Enough with the attempts to define news. Enough with the mock outrage over a lack of objectivity. Enough with pretending that “social” media is somehow different from its “mainstream” sibling.
It isn’t. Make no mistake: They are siblings, if not identical twins.
That we in the ancient media of print and television ever tolerated the term “social media” is something of a grim miracle. It’s hard to imagine other professions that would tolerate such a mangling of the terminology of its trade. Or that the public would so wholeheartedly embrace the mauling.
How many businesses or people, for instance, would hazard a flight on a plane steered by a “social pilot?” How many would reserve gurney time for an appendectomy by a “social surgeon?”
Yet, like running a hotel or driving a taxi, being a journalist has become the province of amateurs. Thanks to blogs and free vomit buckets like Facebook and Twitter, the idea of being published hinges less on linguistic dexterity than determinism.
Take Harris, a neuroscience author of staggering eloquence. In his podcast, website and books, he is quick to lament that “the mainstream media refuses or is unable to see” most issues that underpin our society, from religion to economics to politics. The schism, Harris contends, was a leading contributor to the victory of the Trump administration.
Yet in the same talk or web posting, he will wonder aloud how his podcast became so popular, his Twitter account so swamped with activity.
Just do the math. While podcast numbers are not officially tallied (like Nielsen ratings for TV, and yes, that’s a hint), Harris has been publicly flabbergasted by a podcast following of 400,000 that exceeds all of his book sales — combined. He has 888,000 Twitter followers.
The Washington Post has a circulation of 740,000. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, If Harris’ Twitter fanbase alone were a newspaper, it would be the fifth largest in the nation
He’s hardly alone in the confusion. There isn’t an outlet in America that doesn’t distinguish between “mainstream” and “social” media.
But what is the real difference? The largest newspaper in America is the Wall Street Journal, with a circulation north of 2.4 million. (It’s also owned by Rupert Murdoch, in case critics of a liberal media forgot).
Compare that to Facebook, which functions like any other news outlet, with curated headlines and all-flavored news and feature stories. A recent Pew Research study found that 68% of Americans have accounts on Facebook.
That’s a circulation of 218 million.
The same applies to myriad “social” media sites: Instagram would have a circulation of 89.9 million; Pinterest, 83.5 million; Twitter, 67.4 million.
Even the term in a misnomer. If something qualifies as social media, by definition it is also renting property in MainstreamVille. How do we even claim separation, particularly when the largest news outlet in the United States decided a presidential election? How does it remain spared of fake news claims?
The truth is, media is like pizza. You get what you ordered, or you go out of business. Does anyone honestly lay claim to the notion that “mainstream” media refuses to report real news because it would rather report on Kim Kardashian’s ass? That it wants to secretly slip the public pap, like giving a fussy baby a spoonful of Gerber’s by making an airplane noise?
So let’s ratchet down the vitriol, Mr. Harris, Dawkins, Tyson et al. You’re criticizing a club to which you belong.
As a lifelong reporter, my father lived in notepads. All journalists do.
Dad, however, did some serious scribbling. You wouldn’t say he took copious notes because that would be a disservice to dad and the word. It doesn’t come close to dad’s style.
He must have had thousands of notebooks. He kept every one. He numbered every page. On the cover of every pad, he would create a table of contents: pages 4-12, notes on Cobo Hall redesign. Pages 74-96, an interview with Doug Fraser.
Most miraculously, his handwriting was legible. Almost female in its neatness. Former reporters told me when I joined the paper that dad was the paper’s unofficial librarian. If journalists needed to get background on, say, the Cobo redesign, they would go to him before the paper’s library. He was faster. They talked of him diving into a mountain of notebooks, emerging with the request.
Dad believed he never got to the New York Times because of the attention he paid to note taking, culminating in a confrontation with Sen. Ernest Hollings from South Carolina. Hollings made the mistake of wavering in an interview with dad about getting out of the Vietnam War, a view that got him skewered by his hawk supporters.
When Hollings called a hasty press conference to deny ever making the statement, dad showed up — with his notepad. He called Hollings a liar from the press pit. “Well I’ll be goddamned if I’ll have a reporter call me a liar at my own press conference,” Hollings snapped. “I’ll knock your block off.” Dad rushed the stage, was ushered out by security and made the wires, a story I still have.
Donald Trump had better pray James Comey doesn’t have nearly the transcription skills — or temper — of my father. Because president carrot top would get his ass kicked.
He still may. Comey’s testimony last week can’t be seen as good news for the administration. But what even counts for good news now? A mushroom-cloud-free day?
Still, it’s astounding to watch the GOP try to tear down its former top cop. Most peculiar, perhaps, was the counterfeit surprise they expressed about Comey’s presumptions. Why in the world, they wondered, would he take Trump’s spoken desire to see the Russia investigation disappear as nefarious?
Has it come to this? Are we really parsing the language of Mafia wannabes? Nice country ya got here. Shame if something were to happen to it…
Perhaps dad had it right. Some note taking is worth rushing the stage.
Speaking of non-alternative facts:
- Watermelons contain an ingredient called citrulline that can trigger production of a compound that helps relax the body’s blood vessels, just like Viagra.
- Ancient Greeks wouldn’t eat beans as they thought that they contained the souls of the dead.
- The Burj Khalifa is so tall that residents above the 80th floor have to wait 2 to 3 minutes longer to end Ramadan.
- For those who jumped from the WTC on 9/11, the fall lasted 10 seconds. They struck the ground at just under 150 mph, enough to ensure instant death on impact.
- Tigers can, and will, take revenge on those who have wronged them.
- Sweden has their own national font, Sweden Sans, to “unambiguously represent Sweden in the world.”
- You have to be a retired letter carrier to live in Nalcrest, Florida. Ironically, the town does not have mail delivery service.
- In 2010, Syria had more tourists than Australia.