Thursday, August 18, 2016

Changing the news cycle (parenthetically speaking)



IT’S IRONIC: With all the forms of information recall we have at our disposal in the age of social media, accountability — the act of owning up to the accuracy of what you say — hasn’t been as instant as the communications tools we use every day. That’s never been more true than it has been in the presidential campaign that's furiously underway.

One batshit-crazy statement after another gets made on the campaign trail of tears and we’ve had to wait for clarification (or correction) from disinterested parties more interested in accuracy than agenda.

What’s a newsgatherer to do? Well, some editors at two major news organizations have found a way around the problem using nothing more high-tech than common punctuation.

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In recent news reports, the minders of the chyrons at CNN and MSNBC have called on the lowly parentheses — that typographical device whose function in our language is a lot like talking behind your hand — as a way to subvert misinformation in real time, starting a practice that could change the journalism game (at least on television).

Jessica Goldstein, culture editor at Think Progress, first reported on this trendlet recently. The folks at CNN and MSNBC undercut misstatements made by the Trump campaign and its minions with facts, doing it at literally the same time — inserting (factual) information in the body of a distortion.

Goldstein: “Looking at these chyrons ... it feels like we are watching cable news reporters realize, in real time, what over a year of Trump-fueled ratings-chasing hath wrought. MSNBC can’t un-air Trump rallies, and CNN can’t undo phone interviews, and no cable network can un-give Trump the almost $2 billion in free media exposure they handed him in a single year.”

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CONSIDER THIS an equalizer, of sorts: a way to set the record straight in real time, in a ravenously fast media culture whose prime directive is No Do-Overs. If this on-the-spot fact-checking is more than an occasional thing (and if it’s something the bosses and suits don’t have a problem with), it effectively changes the news cycle — shortens that cycle even further.

If this catches on, we won’t have to wait minutes or hours to correct the record; inaccuracy will be immediately juxtaposed with fact in a way that befits the era of instant information we (try to) live in.

With this minor tweak of electronic-media protocol, journalists push back against those who insist their role is to be nothing more than stenographers, agents of transcription duly reporting one untruth after another. It reflects the immediacy of language and information we’re accustomed to (and the pursuit of accuracy that we’re ... not accustomed to enough).

Image credits: Trump: MSNBC via @pamela_vogel (via ThinkProgress). Trump son: CNN via Dorothy Snarker (via ThinkProgress). Jessica Goldstein: ThinkProgress. Nukes: CNN via TPM (via ThinkProgress).

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