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When was the last time you read a news article about a topic where you are an expert, and walked away from it thinking that it would help laymen better understand the topic?

Journalism is a bit of a personal frustration of mine. It's so important to the function of our society to have an informed population, but we don't, and it's because of the consistent lying that is done by journalists that we don't. Maybe not solely, but the news is one of our primary sense organs, and it's currently broken, or perhaps worse: it's currently on psychadelic drugs and is telling us things that aren't real. If it goes on long enough, we're going to end up schitzophrenic as a society. I think that at the very least we are in the middle of a metaphorical psychotic break. I hope we recover from it, and I really wish that the journalists would at least try to help us, instead of blatantly trying fuel it.

And while we're at it: shut down twitter. It's the drug dealer give our sensemaking organs the drugs.




Journalists are stuck to doing the whims of owners and advertisers. We don't have a funding model purely for journalism as a mainstream practice. We do have federal funding grants for certain journalistic practices, and that journalism tends to be excellent and also completely ignored, such as focused reporting on the intersection of indigenous nationhood and the USA court system. (If that reporting were more widely known, for example, we wouldn't have had the supreme court of the united states questioning whether or not native people are capable of managing cities or what happens to criminals when discussing whether or not half of Oklahoma is native land. These are well-trod reporting subjects by specialist journalists who are highly knowledgeable in the field.)

Investigative journalism still provides excellent explanations- The New York Times reporting on Clearview AI helped explain effects of the algorithm to a layperson accurately.


I have been following some News stories in depth recently and honestly you can find more neutral coverage and better analysis on some random YouTube video or reddit thread then you do on professional print / tv journalism (which given the sort of biased and selective reporting I see on both sides is either deliberately misleading or completely incompetent)

At this point I think the problem to solve isn’t “journalism“. The problem is the level of respect we as a society give to traditional journalism.

I think traditional journalism had 3 functions:

1. Spread Information

2. Curate Information

3. Conduct investigation/ long form analysis.

————

1. Has been made obsolete by the internet

2. Has been hijacked by algorithms that seek to maximize attention to ads, and therefore inadvertently outrage. I think there is some opportunity for a tech enabled disruption here.

3. Is tremendously valuable. I am not sure what the funding model looks like. But I think we will figure out a solution at some point.

I see no value in trying to save legacy journalism. The only reason we accord it so much prestige is due to social inertia from a bygone era.

Why I should give CNN or Fox any more credibility than I would give a TiKTok video at this point?

Or value a New York Times article on covid more than listening to a couple podcasts with subject matter experts and looking at the data online ?

I think we need to embrace the internet.

There are issues with curation, but possibly solutions as well.

For eg. Maybe we can empower users to choose their own social media curation algorithms and control their feed. Rather than trying to sell their attention to the highest bidder. We would need to find a different monetization model etc.


None of the above has really addressed anything in my post so I'm very confused why you're responding to me.


> When was the last time you read a news article about a topic where you are an expert, and walked away from it thinking that it would help laymen better understand the topic?

You don't even need to be an expert. I recall reading about someone who was on trial for downloading terrorism related material, or something like that. The article talked about him using "encryption so powerful that even experts from GCHQ couldn't crack it". I know very little about cryptography, but I do understand the whole point is that nobody can crack it.

I think this kind of low-level misinformation is particularly damaging. It's not even an incorrect statement, technically. But it has the effect of making the guy seem like much more of a mastermind than he really was, and spreading fear about this terrifying "encryption" thing that we all use every day, whether we realise it or not.

And then we all turn the page and read the next story...

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/65213-briefly-stated-the-ge...


It might help to draw a distinction between investigative and explanatory journalism.

Explanatory journalism strives to help lay people understand complex topics, like this piece about how undersea cables are laid down:

https://www.wired.com/1996/12/ffglass/

So to answer your question...25 years ago? But while explanatory journalism is interesting and useful if the author is knowledgeable, it isn't the sort of reporting that people think about when they consider newspapers in the context of an informed electorate.

Investigative reporting involves uncovering an issue which the journalist believes should be corrected. The journalist's goal is to convince people that the issue exists, and to explain why it needs correcting. They don't necessarily need to be an expert on the topic to do that, especially if they can present convincing documentation of the alleged wrongdoing. For example, Glenn Greenwald was able to report on the USA's surveillance of its own citizens without being an expert on how the United States' intelligence agencies operated, because Edward Snowden leaked him a myriad of internal documents describing their programs.

