Last week, the Oxford Dictionary released its Word of the Year for 2016: Post-truth (adjective).
The definition: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
According to Oxford Dictionaries, “The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant.’ ”
Imagine facts becoming unimportant or irrelevant. It reminds us of the expression to “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
But the facts do matter; to make choices for ourselves, our communities or the planet based on emotion or personal belief instead of facts is downright dangerous.
From our perspective, it’s a strange time to be in the news business. Getting a straight story is under threat, and relying on credible media outlets for the facts is becoming more difficult all the time as other sources (media, bloggers, Facebook, others) get into the game of reporting news.
Everyone is to blame for this deterioration of journalism: the media and consumers of the media.
Over the last couple of years, we have become overwhelmingly saturated with bad news —that is, stories that are killing the integrity of journalism by simply not being true, akin to shock-jock radio personalities who just say whatever gets listeners riled up and coming back for more. It may help ratings, but hurts the discussion and the possibility of rational outcomes. Examples abound: Recently, stories of how the Pope endorsed Trump or how President Barack Obama would enact martial law to prevent Trump from becoming president. These, of course, weren’t true. But untold thousands of people believed they were and have shared them on social media without a second thought.
And so the hate and vitriol have continued to spread like a virus, and these writers and organizations — both liberal and conservative based outlets — keep doing it because they have an audience and can make money by selling ads on their sites using such stories as clickbait. The real story, or lack of one, then gets buried and the general public becomes addicted to the drama, calling anything less dramatic a conspiracy to hide the “truth.” But the truth is that news simply isn’t all that sensational, salacious, etc. It’s just new(s).
While we could suggest this started with satirical outlets, such as The Onion or our very own April Fools’ issues, this really seems to have started when people began to rely on separate news outlets to get information. It’s unclear if the owners of these outlets intended to divide red and blue and just found themselves pandering to their audiences’ emotional senses, or if this was the plan all along to ensure that they had dedicated audiences. Further, those who already rely on these sources don’t really seem to care if there is a bias — it resonates, so nothing else matters.
We could attempt to tell you which news sites are fake or biased, but there will be some other person or organization to turn around and try to make the same accusation at us. The fact is, too many people don’t read for information; they read for entertainment and seem to expect their news stories to read like a sordid novel. News that evokes emotion or attempts to shock is in vogue right now and is causing upheaval in our country. We could suggest that readers take a moment to check the facts from a variety of sources before believing such stories but that’s too much to ask in our busy world. Which is why credible news sources still have a place in our society. Facts matter.