Cutting through the clamor: The contemporary journalist's role
The other day, a friend of mine sent me a text asking for a quick summary of what was going on in Ukraine and why it was significant. To give you some background, she's college-educated, well read, and an industrious sort. Yet, she reached out to me to explain this issue and why it mattered. (This isn't me being pompous; bear with me for a moment.) She has access to all the same information I have: open-source information on the Internet, mainstream news on the web and on television, and social media. So why did she ask for my help?
Simple. I spend hours each day sorting through it all. I read news from multiple sources. I've befriended those in the intelligence community, foreign correspondents, and people with master's degrees in international relations and foreign comparative politics. I read non-fiction—a lot. I invite a deluge of information, and then I work to find commonalities until I'm confident I've gotten as close to the truth as I can from my position. I'm fortunate that my work as a copy-editor for SOFREP—an excellent source of international-relations, diplomatic, and military insight—gives me an excuse to closely read about current events from prominent experts.
But here's the thing: Not everyone has time for that. Even the ones who do may deem such an undertaking overwhelming or pointless. And some days, it feels that way. The world of news is a hazy, difficult-to-navigate miasma of opinions, facts, misinformation, and everything in between. Yet it remains crucial to enter that fog in order for us to gain a comprehensive understanding of an issue.
Most people ridicule those who get their news from only one source. We scoff at Fox News as being "totally right-wing propaganda." We point and laugh at those who actually tune in to MSNBC or CNN for their news, knowing of their unabashedly left-wing slant. But how many people look outside of mainstream news for corraboration? How many people re-post or share news stories they find on social media only after checking to see if it was satire or the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist? The answer, I'm afraid, is very few. And the reason why is clear: It's a lot of damn work.
The comparitively sudden prominence of social media and the interconnectivity of the Internet has inundated the average reader, my friend for example, with information. And that's where journalists must step in. Whereas a journalist's role was, at one time, to be the provider of information, in today's world, we must recognize that we cannot always compete with the immediacy of YouTube and LiveLeak videos, social media posts, live-tweets, or blogs. That doesn't mean journalists are no longer necessary or that the profession is obsolete.
Instead, journalists must become adjudicators of information, sorting wheat from chaff. The ones who reach deeper into an issue and extract the insight that a shaky video shot on a smartphone or a 140-character-or-less Tweet simply cannot. Journalists must become subject-matter experts who not only provide news, but compile and distill the raft of information out there in such a way as to give their readers and viewers a reason to care and a more comprehensive understanding of an issue without overwhelming them.
(Featured image courtesy of writetodone.com)