It is a shame that nobody seems to do good investigative journalism anymore; the last good example I remember in the US was the WSJ's reporting on Theranos. But to be fair, if your country's citizens simply do not care about huge and glaring problems which barely need to be explained, why bother with investigative journalism? It's no longer an effective way to correct social issues.


I'm not sure that 'news' has ever been anything other than what we see today.

The only exception is the breadth of journalism and news.

Look at the roots of yellow journalism [0]. The issues about headlines over substance are the exact same issues that we have toady with Twitter and the like. Only now, there isn't a fold to worry about.

Look at the Jefferson v Adams 1800 election [1]. It was nasty. The mudslinging, theft, and accusations feel right at home with today's political press. Such 'news' isn't much different than today, maybe with the exceptions of Benjamin Franklin running the presses.

Look at Cicero after the Social War [2]. He took on explicitly political cases and his life was on the line for doing so. Roman politics is cut-throat, for sure, but this just shows how humans do or do not change. The rumors, oration, and 'news' of those pre-printing press times sure sounds a lot like any talking-head cable news show. Though I imagine that the Latin is somewhat lost in translation.

The point is: News and journalism has always been like this. The technology is sure a lot different. You can get endless front-pages from every hamlet on the globe. But the underlying mechanism, that of yellow-journalism, rage, emotion, etc. That is an underlying part of us and is likely to remain so.

One book I love about the deep-down mechanics is John Quincy Adam's Rhetoric and Oratory [3]. It's a great dive into the nuts and bolts of getting an audience to listen to you.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_journalism

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1800_United_States_presidentia...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicero#Public_career

[3] https://archive.org/details/lecturesonrheto02adamgoog/page/n...


>When was the last time...

Virtually all technical reporting by The Intercept. Most of that is reporting about technology for journalists by journalists. So maybe the exception that proves the rule?


I see two orthogonal problems within journalism. Ability and intent.

Ability is due to Journalism being seen as a profession in and of itself. It is very similar to generic MBAs, in that their skills are entirely useless in isolation. They only gain value, when paired with domain knowledge within a certain niche. When journalists without the pre-requisite knowledge of a niche report on it, they inevitably report incorrect information.

Intent is largely a result of the twitter/social-media driven world, where clicks and ads drive money. Some of the best creators/media-sources today are largely subscription driven, and their relative independence allows them to bring relatively neutral news, that is not help captive by advertisers, twitter-cancel-culture or corporate overlords.


> When was the last time you read a news article about a topic where you are an expert, and walked away from it thinking that it would help laymen better understand the topic?

If you really think there's such a clear connection between your prompt and the claim that follows it, put your money where your mouth is.

On any news article posted here on HN that's outside your field, post a response that the article should not be trusted. Cite as evidence a different article from that news organization that is in your own field where you found glaring errors.

Then judge from the responses and up/downvotes how much HN values your analysis.


Every democracy should have a government funded independent news organization, and most do. The major exception being the US. The solution is tried and true but the political will is lacking.


>Government Funded

>Independent

How are these compatible?


Just as many countries have government funded but independent judiciaries and central banks. It is known Khalesi.


The US has PBS and NPR, which aren't exclusively news organizations but do publish news.


You mean like Al Jazeera, or RT, or the BBC...?


> and walked away from it thinking that it would help laymen better understand the topic?

I read a number of articles on the Oracle v Google case that explained the technical aspects of the case and why it had important implications for ordinary people -- why it wasn't just a slap fight between large companies. I am also regularly impressed by the technical coverage in ArsTechnica on a wide variety of topics.

The problem isn't that there's no good reporting, it's that if you're not an expert it's difficult to tell which reporting is good and bad. As a gamedev, I've seen some fantastic articles from tech journalists and games journalists on everything from game modding/emulation, to game design and theme, to the development process behind games, to consumer reviews that really get at the heart of what makes a game special or flawed. I've also seen some really sophomoric content on those same subjects that leaves me feeling unbelievably frustrated. And they come from the same publications.

So it's not as simple as just saying, "here's a good news source, trust what they say." The quality of a given publication can vary wildly. But it's also not as simple as saying, "every journalist is terrible at their job." There's some good content out there.

To add to that, I also kind of agree with this section of the article:

> journalism also has its own weird ideology that doesn’t match up with a party or movement. [...] But those values are rarely the actual reason anyone likes us, or the direction in which praise pulls us.

