At Matter, a big part of my job is finding the media companies of tomorrow — the companies that will enable or disrupt legacy media. One of the things I’ve started to look for when sourcing start-ups is how those ventures will enhance the level of discussion in this country. I look for companies that will change media for good, which means changing how we interact as human beings with one another.
I once worked on a reality television show. It was a contest show taking place over several weeks/months where the winner received a cash prize for tattooing people. That’s right: Real people volunteered to get tattoos from an unknown artist of unknown quality who had lots of money riding on the outcome and was even more stressed out because of the time pressure created by the producers.
I decided after that show I was done with “reality” TV. Much the same as I wouldn’t work for a big tobacco company because it is a public health hazard, I decided I couldn’t continue to spend my days enabling the “idiotisation” of our society by the unscrupulous few who commoditised attention and didn’t care the depths to which we sank.
I made that decision almost 10 years ago, and I’m still kept awake at night by the state of the media in the United States.
At this point, I am no longer surprised by the idiocy I see on television nor the impunity with which my so-called “friends” will share misinformation on Facebook.
I never imagined, when working on a tattoo game show, I would look back longingly on the days where, at least, I didn’t have to use my own brain to discern the veracity of information thrust upon me with ever increasing speeds. And that’s a problem.
I got lazy. I made the assumption that truth was the default and the vocal minorities (anti-vaxxers, climate-change deniers, whomever) were a side effect of the democratisation of information — but could only do minimal damage.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the United States, the threats to media aren’t just coming from outside our borders. That our president is planting seeds of cancelling press briefings, has already ducked the press pool multiple times, and tweeted — well, any of his tweets — means we need, now more than ever, to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need to elevate our discourse and critically think about the articles we see.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that the “failing New York Times” is fake news. I’m saying we all need to hold ourselves as readers to standards that reputable media organisations themselves are held to.
Journalism has evolved and will continue to evolve from a one-sided conversation where information is distributed to a dialogue where information and ideas have a give-and-take between journalists and readers, between filmmakers and viewers, etc. That evolution means we as readers/viewers/consumers need to be better at vetting information, at calling out our friends for not thinking critically.
We need to make being uninformed a taboo in this society.
The burden can’t just be on the companies. We as citizens have to hold ourselves to a higher standard so we can create an environment where, when challenged, we’re all informed and can dispute lies and liars.
We need to be smarter and we need to exemplify the change we want to see in media. Because media is so integral to our democracy, the stakes are too great to leave our nation’s fate in the hands of a few companies expecting their executives will act in society’s best interest.
That responsibility must be shared among us all.