Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This piece appeared on the Dayton Daily News’ Ideas and Voice page Monday, June 29.
Ray Marcano, a former Dayton Daily News editor, is a media lecturer at Wright State. He’s a two-time Pulitzer juror and a Fulbright fellow.
Coronavirus? Has it killed more than 120,000 people in the United States or is just overblown hysteria that’s killing small businesses?
Which is fact?
The answer depends on what you believe.
We live in a word with an infinite number of content choices that cater to an audience based on what they believe. If you believe the coronavirus numbers you can to one source; if you believe overblown hysteria, you go to another.
In journalism parlance, the numbers are the fact and the overblown hysteria is the opinion. But in today’s world, audiences have confused the two.
Today, your belief becomes your own set of facts and helps form your world view. You make friends and form bonds on a belief system that's based on your version of the facts. (I talked about this extensively in my 2018 TedX Dayton talk).
Why are we so cavalierly dismissing facts to clutch on to what we believe?
Blame the media.
I'm not a media hater and I don't adhere to the fake news adage. I used to be national president of the Society of Professional Journalist so I'm a big media supporter. But I also recognize the media has contributed to a dangerous problem.
In the old says (pre-CNN) media would either give the news headlines on TV or write about the day’s events in newspapers. You knew the facts. (120,000 people have died).
Now, it’s far harder to tell what’s fact, opinion, or analysis — and that’s the media’s fault. On any day, you can turn on cable news and see the same formula — news (COVID cases are up), analysis (here’s why) and opinion (we need to shut down again or we must stay open). Online there are dozens of publications that support specific points of views that masquerade as facts.
The problem — nobody is labeling the content. It’s hard for an audience to determine what’s news and what isn’t.
That’s why I think media should help people along and simply add labels. Instead of the misleading screaming red BREAKING NEWS banner, simply use that banner to add news, analysis, opinion where applicable. Bill Hemmer and Steve Kornacki are journalists who report the news; Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow have opinion shows.
But lots of viewers “think” that Hannity (pro-Trump) and Maddow (anti-Trump) are journalists, and that they’re reporting facts when cajoling about whatever floats their boat on a specific day.
They are not. They give their opinion. And that’s OK.
We in the media just need to help people understand what’s a fact and what isn’t. Then maybe, just maybe, facts will start to matter again. Because today, they don’t.