The goal of an activist’s failed attempt to scam the Washington Post into sourcing a bogus story was to make people think any news it published could be “fake.” Instead, it revealed a possible way to assuage that distrust.
Imagine if every news story came with a legend that explained how it came to be; think ingredients on a food package, and maybe throw in some love from independent peers on the development process for good measure, like the way Fairtrade certifies Starbucks coffee beans. Noting and addressing the toughest, meanest questions about the process, perhaps teed-up by an official antagonist ombudsman would help, too.
It would blow up the false distinction between “fake” and “real” news, and make the most transparent news the “best.”
After all, right now the only distinction is that info we believe is real, and anything that questions our beliefs must be fake. But that’s like saying that cheesecake isn’t fattening because I don’t think it is, or the distance from Point A to B is half what the map says because, well, it just doesn’t seem that far to me, so the map isn’t real.
Much of what gets shared as news is either poorly researched, or comprised dubious connections and statements; for every mainstream media story that confirms sources and vets them against standards of facts and reason, there’s a story based on nothing more than a comment from”someone” or that “people are saying.”
Few of the juiciest conspiracy stories could withstand the revelation of the assumptions and coincidences on which they’re based, let alone a few pointed questions about them.
Process has become today’s new product: people want to know how things are made, or get done, because we have become suspicious, so why not address the sentiment in news reporting?
I think it would be a great opportunity for the mainstream media to dare their competitors to a transparency duel. For real. The Washington Post could start publishing its process and analyses with very story, and challenge others to do the same. Even better, it could start doing it for them, deconstructing leading stories that lacked such transparency.
It would be a belligerent move, but also a nice change of pace from the “no, you smell” tweets that journalists trade instead.
Think body cams for journalists, just like police wear. Prove that you’re doing your job the way we’d hope you do.
How about cams for corporations, so we could learn why and how they make decisions instead of only hearing about them once they’re completed and expertly packaged for our consumption? There’s a reason why trust in CEOs is at all-time lows.
What if President Obama had worn one, or at least published the detailed methodology that got him to key decisions? People might still have hated his conclusions, but do you really think we would have questioned his process?
Cheesecake is fattening, no matter what you believe. Just read the label.
[This essay originally appeared on Medium]