As trust in media hits a new low, the excellent Amanda Ripley proposes an alternative way of reporting news, for actual humans - plus, a new, uncensored stand-up special from Andrew Schulz
The general consensus in the newsrooms that I’ve worked in is that the public is not interested in hearing stories about journalism. The thinking is that it’s too “inside baseball” — that people don’t particularly care how the sausage gets made. If that was ever true, it’s definitely not the case now, years into the rolling crisis that is Covid.
People very much want to know what’s gone wrong with our news media.
Trust in the press has hit a new low. The Reuters Institute’s 2022 Digital News Report recently found that Canadians’ trust in the news is at its lowest point in seven years, with just 42 percent of respondents saying they trust “most news, most of the time.” Add to that, half of Canadians view mainstream media organizations as politically similar. And the number of people avoiding news has grown to a whopping 71 percent. One of the main reasons cited? Negative impacts on mental health.
A stunning lack of self-awareness within the media certainly does not help. I keep waiting for a collective moment of “Holy smokes, what are we doing wrong?” It has yet to come in any meaningful way.
All of this is why I was so heartened to read Amanda Ripley’s excellent piece in the Washington Post this week. Ripley is a smart, sane, and deeply compassionate journalist that I’ve interviewed in the past for Lean Out.
With “I stopped reading the news. Is the problem me — or the product?” she hit a nerve.
In the piece, Ripley admits that she herself stopped reading the news years ago:
… half a dozen years ago, something changed. The news started to get under my skin. After my morning reading, I felt so drained that I couldn’t write — or do anything creative. I’d listen to “Morning Edition” and feel lethargic, unmotivated, and the day had barely begun.
What was my problem? I used to cover terrorist attacks, hurricanes, plane crashes, all manner of human suffering. But now? I was too permeable. It was like I’d developed a gluten allergy. And here I was — a wheat farmer!
After discovering many fellow journalists felt the same way, Ripley comes right out and asks the critical question: “If so many of us feel poisoned by our products, might there be something wrong with them?”
Ripley argues that the news today is not designed for human beings — and based on months of research and interviewing — that there are three key elements missing from our media coverage: Hope, agency, and dignity.
On her Substack, Ripley points out:
Even when things get better, when Covid cases plummet, when Congress actually acts, when a police department get reformed, when greenhouse gases get cut… the framing of the news doesn’t change. It remains the same: Vibrating with anxiety, reflexively disappointed, rarely delighted.
The way forward — Ripley says in the Post piece, quoting David Bornstein, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network — is for journalists to adopt a new theory of change, abandoning the assumption that the way to avert catastrophe is to keep the public laser-focused on threats. And instead, decide that change comes when the public is informed about the bad news and the potential solutions to it.
There is a way to communicate news — including very bad news — that leaves us better off as a result. A way to spark anger and action. Empathy alongside dignity. Hope alongside fear.
This is a profoundly energizing vision. And one that I will strive to emulate.
Podcast listeners, we have a fantastic summer coming up! The Lean Out lineup includes: Jonathan Rauch, Ian Rowe, William Deresiewicz and Louise Perry.
If you missed the episode on Friday with the great Nadine Strossen, you can listen to it here. I will be sending out a transcript tomorrow.
And finally, for comedy fans, Andrew Schulz is releasing his new stand-up special tonight on his own website. Schulz chose to buy back Infamous from a streaming service, rather than allow it to censor his jokes. Let’s all support his artistic independence, and enjoy some good belly-laughs while we’re at it.
As Schulz said at a recent appearance in Toronto, after Massey Hall cancelled his show on account of “inappropriate” jokes:
Here’s the thing that they don’t get. We are doing the thing that everybody says is not possible. This is just a bunch of people from all different walks of life — every different gender, religion, race, political view — all in one f**cking room, laughing at ourselves and each other. That’s why I don’t worry about that sh*t. Because I know we’re going to win. Every single time we’re going to win.
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