I think it's unfair for people to look at a culture that has generally shifted towards an attitude of "arguments/sources as soldiers" and say that the reason everything is broken is just because journalists lie. Journalists are part of a vicious cycle that encompasses how we approach education, the way we talk about politics, the way we fund our news sources, the way we conduct elections, and the way we consolidate newsrooms and talk about media antitrust. Journalists are one single part of a very large, complicated problem.

And just like everyone else, journalists respond to the incentives that they're given. The average person on the street doesn't necessarily always want an informed, balanced media source. They want a media source that they can use as a soldier in their political arguments. And in a Capitalist society, their spending habits and viewing habits help to make sure that the news sources that cater to their wants are consistently better funded than the ones that don't.

> and walked away from it thinking that it would help laymen better understand the topic?

I read a number of articles on the Oracle v Google case that explained the technical aspects of the case and why it had important implications for ordinary people -- why it wasn't just a slap fight between large companies. I am also regularly impressed by the technical coverage in ArsTechnica on a wide variety of topics.

The problem isn't that there's no good reporting, it's that if you're not an expert it's difficult to tell which reporting is good and bad. As a gamedev, I've seen some fantastic articles from tech journalists and games journalists on everything from game modding/emulation, to game design and theme, to the development process behind games, to consumer reviews that really get at the heart of what makes a game special or flawed. I've also seen some really sophomoric content on those same subjects that leaves me feeling unbelievably frustrated. And they come from the same publications.

So it's not as simple as just saying, "here's a good news source, trust what they say." The quality of a given publication can vary wildly. But it's also not as simple as saying, "every journalist is terrible at their job." There's some good content out there.

To add to that, I also kind of agree with this section of the article:

> journalism also has its own weird ideology that doesn’t match up with a party or movement. [...] But those values are rarely the actual reason anyone likes us, or the direction in which praise pulls us.

I think it's unfair for people to look at a culture that has generally shifted towards an attitude of "arguments/sources as soldiers" and say that the reason everything is broken is just because journalists lie. Journalists are part of a vicious cycle that encompasses how we approach education, the way we talk about politics, the way we fund our news sources, the way we conduct elections, and the way we consolidate newsrooms and talk about media antitrust. Journalists are one single part of a very large, complicated problem.

And just like everyone else, journalists respond to the incentives that they're given. The average person on the street doesn't necessarily always want an informed, balanced media source. They want a media source that they can use as a soldier in their political arguments. And in a Capitalist society, their spending habits and viewing habits help to make sure that the news sources that cater to their wants are consistently better funded than the ones that don't.

We won't be able to "fix" journalism without fixing the surrounding culture and attitudes of ordinary citizens. Bad journalism is a symptom of that problem. People read and fund the news sources that they want to see.


> And while we're at it: shut down twitter. It's the drug dealer give our sensemaking organs the drugs.

If there is one drug dealer it is Facebook. I mean, of course Trump uses Twitter as a megaphone, but your grandparents won't use it. They all use Facebook to stay in contact with relatives and friends, and then get conspiracy theories, xenophobia and other propaganda in their feeds.


I think the point is that journalists use twitter, not Trump or grandparents. That Facebook is the drug dealer for grandparents is a distinct problem, pointing it out doesn't negate the harm of twitter.


> I think the point is that journalists use twitter

Which is not a problem in itself. If Twitter has done anything it is lower the distance between journalists and the general population, especially minorities, and it allowed "grassroots journalism" to exist in the first place.

Yes, ordinary blogging existed before Twitter, but only Twitter has the advantage of "going viral".


In other words journalism is great if it tells your preferred version of the truth and narrative. It is being disingenuous to disparage centralised journalism and at the same time complain about internet platforms with reduced gatekeeping.


> It's so important to the function of our society to have an informed population, but we don't, and it's because of the consistent lying that is done by journalists that we don't.

Are you sure it's that important to have an informed citizenry? I'd say we've never had one, anywhere. We've had some people being informed, sure, but the masses have never been informed well. They've been lead and entertained. If it's that important, how have we made it this far?

What's more important for a nation than the media informing people is the media being on the same page and projecting a similar image. Of course, you want them to not report that aliens have landed when they haven't, but you certainly don't want only half of them reporting it. I don't believe that the facts really matter that much overall. But if you lose the "shared reality", you're losing cohesion.


>What's more important for a nation than the media informing people is the media being on the same page and projecting a similar image

So like this?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/02/business/media/sinclair-n...

> I don't believe that the facts really matter that much overall. But if you lose the "shared reality", you're losing cohesion.

So you'd rather live in a made up fantasy world as long as we all share the same made up fantasy world?

