Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:04

When media sought "just the facts" and relied upon "real" intelligence?

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by Ron Chapman

At one time the media reported stories as they developed and made every effort to get it right.  This required extensive interviews with several sources and double checking both the evidence provided and the sources of that evidence to verify the truth.

It was a matter of journalistic ethics to “get it right.”   There was pride in being a journalist then and editors made certain that their media organs maintained a rigid 4elevel of unbiased accuracy that garnered public respect.

 That is no longer the case.   What matters now is speed and clicks.  How quickly a story gets out and how outlandish one can design a headline to capture attention is what matters, even if that headline is misleading.  Content is not important in today’s money-driven media.  They get paid by advertisers based on the number of individuals who click on the story’s headline.

Additionally, journalism students lack objectivity.  At one time a journalist strove to think beyond their own prejudices in seeking the truth.  They interviewed all sides of a story seeking to distill truth by comparing testimony.  Sadly, even the professors in today’s journalism schools lack objectivity.  Liberal-minded faculty teach agenda-driven reporting and not journalism.


Thus,  when student’s graduate they lack the rigid training once required to properly perform their task.  They have no knowledge of history nor the need to move beyond their own feelings when reporting a story.  In essence, readers are subjected to biased reporting which is nothing more than opinion.

One need merely consider the Jussie Smollett case.  There were so many obvious problems with his description of events, the time, and location that a properly schooled journalist would have held back until certain questions had been resolved.   Instead, we had stories based, not on facts, but on the emotional reactions felt by writers about a purported event. 

This was especially dangerous considering the subject, because as a few  African/American activists reported, some radical elements considered retaliation against any White person as a justified response for the supposed “racist attack.”   Suppose that has occurred, who would have been at fault?

Also, consider the present reporting on politics.  If one follows the media, it would appear that President Trump is incapable of doing anything right and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes is the face of the new Democratic Party.  This is not a result of objective reporting.  It reflects agenda driven political polemics.

The fact that the polls place the media below Congress should send a message, but this fact falls on deaf ears.

True journalism now faces an entirely new threat. It is bad enough that young writers are not properly trained for their profession, but the new trend is even worse.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) has entered the picture. Now an algorithm designed by some technology engineer, not a trained journalist, will be setting the formula for a written article.  Facts will be put in and the computer will compose the article and transmit it to the internet.  No human “interference” required.  Whoever sets the parameter for the program determines the content and interpretation.  

Bloomberg already uses this technology… their program is called appropriately Cyborg. The Washington Post uses an AI program called Heliograf that has already composed over 850 articles on the 2016 election for which it received an award for the “Excellent in use of Bots.”  Frightening!

AI saves the publishers the cost of paying journalists and allows them to impose their viewpoint without having to deal with human writers who may have a different opinion other than that desired by the owners.  AI is also considerably faster.  This will permit AI composed stories to “scoop” human reporters thus giving them the edge in today’s “Click Journalism.”   

Some argue that this technology will free up journalists from the mundane process of collecting data and allow them more time for the creative process.  Perhaps so.  However, one wonders if the automated control and dependency on data coming from one source are truly good for journalism as a profession and help to a public in need of accurate information.  In other words, will journalists become unquestionably complacent about dependency on this easy means of getting data instead of doing the hard work themselves…double checking sources.

There are many health reasons for people to be skeptical of today’s media.  AI is just one more.

Ron Chapman is an award-winning columnist, a professor and business person. He lives in Chalmette La.

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