Media and News

The Difficulty of Reputation

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. – Warren Buffett

One look at the media, mainstream, social, alternative, or otherwise, and this is a painfully true quote. Whether it’s the latest Everyone Forward This story on Facebook, a chronically under-researched shock piece on the Washington Post, or manic fear-mongering requiring a near-immediate retraction by Time, it boggles my mind how people consider their reputation so unimpeachable they can say whatever and think it holds no ill effects.

Playing the Points Game

Too many media outlets (and individual persons, to be fair) keep making the same mistake: aiming for “shock” and “points” more than sober-minded consideration of the full situation.

A cursory look through any news story, particularly if related to politics or a particular sacred cow of the political left, often results in more words about how people should think and less about what actually happened.

Consider this headline from the New York Times: Trump Becomes Ensnared in Fiery G.O.P. Civil War. In just the headline, the editors are telling you what to think based on the words “ensnared”, “fiery”, and “civil war.” Never mind that the actual situation is a facts-based disagreement amongst politicians on how to proceed on a very complex issue (healthcare, and particularly how to remove Obamacare).

(For the record, a more fair headline would be: Trump Between Multiple G.O.P. Viewpoints on Healthcare; to boot, it’s more informative than the original)

But considered through the lens of left-leaning “gotta look loyal”, such a ridiculously canted headline is clearly to gain “points” in an imaginary scoreboard where the news outlet that most aligns to Progressive Ideology and pillorying the latest Hate Magnet (President Trump in this instance) is #1.

Reputation Decides Credibility

This “points game” has absolutely nothing to do with the basis of journalism: investigating a situation, reporting the facts, and letting the reader decide what to do based on that. Many couch the game in terms of “framing a narrative,” which is such a gross violation of the core concept of journalism to begin with, that it’s a wonder we’ve put up with it for so long.

Fortunately, people are getting fed up with the slant and the lies. I was almost certain the Gallup poll had been updated by now, but 6 months ago is the most recent. Even then, two months out from the election, media credibility was at its lowest point in decades.

After the election, with every mainstream media outlet having proclaimed Hillary Clinton’s victory and Donald Trump’s foolhardy attempts to seem relevant, doubtless that credibility has sunk even lower. It led to the New York Times’ open letter apology and commitment to “report America and the world honestly.”

But Warren Buffett’s quote above holds true. Reputation once ruined is awfully hard to regain, and if media outlets seek to regain it while constantly putting out blatantly slanted hit pieces, they’re barking up the wrong tree.


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