With all the recent revelations of Russian bots spreading misinformation, it’s important to remember that not all bad actors are foreign agents. Some are part of the mainstream of American journalism.
In the news business, information arrives 24/7/365. There is never a moment when some bulletin or another isn’t coming across the wires. The journalist’s job is to sift and filter, to separate the important from the mundane. This requires deep knowledge of the subject matter, and it also requires an expertise called “news judgment”. Developing sound news judgment is a skill no different from learning how to fix a car or hit a curve ball. It takes time and real-world experience.
The public relies on reporters’ news judgment to give them an accurate perspective on current events. But not all journalism is conducted for ethical reasons. There are some very skilled writers and producers whose considerable talents are devoted not to presenting the truth but to aligning your worldview with theirs. In some cases, they will attempt to do this without you realizing it is happening.
This is what might be called “curated panic”. A group of people with access to more information every hour than you could gather in a week are sifting through it and deciding what to present to you, and how to present it, in order to induce a specific response.
This week, it may be stories designed to induce fear. Next week, it might be apple-pie patriotism. The week after that, obedience. What gets through their filter shapes the public’s mental and emotional state.
But that response is not based on the whole picture. If you’re absorbing what’s shown to you and not questioning its source – even if that source APPEARS credible – you’re only getting part of the story. And it may not be the part you really need to hear in order to make informed decisions.
It’s important to distinguish credible journalism from bad, and it’s true that even the best journalists sometimes get it wrong. But – and this is the important part – good journalists acknowledge and correct their errors. One stumble is not a reason to distrust everything a good reporter has ever said or ever will say. Just like one strikeout doesn’t mean the slugger didn’t come into the game on a hot streak, and won’t knock it out of the park next time at bat.
Don’t succumb to curated panic, especially if the basis for that panic is social media. Yes, it’s work to dig deep. Yes, it’s exhausting to keep a watchful eye open 24/7. But it’s pay now or pay later, so you have to decide how you want to spend your time: doing the work now to keep the truth at the forefront, or suffering the consequences later if the truth is allowed to become meaningless.