The Generalisation of Information and the Death of Truth

I’m a big supporter of the media. I’ve worked for several publications in both the old and new media and so have a reasonable understanding of how both work.

I get that any media organisation is under extreme pressure to publish content AS IT HAPPENS or miss out on precious clicks, views, likes, shares that bring in some of the ever-diminishing revenue. This means that copy and other digital content has to be produced with great speed and rarely gets a second look before it hits eyeballs. The day of the eagle-eyed sub-editor prosecuting content for its veracity before it is prepared for print are long over, and most subs I know only run a cursory eye over copy before it is digitally published.

A consequence of this is something I have a major bee in my bonnet about.

I’m seeing a certain tone and mode of writing creeping into some reporting and news that is extremely worrying.

Generalisation.

Let me explain what I mean.

It’s simple really — just go back to that sentence above…

I’m seeing a certain tone and mode of writing creeping into some reporting and news that is extremely worrying.

I’ve made a statement that could be said to be factual information gained from observation.

However, note that minor qualifier in there…

The word “some”. It’s there because my observations are limited to the media I consume amongst the hundreds of thousands of media streams I could access.

Compare it to the same sentence without the word.

I’m seeing a certain tone and mode of writing creeping into reporting and news that is extremely worrying.

The removal of that modifier makes what I wrote a blanket statement — or a generalisation.

And sadly, I’m seeing and hearing generalisation after generalisation across the outlets I consume my media from.

Statements that seek to lay claim to some broad truth or factual claim about a matter.

Statements like:

Most Australians would be horrified by XYZ…

It’s “unAmerican”…

The entire French population stands behind…

China’s people will not stand for…

See what I mean?

How often have you heard these kinds of statements? In the past, and, admittedly still often in the present, these kinds of bald, broad claims have been the rhetoric of politicians.

Which is where they belong, rather than in the columns or tweets of journalists and writers.

I can understand why it’s happening. The speed for the need to publish mentioned above is part of the reason.

But predominantly my feeling is about the read-write web and how it’s changed the media and content. It has effectively turned one way delivery of information or news into a two-way conversation between media creator and media consumer, who has become a “pro-sumer” — both a producer and consumer of content.

This has led to themassive growth of opinion on media sites, rather than pure news delivery. Sure, there has ALWAYS been opinion in columns where experts have had their say about the issues of the day. And journalists who work in specific verticals insert their analysis of issues they explore in their columns.

No issues with that…except it’s my observation and belief that the line between opinion and news is becoming blurred. While there is still a large pool of pure reporting content, scattered amongst it is so much opinion and analysis, and too often I’m seeing the use of generalised rhetoric that could be mistaken for fact…which of course can then be amplified through social media and used by bad actors to spread mistruths.

Sadly, I don’t have an answer about how to solve this problem. The reasons it exists aren’t going to go away, and, if anything, are only going to exacerbate it further over time.

I guess all we can do as prosumers of content is try to read through the generalisations. My rule of thumb is whenever I read anything that is apparently “a fact”, I try to find at least two other varied sources that support or verify it.

I know most people don’t have the time or inclination to do this, but I encourage you to always try to find at least one other source that supports anything you read. And to try and push back on generalisations that can’t be “truth” because no one can speak for what everyone else is thinking, feeling, doing, believing etc

Stay enquiring, friends!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Young Apprentice AKA PB

Young Apprentice AKA PB

Writer, editor, content dude, digital disruptor. Politics. Arts. Tech. Travel. Food. Film. The Force. Digital Nomad. Citizen of the universe. Coffee. Always.