Skepticism and narcissism

“We all know the old journalism saw: ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’ Our moms aren’t the problem. No, if 2016 and 2017 have taught us anything, it’s that our passion for journalism’s flattering mythology only hurts us.”

2018 is the year when our skepticism has to be stronger than our narcissism.

You remember Narcissus, right? The hot young Greek who fell so passionately in love with his reflection that he wasted away and died? All that remains of Narcissus is his namesake flower — something strictly ornamental and meant to be cut down.

We all know the old journalism saw: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Our moms aren’t the problem. No, if 2016 and 2017 have taught us anything, it’s that our passion for journalism’s flattering mythology only hurts us.

And yes, we realize that it’s hard to think about self-deception, particularly this year — when the president and his press secretaries have spread lies deliberately and continued to castigate the press in a campaign to undermine the very nature of truth and the institution of journalism.

But that doesn’t excuse us from the work; we can’t demand an honest accounting of anyone else before we give journalism the same examination.

Here are some of the places we expect change:

Myth 1: We respect audiences. “The culture of journalism breeds disdain for the people we’re meant to be serving,” wrote Jenn Brandel and Andrew Haeg in 2016. Journalists are privileged Americans (33 percent of Americans have college degrees, but 90 percent of journalists do, and as Joshua Benton reported in 2016, an outsized share of digital journalism jobs are concentrated in a few big metro areas).

Heather Bryant’s talk at LION17 this past October was brutally honest:

When we look at what is published, what do we see?

Headlines that talk about the effects of policies on “the poor.” As someone who grew up intensely poor, that is not what we called ourselves. And most don’t. Who is that headline for?

We see stories that lump various groups into monolithic blocks like gun-owners, farmers, working-class and play to stereotypes.

And we’ve all experienced the culture, maybe even perpetuated it ourselves, where audiences are talked down to and about, commenters are called idiots and journalists don’t hesitate to tweet 140 character think pieces about how people don’t care about “real” news anymore.

If we’re going to be faithful to the duty of our profession, when economic inequality is greater than ever and issues of race, gender and politics are at the front of everyone’s mind, we have to do better.

Nick Quah also points out that we can be pretty rude when writing about the youngs, which has got to change. And ProPublica’s Ariana Tobin predicts that exhausted news consumers will begin checking out in 2018 because journalists haven’t respected their time, either.

Myth 2: Our hiring and pay scales reward quality. Sometimes, “quality” is just shorthand for “what we already know we like.” That lazy lie turns into shorthand — we hire people who remind us of ourselves, or from journalism “power schools” without examining what they’re actually teaching in these disrupted days. We do it because it makes life easy, but the perpetual motion machine boxes out people whose skills, knowledge bases, and fluencies we need.

Myth 3: Journalism is such a great job that we don’t need work-life balance. Journalism (in big markets and small) still depends on people who will work at unpaid internships or who will pour off-the-clock hours into their jobs — and we burn them out. The ones who survive their early careers to make it to parenthood are adversely affected by the unnecessary inflexibility of the work (as are people who live outside of major metro areas, where most jobs are concentrated.)

Myth 4: He’s a “good guy.” Maybe he’s not a good guy. Maybe he’s just a lucrative guy or a powerful guy. Maybe we shouldn’t protect the crude, vulgar, grabby, toxic, or violent in our own ranks if we want any credibility to address those problems elsewhere.

Myth 5: The stories that matter are the stories that matter to us. If you go by the media’s coverage of #metoo, you’d think that the people most at risk of sexual harassment and assault in America are actresses and journalists, mostly white. Once again, we’re being lazy — when NPR did a content audit of its magazine shows a few years ago, they discovered that the people most likely to be interviewed for stories worked in government, entertainment, media, and academia. Let’s not be surprised that our #metoo coverage has focused on celebrities in precisely those arenas. Again.

Myth 6: We want our newsrooms to be diverse at every level of the newsroom (and not just entry-level jobs.) Why does diversity often stop at the masthead? The masthead doesn’t want to leave their jobs. If we want diverse newsrooms, people currently in power are going to have to willingly accelerate the pace of their own obsolescence. There’s not an ever-expanding slate of top gigs. Someone’s going to have to go.

Myth 7: We can be trusted with user privacy. We ask readers to trust us, and we install trackers that follow them around the Internet — and install third-party applications that collect data and we don’t think about how that data can be sold or breached (hello Disqus) or resold or bundled and then sold. We ask readers to trust us, but we don’t think about ethical consent. And we rely on social platforms for distribution (maybe not for long, Neha Gandhi predicts), but we no longer understand how their complex algorithms work (and neither do they).

Myth 8: We’re objective! Objectivity is only objective and neutrality is only neutral for the status quo — that’s going to look like white people, and men, and Ivy League and traditionally credentialed people. Not those “whose very livelihoods and safety are matters of public debate,” as Lewis Wallace put it last May. Let’s be real skeptics — especially toward the systems that benefit we who already have megaphones and a little power. And let’s trust and support people in the newsroom who have a particular insight about how power structures affect their communities.

Myth 9: We definitely don’t think of community journalism as the minor leagues. This isn’t true everywhere — there are lots of partners and particularly funders who are focused on this space — but a great deal of money tends to stop at the ivory towers that work on the problem of community journalism, or in the production of endless toolkits and white papers and parachuting reporting fellowships. If we care about community journalism, we should pay community journalists in a way that makes it possible to live, work, and stay in their communities. Let’s actively reach out to support their applications and access to the grants, fellowships, and prizes that pour down on the major market news orgs. (Do you know how hard it is for a community journalist to find out about these opportunities? Or to make time and have the money to apply during contest season? If you worked in a small-market newsroom, you probably do. Otherwise, you can’t even imagine both how hard it is, and how much it means.)

Myth 10: We can’t be replaced. Investigative journalism seems safe for now. But those who are doing same-as-it-ever-was stories — and local news — had better figure out how to use bots or start regarding them as competition. (Quartz’s Sarah Kessler has some good news, though — it doesn’t have to be as scary as you think.)

Myth 11: People who criticize journalism are dangerous to journalism. Look, we are not trying to dismantle journalism; we want to practice it well (in almost the exact way that Juliette De Maeyer outlines in her prediction, actually). We don’t want to put arguments in the hands of people who spout democratic values while spray-painting anarchist symbols over the very idea of verifiable facts; we want to derail those arguments by demonstrating that they’re false.

We think you want that, too. And that’s why we think this prediction really could come true.

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Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Paul Ford   Go global

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Jake Levine   The return to now

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Burt Herman   Things get real

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete