Does knowledge corrupt?

Posted to: Twitter; Hacker News

Media is a lens, a filter on the world. This very much includes news media.

I think we all know this now: Who hasn’t encountered complaints about “main stream media”? It’s basically common knowledge now that the Sun newspaper was central to Tony Blair’s 1997 victory.

However, this feels starkly different from how I experienced the world as recently as, say, ten years ago. Okay, maybe I was a bit slow to catch on. But before, let’s say, the 2003 “weapons of mass destruction” lies I think the vast majority of people trusted newspapers and sites to simply deliver the most important facts of the day fairly faithfully.

Nowadays, it’s hard for me to read a headline or article without considering the bias and agenda of the source. And sometimes even questioning, not just the spin, but the basic truth of the content. It’s quite unsettling to find that what I thought was solid ground is in fact quicksand. I think many of us are having this same experience.

I’ve always actually wanted to be a journalist, so I’m pretty interested in the field - what makes good journalism, how journalists should behave etc. And tonight I’m wondering - what does such widespread scepticism do to journalists and journalism?

Previously, naive souls like my 2000s might seek out journalism through a genuine love of truth. They would consider it their honest mission to tell the uncovered stories in good faith. Of course they might get disillusioned pretty quickly, but I think the founding motivation if the people who make up the industry has some effect.

Nowadays it feels more likely that people see news as a way to influence the conversation. People will go onto journalism understanding that platform is power, and their mission is to control the conversation. With this as your driving philosophy, it’s not at all hard to imagine how spin naturally gets turned up to 11 and half-truths abound.

I’m not suggesting that today’s journalists are fundamentally a worse sort - this isn’t a “good old days” argument. Nor am I suggesting that news hasn’t always been used to manipulate and lie. It certainly has. I believe that “faithful” journalists I describe above are naive, that they failed to userstand the true nature of the beast, and others higher up the food chain have always understood and used their power.

I suppose the question I’m asking is: is this a downward spiral? The more people who take this cynical but accurate view of the industry, the more the industry will be defined by cynics.

This feels like one example of a pattern that is playing out everywhere. Cynical populists politicians who respond to the universal district of politicians to brazenly lie and be praised for it are another example.

I think this is postmodernism. It’s Nietzsche’s nihilism. We’ve been presented with so many examples of the deep hypocrisy behind the high mind rhetoric of past generations that we no longer believe that progress is possible. Moral corruption is inevitable.

What can we do to turn this around? I think I need to read more about post-postmodernism.

By @nottrobin