Remember the days before the smartphone, the 24/7 news cycle and the insatiable need to pepper the World Wide Web with some type of content? The days when every single misstep was not on display for the world to see and people, including the media, had enough integrity to just leave some things unsaid? I do… and I miss it, a lot! It is estimated that more content was created in the last 48 hours than from the beginning of time to 2003. While some of those articles, blog posts or videos are useful, many of them are a constant and unwanted reminder that bad things happen, narcissism reigns supreme and that we all are capable of messing up from time to time. Which begs the question… is all this content causing more harm than good?
Useful vs. Useless
We’ve all heard the stories by now regarding the media debacle that currently surrounds famed NBC journalist Brian Williams. Sure, truth and integrity should always trump ratings in the never-ending battle to be number one. But, the sad reality is that they do not. Clicks, views and likes are today’s standard for determining ROI and as a society, we’re paying the price for our insatiable need for content. Journalistic integrity has been tossed aside for juicy and scandalous stories that sound more like movie drama than real-life events. Recounts of heartbreaking and often personal destruction get first page real estate on top-tier media sites, leaving the “real” stories to go unnoticed. In the quest to compete with the useless but popular noise, can you blame a journalist for occasionally embellishing a story or two?
The Internet Tattletales
If unhelpful headlines weren’t enough, now social media and news outlets have become the “go to” source for ratting out every human misstep. I will be the first to admit that some mistakes are newsworthy. Behavior that puts the greater public at risk and/or poses a threat should be brought to the public’s attention. However, the incessant tales of warm-blooded humans having a bad day or making an error in judgment is not helpful, it’s harmful! We don’t need to know about the celebrity that fell down while walking into a lunch meeting. And we certainly don’t need to know about every spouse on the planet that has or is thinking about using ashleymadison.com to satiate their sexual desires. When did we become a society that turns every wrong move into a headline? When did it become ok to turn to our computers to judge people on situations we really know nothing about? And most importantly, do any of us really benefit from hearing the sorted details of these stories?
When you know better, you do better!
At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I suggest we stop and think before trying to fulfill the never-ending content hole with schadenfreude. Sure, that story of Josh Dugger cheating on his wife may get a website a gazillion clicks, but is the story useful? Does it serve any type of purpose other than allowing us readers to sit behind our computers and judge? Instead, maybe it’s time to focus on headlines and articles based on what can help vs. what will get the most views. Let’s increase the number of stories about people doing amazing things like James Robertson who walks 21 miles to work because he doesn’t have a car. Tell us how to save money on our grocery bill. Tell us a story about how we can be better parents, a better spouse or a better human. We all have enough reality to deal with in our day-to-day lives. Let’s get back to making our daily news feeds useful vs. a competition to see who can create the most shareable nonsense!