When I was beginning my career as a journalist, I strove to be as objective as possible. It was not only a personal goal, but it was always a goal of the newspapers for which I wrote.
With the rise of the internet, blogging, social media, political tribalism, rants and endless fragmentation, objectivity seems to have been abandoned as a silly cultural artifact of a bygone era. That’s not good.
Before the rise of the internet, IP tracking and the ability to essentially spy on people as they browse, objectivity made good business sense.
Mass media needed masses. The more people who read the paper or watched the TV meant more people looking at ads. Alienating one group or the other wasn’t good business. They might quit subscribing or watching, limiting the effectiveness of the medium as an advertising vehicle.
But the Internet, or specifically, IP tracking, turned that concept on its head. IP stands for “internet protocol.” It’s a way of tracking everybody who browses the web.
Once you can track someone, you can compile information on which websites they go to and what they do there. After a short period of time, you can create a detailed profile of a person based on this information.
Internet advocates say IP addresses are not linked to specific people, but that’s a bunch of hooey. There are big profitable companies that do nothing but link IP addresses to specific individuals. They not only know what you do on the web, they know your name, address and phone number. And a lot, lot more.
As a result of IP address tracking technology, mass media is no longer necessary to deliver a mass advertising message. You can deliver the same advertising message to a person on a right-wing website and also a person on a left-wing website at the same time. Objectivity is no longer good business.
In fact, the opposite is true. By feeding into a person’s affinities and desires, you can get better engagement. Right-wing people get deeper and deeper into their right-wing websites. Left-wing people get deeper and deeper into their left-wing websites. More engagement means more eyeballs. More eyeballs mean more advertising clout.
This is an unintended consequence of the Internet. It is not just causing the loss of journalistic objectivity. It is challenging the political fabric and cohesion of our culture. We are reverting to base tribalism.
Into this virile mix, add the Congressional exemption from libel and slander laws awarded to Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms.
Up until this exemption, awarded in 1996, any publishing company was responsible for the accuracy and legitimacy of their content. If they slandered someone through their publishing platform, they could be sued. It kept media companies honest.
This newspaper is responsible for the contents of a letter to the editor. As a result, my company has to carry expensive libel insurance. But Facebook is not responsible for the posts around which it sells advertising. It’s a travesty that has created a monster. It is undermining our nation.
Absolute rumors and lies can be posted on Facebook, go viral and destroy a person’s reputation, and Facebook cannot be sued. Same with Twitter and Google search results.
Salacious rumors and distorted scandals are always more interesting than objective news and balanced reporting, so we are inundated with fake news. China and Russia have seen what an enormous opportunity this creates to sow discord, weaken the dollar and undermine their greatest adversary.
Sadly, most Americans don’t even know what’s going on and how the rioting in the streets is a direct result from Congress playing favorites with social media.
In this battle, Emmerich Newspapers will stand firm and continue to report as objectively as possible.
If there is one thing I have learned in my career in journalism, there are always two sides to any story. We don’t try to vilify. We try to explain, report and illuminate as fairly, objectively as possible.