There is a Buddhist tale of an arrogant woman who sought enlightenment but who instead ended up with a demon chasing her with a stick, yelling “Now! Now! Now!” These days, I think social media is that demon.
I was brought to mind of this a few times recently when I noticed that people want “the news” now. Right friggin’ now. Not in 15 minutes and certainly not the next day, but now. And by “the news” they mean the details of some event as it is unfolding, even (and here’s the kicker) if they have no real connection to the event.
This seems to be the new normal. Some event takes place, something that a few years ago we would have been perfectly satisfied to hear about on the next morning’s news show or, a few years before that, to read about in a newspaper the next day. But today, people want to know every minute detail and they want it real-friggin-time and if they don’t get it it’s as if people have lost some fundamental right.
Last night, for example, there was a debate and filibuster in the Texas legislature about a bill that would severely restrict abortion. For people living in Texas, this is an important event. But for someone who isn’t a resident and who has no closer connection than knowing people who do live in Texas, this isn’t urgent news. Actually, even for Texans it wasn’t urgent. I mean, it’s not like a tornado bearing down on a population center or a crazed shooter on the loose. There is nothing that anyone, other than the legislators themselves, could do about the event. Either the filibuster would be successful, or it wouldn’t, and no amount of tweeting about it would change that.
And yet people were tweeting like mad last night, mostly rumors and RTs from citizens on the scene who were not professional reporters, who did not have a grasp on the whole story, and who didn’t fact-check. This drives me crazy as the worst evidence for accuracy is often eye witness testimony. We simply get it wrong. We don’t see the story. But Twitter was packed with this crap.
Thing is, I did find legit news last night. I found Texas publications and local TV news divisions and I checked their tweets. I’m one of those people who was only interested because I am interested in the law and how it affects reproductive rights. The Texas law wouldn’t affect me directly. I was one of those tertiary people for whom it was news, small-n. For me, I knew I’d get the story when I got the story and I knew that if that was now or in 15 minutes or in the morning it wouldn’t make a real difference–I’d still learn what happened.
Anyway, like I said I found legit sources and sure, their tweets were not immediate, but they were only delayed by what I image was the time required to fact-check and confirm from multiple reliable sources. Most importantly, these tweets were accurate.
Today, people I know, non-Texans, were complaining that they couldn’t find real-time news of the goings on and that social media had displaced the legitimate news sources since one could only get information from sources like Twitter. They acted like the news organizations of the world had screwed them but good, because they didn’t get it now, now, now, and legitimate news organizations like the AP had become “useless.”
This is beyond sad. This is why journalists, including photo journalists, are losing work. We have lost our perspective on what news is and when we need to get that information. We have sacrificed accuracy and depth for the demon of now, now, now. Journalists need time to do their work. They are trained and have the experience to see the story and to tell the story, but they need time to make that happen. Even photojournalists who capture events that happen in a split-second often tell a bigger story with more images that give the “money shot” its context. Again, time is required.
We all have heard the old saw Fast, Good, Cheap… pick two. That’s as true for journalism and the media as it is for advertising and any other business.
Think about your own behavior and see if you are contributing to this downfall, this acceptance of crap “citizen journalism” that now replaces legitimate reporting far too often. Do you really need to know something now, or will it not make any difference if you don’t get the information for an hour, or a day? Call out your friends who add to the noise without actually contributing to the understanding of the story.
Almost always, it won’t kill any of us to wait.