Why Most News You See Isn't Actually News

I would argue that news is something which falls under the classic notion of a 19th century-mustacioed-man-working-at-a-paper-of-record-kind-of-thing. What does news have to be? It is objective. It is, by definition, new. It is something that is important and part of the public interest. The geo-political struggle in Ukraine and Syria, that's a story. A rich, old, white man said something racist  in his house, that's not a story. Some billionaires got into a punch on, that is not news. It's fun. It's entertaining. It's stupid. It is many things. But it is not news.

Journalists have twitter accounts. This was a good idea for about 30 seconds. People thought "Oh, that's great, I can follow my favorite journalist". And then they tweeted. And kept tweeting. And kept tweeting after that. In a bid to capture clickthroughs and likes and retweets and shares journalists and reputable news sites began to tweet. Great. All the stuff you need, right when you need it, right? Wrong. 

It's... it's still made of coffee, right?

It's... it's still made of coffee, right?

All it means is that 'journalists' or 'content aggregators' as I like to call them, simply have to bow down before the alter of content creation and the large bull-god effigy that is the hungry mouth of the internet and keep updating. Even if there's no news. Just keep updating. Keep shoveling shit into the bottomless pit. Keep promoting 'engagement' at whatever the cost - because god help us if we're ever bored for a minute. What's that? Kim Kardashian's ass? Don't mind if I do...

This is what I call the CNN effect. The 24 hour news cycle. The constant need for content - the newest, freshest content, regardless of what the content contains. As though in some sort of Orwellian twist the word means exactly the opposite of what it suggests. As most expertly evidenced by CNN and their myriad of reporters on street corners bring you the latest news on nothing in particular. Or their 'reporting' of the Malaysia Airlines incident which they handled with both charm and tact...

The internet is also to blame. Just generally. I don't hate the internet, I love it. But it has kind of dismantled traditional media models. In the days of newspapers there was an economic model that still allowed for integrity. Sure, you might not be the number one paper, but you knew you were doing gods work for queen and country and damn it all to hell if anyone should say otherwise. Being the second most rich and powerful man is still alright.

But now news papers aren't turning a profit, and even if they were, the emphasis now is not - nor can it really be, unless independently funded - about deep, penetrating journalism. The economic model just isn't there. Nobody expects people to do this stuff for free. In their own time. It's not logical. If you can't make a living being a journalist or a photographer, you will be something else. Simple as that. It's not evil. It's not a conspiracy from the government to keep us stupid (though I'm sure they're positively gleeful at the prospect) but it's just a matter of incentives. The incentives to do good, quality journalism aren't there.

Most importantly it isn't what people want. Sure, it's what they need but people oh so rarely ever have what they need over what they want. That's why there's an obesity epidemic and Katy Perry continually tops the charts over classical music and kale and goji berry salads. What gets eyes (and importantly advertisers) are clickthroughs. Engagement. Social. Yadda yadda yadda.

So naturally, if you're someone wanting to make a buck (and I don't blame you if you do) what are you thinking? Give the public what they want. In spades. Cat videos and pictures of food and Kardashians, because as much as we all like to say we care about Vladimir Putin restarting the Cold War; what we really (secretly) want to see is some tits. And get a rageboner at them. 

If you're competing for eyes, you are going to be more sensational. You're going to have eye catching info-graphics and headlines. Headlines which are so sensational that they may not actually have anything to do with what the content of the article/video is. It's just about re-framing mediocre content in order to capitalize on that click through. It doesn't matter if 'after 40 seconds you will have an epiphany' or not. It's too late. They've already won. They got that clickthrough and the few cents it bought them and fuck you for caring. Have you ever finished a 3 minute clip from 'Ellen' and thought 'Wait. Why did I watch that, again?' This is why.

Because there is a whole bunch of stuff that we think is news that isn't news. If it's on Facebook, it's probably not news. If it doesn't come from a reputable website, it's probably not news. If it's claiming something that couldn't possibly be true, it's almost definitely not news. And if it claims to solve a problem for you for 'one low, low price' I can almost guarantee that's not news. By appealing to your curiosity and your constant thirst for 'newness' they end up building empires of 'information' on sand.

But there is a way to combat this. Rob them of the eyes they so richly crave and they become nothing. If everyone stops looking at Charlie Sheen and Justin Bieber they simply cease to exist. Refuse to engage with anything about them. On Facebook, in life. When you take away the eyes you take away the power - because they only have anything because we as a society chose to give it to them. Stop clicking on Buzzfeed and Upworthy and Gawker and instead click on Slate and Salon and MotherJones. Verify something someone has said - google it! We live in an age where we have the entire sum of human endeavor aggregated at our fingertips at a moments notice, there's no excuse for being stupid. 

So the next time something tells you it's news, ask yourself 'Is it?'

For things that are definitely not the news, follow @JorgeTsipos on twitter and listen to his podcast Unnatural Selection. Or don't. Maybe read a book instead.