://www.businessinsider.com/discovery-channels-fake-documentaries-2014-9

[vi] Lili Levi, A “Faustian Pact”? native advertising and the future of the press, Arizona law review [vol. 57:647]

[vii] Regina Marchi, With Facebook, Blogs, and Fake News, Teens Reject Journalistic “Objectivity”, Journal of Communication Inquiry XX(X) 1 –17 DOI: 10.1177/0196859912458700, http://jci.sagepub.com

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