Victor Pickard is a professor of Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. His book Democracy Without Journalism?: Confronting the Misinformation Society is about the problem of misinformation: people not knowing what's going on in the world, or thinking they know what's going on but actually believing in propaganda or bullshit (see, e.g., Joe Rogan).
There has been a lot of chatter about the problem of "fake news" and how it can be stopped, with many proposing that social media companies need to do more regulation of the internet and "content moderation." Victor thinks that this conversation misses something crucial: the need for well-funded public interest journalism. He believes that we cannot escape the "misinformation society" without changing the way that journalism is produced, since (regulated or not) the private market is incapable of fulfilling the public need for truthful information about topics that matter. In a democracy, where the citizens themselves are in charge of making important decisions, it's vital that we find a way to fund the production and dissemination of quality journalism.
In this conversation, we discuss:
- The catastrophic collapse of public interest journalism, and the "news deserts" across the country where there is no local journalism
- Why, even as we recognize the effects of that collapse, we shouldn't romanticize the newspapers of old, because the profit motive has always corrupted journalism
- How the need for for-profit media organizations to constantly and obsessively "chase clicks" makes it impossible for them to produce quality work
- The alarming consequences of having news organizations that ignore climate and international news in favor of cheap, entertaining political "horse race" coverage
- The distortions in public understanding that result from a situation where the truth is paywalled but the lies are free
- Why Victor thinks we're "doomed" if we rely on commercial media for the news, and why you don't need to be a "conspiracy theorist" to see how the profit motive makes corporate media less likely to accurately depict the state of the world
- What a public model for journalism might look like, and why city governments should fund publicly owned municipal newspapers