Thursday, 26 May 2016

Media Manipulation and the Glut of Mediocrity

I've been reading Ryan Holiday's Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator about how he used to use bloggers to get free promotion by falsely "leaking" information, creating controversy and protest movements and starting rumor and whisper campaigns.  Using fake email addresses, he would get the blogs interested, knowing that if he could get the right ones involved, the story would move up the media chain with little to no verification.

One of the most interesting and depressing points that Holiday raises is that the modern Internet model of news is set up to discourage balanced and accurate information.  Since it measures success by clicks, pageviews and shares, the most controversial and distorted information is more likely to be seen as "successful" than more accurate stories.  Deliberately misleading and inflammatory headlines and shortening articles into soundbytes and Tweets make it much harder to have a balanced conversation.  And the pressure to produce "scoops" on a daily or hourly basis discourages research and checking sources, making it more likely for inaccurate information to be circulated.

I want to believe that quality has its place, that there are those who see the circus for what it is and will seek out accurate and balanced accounts.  But I see how that can't compete with the ease of sharing something which generates outrage and shock value.

This has been a long running issue in the publishing world, particularly with self-publishing.  Amazon has traditionally rewarded rapid and frequent releases, promoting authors who can release multiple works within a 90 day period.  There has always been a backlash from those who point out the difficulty of producing quality stories in such a limited time, but the business model was created to reward "new" over "good".

Which led to the same challenge in both news-blogging and books: more and more people tried to cash in on the market, flooding it with more and more poorly written material, making it harder for consumers to find something of quality.  Ultimately, consumers give up in disgust, unwilling to waste their money, which threatens to collapse the entire system.

Amazon is fighting back, saying they will remove books which deliver an unsatisfactory customer experience and offering to promote books with positive customer reviews.  But the system is still weighted towards frequent contributions.

Perhaps history will record me as a fool, a dinosaur unable to adapt to the new conditions of reality, but I'm going to stick with quality, even though it means a lot of my work gets swept under by the currents of constantly churning new material.  But I believe that quality has anchors that other material doesn't, letting it survive the tides.  

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