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“Preditors” In Our Midst

Now we have this from online recruiters for the Tribune Company, owners of the plundered remains of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times:

The TV revolution is upon us – and the new Tribune Company is leading the resistance. We’re recruiting a solid team of anti-establishment producer/editors, “preditors”, to collaborate on a groundbreaking morning news/infotainment format unlike anything ever attempted on local TV. Don’t sell us on your solid newsroom experience. We don’t care. Or your exclusive, breaking news coverage. We’ll pass. Or your excellence at writing readable copy for plastic anchorpeople. Not interested.

Preditors? Perfect. For qualifications, it says: “You’re an earbud wearing, app downloading, rss reading, podcast playing, text messaging, flip-flop wearing professional . . . with a real-world education” and “‘You ‘Get It’.” (Punctuation as written.) Oh, and: “Your greatest communication tool is a keyboard, your writing is ‘bleeding edge’, and you realize that when it comes to the written word, less is more.”

Awesome. Retire real journalists and deploy tyros in earbuds and flip-flops to explain to Americans why they have killed uncounted innocents and squandered $5 trillion on two unwinnable wars that make yet more people hate them.

This is not, as I half suspected, a spoof from The Onion. A fearsome number of people think this way.

Less, in global reporting, is not more. Events turn on nuances deep below the obvious. “Bleeding edge” is a puerile, poisonous catchphrase when you consider how much real blood reporters have shed in trying to understand these nuances firsthand.

The guy who wrote this threw quotes around “preditor” so as to point out his wit. In fact, Google lists 137,000 uses of the term going back to 1997 (although that includes people who misspelled “predator.”)

Our wondrous new tools, constantly replaced by new ones, are just that: tools. They allow us to quickly relay others’ thoughts and observations. But reporting is not derivative. It discovers things we don’t already know and places them into frameworks we do not yet understand.

True, old formats need shaking up. But seeking nanoseconds of attention for “news/infotainment” bursts takes us to a different orbit from that “real world.”

We don’t get to define global reality. Gone unnoticed, it has already bitten us in the butt so badly that much of the damage is already beyond repair. “Infotainment” (my teeth hurt just typing that) is optional. We need news, as reported by people who see it and smell it.

That anyone even has to write these truisms, as imperiled as we are, makes clear why journalism education – all education – is so desperately needed.

Sure, we need better ways to reach changing audiences. But what matters is the message. Any journalist’s first responsibility to get it If we simplify that because we bore easily or we have an SMS to answer, we can’t help but get it dead wrong.

That’s part of it. But even if a news flash can be briefly summarized, there remains the most basic question in journalism: Is it true?

Here is a thought for nimble-thumbed preditors in our midst, from the Reliable Sources chapter in Little Bunch of Madmen:

. . .Confirming facts is all the more important as journalism loosens its old strictures. “Crowdsourcing” can produce useful nuggets of information, but mobs generally miss the larger truth. And stopping to verify a story impedes the scramble to be first.

“In 2010, Peter Tague tried an experiment with his Georgetown law students. He told them Chief Justice John Roberts was about to resign, but he would not reveal his source. And he asked them to keep the news confidential. By the time he explained he was messing with them to make a point, half an hour later, the story was everywhere.

“Radar Online, a gossip site, picked up a student’s Twitter alert and reported an “exclusive.” It gave no reason but speculated on Roberts’ health. Later, instead of retracting the report, it said Roberts had changed his mind. Meantime, Fox News and other major outlets had broadcast the story.

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