Cracking the Code: Hack Journalism Crumbles in the Face of Truth

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I’m going to start off on a bit of a tangent, so please bear with me as I speak about an integral issue to this whole discussion. As a “small l” liberal, I fundamentally believe that empathy is an important human trait to maintain and manifest. It is the fundamental force that binds humanity together, it keeps us co-operating towards shared goals and it helps us share the majesty, the awe and the terror of this existence together. I also, however, also have a strong sense of justice. I do not care to see people wronged, and when they are, I feel as though justice is deserved for that wronging.


To me, beyond just the seven principles, these two pillars stand up as a moral dichotomy of liberal values; a scale by which all actions must be balanced between the two. Justice must be served, but it must be done in a way that does not impugn unjustly on the rights of the person who receives the judgment. Justice must be proportional, it must be fair, lest we leave the disaffected to fester with their distrust, and let it grow into hate for a machine that does not comprehend their pain and suffering. Of course, caution must be had to not pander too much to those who suffer, lest society fall into the habit of babying those who cry wolf; those who are outraged for outrage sake.


What does this have to do with hack journalism, you ask?


As I’m sure several are aware, many media divisions closed this week, or saw massive lay-offs across the board. Huffington Post’s Opinion column has tanked, BuzzFeed has seen layoffs as well. All in all, something to the order of over 1000 journalists have been laid off. While some might celebrate this as a victory in the “war” against “fake news”, I cannot. I do not like many of the opinions posted on the likes of BuzzFeed or Huffington Post, the DailyKos, or any such publications which are so ideologically skewed, any more than I like the likes of Breitbart or InfoWars. But beyond just names and titles of organizations, there are people now, who do not have jobs. This means that families will struggle to find support. This means that many may go hungry in an economy that lives largely hand to mouth. This is my empathy for those who, despite our ideological differences, are human just as I am.


However, as the news broke, people took to commenting on this story, as they will. Many folks took to twitter to respond to impassioned calls and wails from those blue check-marks, those who bemoaned their new lack of employment or shared their disdain for the lives they were now forced to live, all to offer them some of the very same advice that those journalists offered to miners, manufacturers, and blue collar Americans, those who lost their jobs to outsourcing several years ago. They were told simply to “learn to code”. Naturally, such a response was taken quite poorly, apparently to the point of now being considered harassment.


But what prompted this response, I wonder? This outpouring of justice from the disaffected, an attempt at winning one over on those former journalists who are now cast to the tides of fate? Of course, the ongoing culture war is no doubt a large part of it, but I think mostly, it stems from a sense of justice. A sense of fairness from those who were derided by journalists to simply make do and figure it out. Who were given an aimless direction towards a skill that those who work with their hands creating things, no doubt have less talent for than, say, someone who has spent their life studying math and languages.


Of course, this also comes off the back of what some are now calling #CovingtonGate, since every new scandal needs “gate” appended to it, apparently, as we haven’t come up with something new since the 60’s. I’ll spare the assumption of the reader to not have seen the massive scandal that erupted over the smirking Catholic student in Washington D.C. last week, and the subsequent media tirade, only for the public to later find out that the claims being made by the media were grossly inaccurate of the scene presented.


This is part of why so many, I think, show so little empathy for the likes of journalists losing their jobs; because to them it seems that these journalists aren’t DOING their jobs. Rather, they seem be merely publishing whatever libelous lies they can get away with, in order to farm the outrage, and then later apologizing or quietly deleting their statements later when the truth eventually comes out. This is the world we have come to live in; one where even major news outlets report libel first, before taking the cursory time to watch a 2 hour video to fact-check, and before anyone makes a politically charged statement, I intend to aim this at both aisles. Yes, the outrage at those children, the death threats, the doxxing, all of that was completely uncalled for and reprehensible. So is taking up for those children as some kind of virtuous saints when clips exist on that same trip of some of them mocking others and making ridiculous and offensive statements to others. They are not perfect angels, nor are they the spawn of Satan. They are human beings, and they deserve better role models who neither excuse their poor behaviour, nor engage in more of it against them as a response.


Journalists used to be held to an ethical standard. That standard has long since passed, it seems. Many who do maintain these standards are side-lined by those who wish to convey our modern day politics as a war to be fought and won. This is the dangerous attitude that brings about totalitarianism, and it is long since time for those engaging in the culture war to take a good, hard look in the mirror, to confront their overblown sense of justice, their overblown sense of moral outrage and moral panic, and ask themselves what sort of world is worth living in. These moral tools are a balance, not a sledgehammer with which to cudgel those whom you disagree. The more you use them as the latter, the sooner you bring about a world in which there is none of what you seek.


For those formerly of Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, as a fellow writer, you have my best wishes at finding new gainful employment. Perhaps in future jobs you will refrain from making such politically charged statements in an attempt to shape the world to cater to people who share your beliefs. Perhaps we would all be better off if more people stopped doing so and instead focused more of their time on shaping themselves into being better people.