The amount of news and information that comes my way is overwhelming much of the time. I suspect you feel the same way. The hardest part isn’t digesting all of it. Nope. What’s most difficult is knowing what’s fact-based and what’s made up out of whole cloth. One study found that 67% of U.S. respondents said they’re “concerned about what is real and fake on the internet when it comes to news.”
I’m sure you’ve seen the articles about how to spot real news and there are lots of fact-checking sites available to you if you’re willing to use them. And you should. There’s another way of which I’m fond and it seems that during the stay at home period many other folks are figuring this way out as well.
Pay for it!
Yep, shell out a couple of bucks a week and pay for fact-checked news that is written with what we used to call journalistic principles. It turns out this isn’t exactly a revelation to everyone, at least not according to this piece from the Publishers Daily:
The percentage of Americans who pay for online news subscriptions is up 4% compared to last year, according to a new, extensive report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The “Digital News Report” for 2020 surveyed more than 80,000 people in 40 countries about their digital news consumption. The percentage of people in the U.S. who pay for news is 20%, up from 16% last year.
Now, of course, the study also found that 40% in the U.S. say that nothing could persuade them to pay for an online news subscription. Then again, there are folks who still believe that the world is flat. The good news is that many people are using what I’ll call the pay filter to screen out noise. It’s good news for publishers who have been struggling. In fact, Gannett, the biggest newspaper chain in the U.S., saw an 85% yearly jump in net new subscriptions over the last few months. Those are mostly local newspapers. Of course, there is the challenge of keeping those subscribers as they go back to work, etc. but my guess is that getting fact-based news and information will outweigh the cost. Remember, you generally get what you pay for in this world.
We’re coming up on a big election. No matter how you choose to vote, the more you know about the issues and candidates’ positions on the ones that are most important to you, the better. Better information yields better decisions, right?
I know this is supposed to be a business blog and maybe I’ll find a business point as I’m writing this but business is really quite far from my mind today. If you’re even a little bit aware of what is going on in the world at large and in our country, you’re probably a little bit distracted at well.
I’ve spent that last 25 years or so involved in technology, mostly in the content publishing and monetization space as well as online commerce. I used to think that what we were developing was going to greatly improve peoples’ lives. After all, nearly everything we’ve learned over the last couple of thousand years is at our disposal. We didn’t have to spend time shopping and could use our newly-available time to improve our lives and those of others. Boy, was I wrong.
Instead of improving things, technology has in many ways made our lives worse. Take news and information. 25 years ago, journalism was something that was a profession with standards. The news was fact-based, and those facts were researched and confirmed before they were disseminated. Now, everyone is a publisher (including yours truly). Even though the dream of unlimited information has come to fruition, much of what passes as “information” is, in fact, absolute made-up garbage that hasn’t been vetted by anyone. The people who control the platforms – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – refuse to step in for the most part. All of the bad things we thought were possible but unlikely given the noble mission we were on have come to pass, just as the mission has gone from improving lives to making as much money as possible.
I read what my friends post on social media. Inevitably, the comments revert to factless name-calling. I probably spend as much time checking out the veracity of what I read as I do reading the original pieces before ever commenting. When I do, it’s generally to provide the facts as best I can find them. Leisure time? Do any of you feel more relaxed as your use of technology has grown? More likely, you feel like you’re never disconnected from work, that you’re missing something and the amount of information that is thrown at you is overwhelming. Think about how many series or movies you’ve been wanting to stream. We’ve all mostly had the last month or so off. Are you caught up? Probably not, and that’s leisure stuff. Hey, thank goodness there haven’t been any sports or we’d NEVER get anything done!
Maybe that’s the business point today. No, we can’t turn it all off – we’re way past the point of no return. But maybe we can do a better job of prioritizing. Limit ourselves to the very few information sources that DO check their facts, even if they publish 10 minutes later. Find first-hand data, not third-hand reporting. Bite your tongue (or your keyboard) before responding to everyone with whom you disagree (seriously, have you ever changed anyone’s mind via a comment?). Breathe.
At many Grateful Dead shows, there came a moment when the crowd would have pushed forward so much that the people up front were getting crushed. Bob Weir would then say
“Alright, now we’re gonna play everybody’s favorite fun game, move back!… Now when I tell you to take a step back, everybody take a step back! Right? Right! Okay, take a step back! And take another step back! And take yet another step back! And another step back! Take a step back! Doesn’t everybody feel better?”
So take a step back, ok?
When I sang in the chorus in college we performed Brahms’ German Requiem. As you can deduce from the title, it’s in German. I really enjoyed singing it but I really didn’t understand much of what I was singing about since my reading comprehension of German is practically nonexistent. That didn’t stop me from singing the words, quite loudly when necessary, even if their meaning escaped me.
I see the same thing going on all the time, both in business and in life. These days, when science discussion is all around us due to the pandemic I’m fascinated by the folks who suddenly are virologists. Maybe they read a scientific paper about what’s going on or, more probably, read a link on Facebook that pointed them to something with a lot of big words. It’s nice that they read the science papers but when you have a conversation with them about it, it becomes pretty clear that they have no clue about what it means.
You can see that in business. Someone reads an article on something – the efficacy of social media or the importance of influencers in marketing – and suddenly they’re an expert. The truth is that they don’t understand the details of the topic in a way that gives them the ability to discuss them out of context. They’ve done a great job memorizing but a lousy job in grasping meaning.
I used to tell consulting clients the truth about my knowledge base. I was a mile wide but in some areas, I was only an inch deep. It didn’t embarrass me nor should it disturb you. I think a sign of both maturity and intelligence is knowing what you don’t know and not being afraid to admit it. When a client got to the limits of my understanding I would either go broaden my understanding or I’d bring in someone more expert.
You can sing in a language that you don’t understand just as you can pronounce the words on a page if you have a pronunciation guide. That doesn’t mean a thing in business. We say something is “Greek to me” when we don’t understand it. Try and speak Greek without understanding and the minute someone asks you a question, you’re sunk. Don’t try to speak a language you don’t understand, Greek, German, virology, digital media, or otherwise. Make sense?