Yellow journalism is a term that describes the sensationalist, money-generating “news” of what was supposed to be a by-gone era: 1895-1898. As we’ve seen in the recent presidential election, yellow journalism hasn’t gone away, it’s just become digitized. Today we know it as “fake news” or “click-bait”, and its only purpose is to entice readers with outrageous headlines and content. If you take the bait and click, the website and its owners make money via ads. Such news used to be relegated to grocery store check-out stands with tabloid headliners like, “Teacher Has Eyes in Back of Head!” (I remember seeing this one as a child). Those papers are still there and still amusing, but now they join hands with a massive big brother that has become harder to untangle: digital media.
There are satirical news sites, fake news sites, real news sites, and a wide variety of personal and professional looking blogs that, by sheer numbers, can easily overwhelm and confuse busy readers (and who isn’t busy?). The pendulum has swung from a few mass media powerhouses that dominated the market, to many independent news sources. This has been both a good and bad thing.
On one hand are legitimate concerns about mass media bias being fueled by wealthy subscribers, owners, and donations, not to mention mainstream’s ability to drown out or discredit other voices in a seeming David and Goliath scenario. On the other hand, smaller news sources tend to be less verifiable and possibly even more biased, since they are run by just one person or a small handful of people.
Always go to the Source
While “Goliath” has been shrinking for years, “David” now has too much power and sway. Medical advice is liberally given online by those who are not doctors or nurses, journalism is just a fancy catch-phrase for bloggers with bad grammar, and real research is allegedly only done by moms, never by scientists. It is a populist arrogance fueled by fear and mistrust of higher institutions (not entirely unfounded), that “they” are not, and do not represent “us”. “They” will no longer tell “us” what to do.
“Goliath”, in an effort to cut financial corners, has fired many a reporter and photographer, while pushing for ever-faster deadlines. Quality control has been so diminished, mass media has been frequently caught with numerous poorly written articles containing few facts and bad spelling that are merely copied from some other news source, which has been copied from some other news source, which has been copied from a dubious news source. These facts only add fuel to the fire of “David’s” skepticism.
Meanwhile, a great many “David” bloggers also simply copy each others’ posts, rather than creating original content (which takes time, money, and effort). This tactic gives the appearance of legitimacy where there is none. Everybody has an opinion, and it is human nature to be drawn to the most outlandish claims. Moderate views may be wiser, but they are not as interesting. Tell-all stories, conspiracy theories, how to make a million dollars, and cures for everything from fatigue to cancer tend to be the revenue-making content of choice. In this, both “David” and “Goliath” are now on the same footing as the Almighty Dollar rules them both.