Guest Post by Emily Garbutt, Senior Account Executive
When I started reading, Trust Me I’m Lying, by Ryan Holiday I didn’t know what to expect. In the beginning, I was excited to read it because not only am I a huge fan of American Apparel crop-tops and leotards, but I’m also a fan of successful people. They inspire me to push myself to my limits. I was ready for this book to enlighten me, I was ready for it to inspire me, and it did…just not in the way I thought it would.
I always look for themes in what I’m reading. I think that’s just how my mind works. So, page after page of Holiday’s ‘manual,’ I tried to find some cohesive or conclusive element, a means to his madness. After racking my brain and searching high and low, I saw the answer was right in front of me; so apparent I’m embarrassed it didn’t hit me sooner. Money. Money. Money.
The reason I avoided this all too obvious conclusion is that it seemed like there had to be more, much more. I knew a greater explanation existed. There had to be a more powerful force driving bloggers, editors, and publishers to utterly destroy ethical boundaries (in the way Holiday’s book depicts) than just for money, there had to be a system behind it all. Then it hit me. The media are a business (and all too often the public forgets this).
Just because the blogosphere exists virtually and is “intangible” doesn’t mean it functions any differently than a “brick and mortar” business. Or does it? The problem with the online media, is that its economics are much more stressful than that of a “brick and mortar” business. They make their money from advertisements and site traffic. In an economic system where money is made on a “page view” basis, it’s no wonder bloggers get desperate. So desperate they fabricate stories. So desperate they alter reality. So desperate to deliver, to do their job, to compete, that they just make up whatever they feel like or know will make people click.
Can we blame them? They’re just trying to do their job, just trying to please their editors. In fact, they’re not all that different from the Washington Post reporter, Janet Cooke, who was just trying to do her job when she wrote her infamous 1980’s article, ‘Jimmy’. The story, according to Cooke, was about an 8-year-old heroine addict, Jimmy, who was introduced to the drug by his mom’s live-in boyfriend.
Cooke’s alarming story of a child heroine addict earned her the Pulitzer Prize until, due to overwhelming speculation against her, she revealed to the Post she fabricated the story. The Pulitzer was returned and Cooke resigned. A year later when asked in an interview with Phil Donahue why she did it, she explains she was under immense pressure to deliver a story to her editors. The Post’s newfound fame after its coverage of Watergate in the 70s led Cooke to fabricate a jaw-dropping story to keep her employers’ status (let’s recall again, the Media are a business, status means money).
I’m not trying to defend Janet Cooke. I think it’s appalling what she did, but I guess in some way I feel some sympathy for her, just as I feel some (emphasis on some) sympathy for the pressures bloggers face. In the age of the online media, there are no distinct lines; there are no concrete rules. So what do we expect? As consumers of the media, we’ve gotten greedy. We want interesting, thrilling, arousing news and we want it now.
I thought understanding the concept of ethics in general was difficult, but understanding media ethics is way worse (especially online media ethics). All this confusion sparked by Holiday makes me want to take a holiday…