So much so that I, like most “traditional” journalists, actually take the opposite tack, choosing to forgo the positive consequences of publishing edgy but unverified stuff so we can lay our heads on the pillow knowing that our errors of omission hurt ourselves more than errors of publishing can harm subjects of inaccurate, damaging information.
You haven’t even considered the general public in this dichomoty, and that, in a nutshell, is the story of journalism’s demise. Journalism has succumbed to considerations outside of benefiting the people.
Television journalism started as a deal between TV stations and the federal government for being able to use public airwaves; stations had to devote time to public service in the form of news. Nobody even thinks about that anymore. Nobody thinks of journalism as a public service, certainly not the owners, producers, and distributors that make up the mass media. News is seen as a profit engine both by producers and consumers, blurring the distinction between information and enertainment.
The notion of legitimate journalism existing in the context of a capitalist system is, if you think about it, entirely absurd. It will never be objective or unbiased. Media producers, and especially publicly-traded corporate producers, will always have a financial agenda, and, even though that agenda may start out as innocuous as wanting to put food on the table, it ultimately morphs into something more, often unfettered greed. This is the nature of corporate culture, and an entity cannot simultaneously serve its own unfettered greed and the public interest.
The job of a journalist in the real, non-idealistic world of 2017 is whatever the journalist is getting paid to do, because that’s how we’ve set this system up. You can argue about Buzzfeed’s move all day, whether journalists should be gatekeepers, or the pros and cons of putting unverified information out into the world, but we all understand it was a calculated move with financial considerations factored in. We know that people don’t start companies because they hate money and want to go broke.
One other note: Last week, Medium CEO Evan Williams announced layoffs and a vow to develop a new business model for content on its platform. Though we are now part of Condé Nast, Backchannel was created inside Medium, and some people who lost their jobs were our former colleagues, so the news was particularly saddening to us. But our business team at the Wired Media Group had already been selling ad content, so this does not affect us, anymore than a layoff at WordPress would affect a publication using that content management system. We’re still wide open for business and are anticipating 2017 will be a great year here.
This is quite revealing about what the job of a journalist is, and it says a lot that you felt the need to include this note in this very article.