A modest proposal.
Modest proposals are "tongue in cheek" suggestions for improving the world.
After our 2016 elections, it became apparent that our mass media -- in the USA as well as in England, seem to have little familiarity with the concept that "news" is different than "fiction", and are also unfamiliar with the concept of "disinterested" journalism, as Pulitzer promoted. This has been brewing for a while -- recall when the Rolling Stone apparently made up material concerning rape of women and lost their lawsuit concerning defamation. Here are a few suggestions to improve matters. These would be particularly appropriate for the new "online" type of newspaper.
- Sign your work. In my medical office, I expect all of my staff to "sign their work". Whatever they write has to be traceable to them. When there is a mistake -- this makes it easier to trace and prevent more in the future. This very simple rule could have enormous consequences for Journalism. Imagine, if a writer at the Economist writes that country-X is doing poorly-- and that they had to take responsibility for their own writing ? Or that all opinions in the magazine needed to be clearly marked as such. A variant of this might be to "code" articles, based on the ability of readers to determine if their content is correct. Imagine -- putting up a series of question marks that reflected a "trust" algorithm. A high weight being given to an ability to trace the source of the material. The Wall Street Journal does sign its articles. The Economist generally does not.
- "Peer review". This means that a group of people also hoping to publish something, volunteer their time to judge whether or not a manuscript is likely to be correct, and whether or not it has something important to say. Starting up a "peer review' system for our media would slow it down, but could immensely improve the truthfullness. There seem to be many individuals with little to do these days, being displaced from their occupations by more efficient economies overseas or automation at home - -perhaps they could contribute to the truthfulness of journalism. This could be done dynamically -- the article goes up, and the reviews gradually accrue. Here it would be helpful to have a method of weighting reviewers as well, as it would not help to have a large group of bozos contribute. There are online sites that have a method of doing this -- why not all ?
- Fact checking. During the last presidential campaign, sites were set up to "fact check" the candidates. Why not "fact check" the media ? Here I imagine a site where one could look up a reporter's name, and determine the number of statements that they make that are clearly right, clearly wrong, and indeterminate. Again, this could be dynamic. I could imagine a series of little "Pinocchio" graphics, or to complete the scale "George Washington graphics", to help readers grasp the reliability of the writer. It would be nice to know if there had been awards or perhaps less positive material about this reporter as well..
- Rules of evidence. In legal proceedings, when one is fighting a battle, there is often an effort to convince the court or members of the jury using "evidence". Why not introduce the concept of "evidence" into the media ? Perhaps this is too novel an idea,, but imagine how useful it could be to determine if an article is just fluff or based on something real !
- References. In scientic articles, statements of "fact" are generally accompanied by a reference to an article on that subject. Why not introduce references to the media ? This would seem especially relevant to online media that can "link" to the reference on demand. If there is no evidence at all for a reporter's assertion, why not just make this clear ? Just put a statement at the end -- "The reporter could not find any published data to support this article."
- Knowing who is claiming what. Individuals who write scientific papers usually have a "track record" of other papers. Reporters, on the other hand, generally have little content expertise. Why not put up the reporter's "cv" online, so that readers can find out what this reporter seems to prefer to write about ? It would be nice to know if a particular writer of an article for, lets say, the Chicago Tribune, also wrote for, perhaps, the National Enquirer.
November 14, 2016
, Timothy C. Hain, M.D.
All rights reserved.