I just can't understand how people can think like this...

1984 should really be assigned reading for everyone in high school.


Misinformation is another thing entirely. The media shouldn't publish lies.

But if half the population reads "here's all the ways these guys are ruining the country", and other half reads "here's all the ways those guys are ruining the country", it's not obvious to me that's an improvement over reading nothing at all. Consumers of both outlets are being informed, but they're being informed in a toxic way which won't help them or anyone else.


> So like this?

Well, yes. I mean, we've had that in a more sophisticated way for the longest time via press agencies. They deliver the news to the media companies, the editors rewrite it a bit to match their audience's taste and add a bit of opinion, but the basic facts are the same. Sinclair was probably just too cheap to spend the extra few bucks to hire somebody to write 20 scripts that have the same content but aren't worded the same.

> So you'd rather live in a made up fantasy world as long as we all share the same made up fantasy world?

I'd prefer if we all shared reality. But we have a terrible hard time finding out what reality even is, and if you read any kind of media, you're certainly not learning about reality, you're just learning about whatever reality the media thinks is real (or wants you to think is real). And in that case, yeah, a shared fantasy is better than many fantasies. You can communicate about a shared fantasy reality. You'll have a hard time communicating when you don't share reality.


>I'd prefer if we all shared reality.

Unfortunately, unless you can see out of my eyes and think my thoughts, you and I, as well as you and everyone else will not share reality.

That's what being human is, we all live in our own reality.

>You'll have a hard time communicating when you don't share reality.

It's worked for thousands of years. You don't need to share reality to communicate with people, you need to be able to stop and see their reality for a bit, understand it's different than yours and be ok with this.

I just want to seriously ask, on a planet with 7 billion people scattered around the world how can you possibly expect everyone to share the same reality?

How is the reality of people from two completely different places in the world ever going to be the same?


> It's worked for thousands of years.

I think it has, but not the way you put it. Rather: we've shared reality for thousands of years, and that's why it worked. We've had the occasional lunatic who didn't share our reality, but they ran into a mammoth or tried to pet a sable tooth tiger. For the rest of us, it was easier. When you said "three mammoths behind the forest", I had a pretty good idea about what you were talking about.

> I just want to seriously ask, on a planet with 7 billion people scattered around the world how can you possibly expect everyone to share the same reality?

We don't need literally everyone anywhere on earth to share the same reality. We need a shared reality mostly with those we come in contact with, for practical reasons I'd say in a nation, but probably also in political blocs (though the details can very well get more fuzzy the further away somebody is). Can't have Europe think the Soviets are great while the US thinks they're terrible, that won't work in an alliance.

And we don't need to have everyone share it either, a super majority is enough. It's not an issue if you have 1% of people believing that reptilians are running the government and looking for politicians blinking sideways on TV. It starts to become a problem when you get larger groups that don't share reality. A small group of 1% will get carried away by the flow. That's much different with a group of 10, 20 or 30 percent.

> How is the reality of people from two completely different places in the world ever going to be the same?

It's not, but then again, even here on the internet, you're mostly speaking to people from your part of the world (geographically, but even more so culturally). It really doesn't matter whether you share reality with somebody you have no points of contact with. And, I think, it's much easier to even accept that somebody perceives reality differently when they're very clearly not like you. There might be a bit of a condescending tone of "oh, of course, they fell for the propaganda their government put out... well, that couldn't happen to me", but it's much more acceptable for a Chinese person to have a drastically different world view than for your neighbor.


So what you're saying is you think 1984 is the ideal outcome?


No, what I'm saying is that you're now seeing what happens when it's not 1984. Similar to this whole human microphone thing they did a few years back at Occupy Wall Street. It works great when all the repeaters repeat the message and do so in sync. It doesn't work at all when they all just yell whatever it is they think is best.

Then the audience isn't getting the actual message, and many parts of the audience aren't even getting the same message as their neighbors. Some hear "go left", others hear "go right", some get "we should all stay here" and the rest gets some kind of talk about why soup is better than sandwiches. Needless to say that they won't get anything done that way.

Media are reality-mirrors. It's fine if your mirror is a bit dirty, dull or not hung perfectly flat (it's distorting reality, but it's close enough to be useful as a mirror), but if your mirror consists of six different fun house mirrors that are also moving about, it's a shitty mirror and it doesn't work as a mirror.


> No, what I'm saying is that you're now seeing what happens when it's not 1984.

So 1984 is better than what we have now?

> Then the audience isn't getting the actual message, and many parts of the audience aren't even getting the same message as their neighbors. Some hear "go left", others hear "go right", some get "we should all stay here" and the rest gets some kind of talk about why soup is better than sandwiches. Needless to say that they won't get anything done that way.

People choosing their own filter bubbles is orthogonal to the issue of the media. Just because someone chooses to ignore alternate perspectives, doesn't mean they don't exist.

> Media are reality-mirrors. It's fine if your mirror is a bit dirty, dull or not hung perfectly flat (it's distorting reality, but it's close enough to be useful as a mirror), but if your mirror consists of six different fun house mirrors that are also moving about, it's a shitty mirror and it doesn't work as a mirror.

I don't think _most_ of the current media would be a "fun house mirror". I would argue most of it are mirrors from different perspectives, so you can get a bigger picture by looking in multiple.


> So 1984 is better than what we have now?

The dystopian version? No, I don't think so. I'm also not talking about anything else but shared reality. "We've always been at war with Eastasia" is a problem itself, but it's less problematic for the country than half of the country believing we're at war with Eastasia and the other half believing we're at war with Eurasia, and both halves actively waging their wars.

> Just because someone chooses to ignore alternate perspectives, doesn't mean they don't exist.

Of course, but they're not choosing, and they don't exist for them. That's perfectly fine as long as you don't need people from multiple realities to work together, which we kind of need.


I want to start by saying that I saw this comment this morning, and have been thinking about it all day. Thank you for commenting this, and sticking around to defend your point.

I do have a couple of comments.

First, a system like you are describing is going to be highly efficient. However, this is not always a good thing. As you increase efficiency, in almost any system you will decrease robustness [0]. While this may be fine in a startup or some software project, for a society, this seems extremely dangerous.

Second, I disagree with the concept of everyone having their own reality. Everyone has their own perception of reality, and may or may not be able to perceive/conceive the reality of someone else's perception, but there is still only one authoritative, physical truth (Well, at least on a scale macro enough for this conversation).

Third, even if you control all of the media (via government for example), you still will not be able to control everyone's perception of reality. See for example China or North Korea, which I believe are the two systems closest to control of the media in the manner you are describing. In China. Despite their total control of the media, there are still citizens who think differently and have a different perception of reality. The only reason that these citizens follow along with the common goal, is because of the threat of force against them or their families if they don't.

For the fourth, I'm going to borrow your war example. If half the country believes in the war in Eurasia and carries it out, and half the country believes in the war in Eastasia and carries it out, are not both sides partially correct? In that case, would they not be better served by seeing the entire truth of the situation, instead of being limited to news sources that serve only one of the stories?

Of course, I do believe that the news should consist of facts, and possibly the interpretation thereof. However, this cannot be trusted to enforcement by government. In addition, since there is no way to stop news organizations from interpreting the facts, would we not be better served by having multiple organizations each provide individual interpretations? That way, we can see multiple possible "realities/perceptions" and chose which we think is the most accurate.

[0] https://taylorpearson.me/interestingtimes/robustness-efficie...


> For the fourth, I'm going to borrow your war example. If half the country believes in the war in Eurasia and carries it out, and half the country believes in the war in Eastasia and carries it out, are not both sides partially correct? In that case, would they not be better served by seeing the entire truth of the situation, instead of being limited to news sources that serve only one of the stories?

Just realized, I dropped half of this.

The other half is that each of these news sources should have different perspectives on these wars. Perhaps one should go over why the war's are a bad idea, and another should go over why they are necessary. However, the only way to make a good choice is to make sure that all information and multiple perspectives are available.


> We've had some people being informed, sure, but the masses have never been informed well. They've been lead and entertained. If it's that important, how have we made it this far?

Your whole comment isn't exactly wrong, but what's worked in the past does not constitute a guaranteed path forward. We've also never had a populous with such ready access to information, both raw and interpreted, before.


That's true, but I'm not sure that that's different from before either. As technology and wealth progressed, that has likely been true plenty of times. I'm not convinced that anything has fundamentally changed, and I don't think that the population made decisions by being informed. Instead, they were being informed and that formed their decision.

Does it matter that we now have 8000 TV channels readily available? Is that meaningfully different from having 50? Sure, we now have the internet which is theoretically a two-way-medium (but for most users, it's one-way), and that may change some things and make the whole system more fragile, because it's much harder to control a narrative and suppress information now, but I don't see it changing the basic relationship between citizenry and media (at least not yet).


There's a place for cohesion but I don't think the news is it.




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