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Stevie wonders...

Steven Schindler

Special to the Village News

There’s a trend in journalism, whether in print, online, on television, radio or podcasts. And it’s hiding in plain sight. This trend consists of only two little words. But these two little words have not only upended print, broadcast and online journalism, but also, how we literally see the world around us. And it’s exactly what the purveyors of “the news” want. What are these all powerful words?

“If true.”

I’ve worked in several local and national TV newsrooms in New York, Chicago and Washington DC in the late 70’s and into the 80’s. But I can’t recall any of the stories I worked on either as a video editor, writer or producer being based on those two words: If true. What happened? Well apparently publishers, editors and media moguls took a lesson from “The World’s Greatest Showman,” P.T. Barnum.

It’s been said that P.T. Barnum coined the phrase, “First, you gotta get 'em into the tent!” Of course, this means, use whatever it takes outside the tent, to convince customers to buy a ticket and enter the circus tent. Because no matter how sensational the banners outside the tent are, if people have purchased a ticket and are inside the tent, delivering something sensational, or true, is no longer necessary.

Even though the banner outside the tent touted “The World’s Most Ferocious Gorilla!” once the customer is inside and it turns out to be merely a guy in a dusty ape costume, the strategy is a success! BTW, P.T. Barnum also said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Here are some terms that now rule newsmakers around the globe, whether it’s Maynard’s Newsy Blog, emanating from his parent’s basement in Ding Dong Texas, or mega-conglomerate news headquarters in midtown Manhattan: impressions, clicks, ratings, eyeballs, aggregate star ratings and demos are all that matters.

Those two words, “if true,” allow TV news, online news and anyplace you get the news to titillate, inflame, sensationalize, arouse and just plain rile you up, so you’ll click on the headline, video or picture. Just to keep you glued to the set, the screen, the show, the podcast or keep scrolling. That’s their job. It worked! You’re hooked! They’ve got you in the tent! You’ve taken the clickbait, hook, line and sinker and now you see and hear the extra layer of ads, or you add to the number of impressions and clicks, and in the process increase their ratings.

That’s how companies monetize the news. With clicks, impressions and ratings. This is especially true of what I call the “Hair on Fire!” networks and news operations. Do I really have to tell you which ones they are? Whether it’s the weather, disasters, crimes, culture wars or politics left, right, in the middle or upside down, don’t be surprised when “If true” is part of the package.

Now don’t get me wrong. Journalism is crucial to us having a thriving democracy. Great work is being done by small news operations, and yes, even huge media organizations to expose corruption, injustice, malfeasance, criminal behavior and all sorts of important issues that affect our daily lives. On a local and national level. But the next time you’re watching, or clicking, or listening to a news story, and you hear those two little words, “if true,” keep in mind those two P.T. Barnum quotes!

Steven Schindler’s latest novel is “Fallout Shelter.”

 

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