Why Differentiation is Critical during the War on Media

There is a difference between “media” and journalism; in this age of brands as media publishers, not all operate under journalistic principles. Throw native advertising into the mix – where real journalism is cozied up with sponsored content – and the distinction gets really muddy.

As Jessica Babb notes in The Baylor Lariat, seeing the differentiation is critical in our massive media landscape.

“More important than sheer number of media organizations in existence is that many of them strive to accomplish different goals and different types of coverage,” Babb writes. “For example, while some organizations strive for objective and unbiased news coverage, others focus more on aggregating news, some focus on delivering commentary, some focus on advocacy, and you even have some media organizations whose goal is to produce satirical or fake news,” Babb continues.

In other words, the New York Times is vastly different from The Onion and shouldn’t be evaluated in the same light, Babb explains.

Even though trust in the media is at a critical low, painting all media with the same brush is not only wrong, it’s outright dangerous. Bill Gates recently spoke of the important role the media plays in a democratic society, and warns against taking an “us against them” stance on journalists.

“You can’t have a democracy without a media function like that,” Gates said in a recent interview with Quartz. “If anybody says we don’t need the media, that’s a little scary.”

Gates notes that aiming for complete neutrality in the media might be seen as the ideal, but it’s not practical, and it’s not the point. Instead, we need a variety of voices.

“It’s hard to be neutral, which is why having many media groups and reducing barriers to entry—which the digital technology has done—is a very good thing.”

“The one thing that’s new that is a little concerning is people seeking out things that are really not giving them the facts… playing to a narrow worldview—that is a concern.”

That describes the media echo chamber effect perfectly: If we immediately classify any media that doesn’t agree with our world view as “fake news,” we are heading off the rails.

“It is fair to evaluate media organizations, but next time you do, before you make a blanket statement about ‘the media’ on social media or in a conversation with a friend, just take a moment to consider whether that evaluation is based off the fault of one media organization or the entire media industry as a whole.”

Lambasting the entire industry as untrustworthy is the fastest way I know to descend into chaos.