Perspective: Is it journalism or a hit? – Deseret News | Team Cansler

When was the last time you sat down and enjoyed a really good “hit” on your news feed — you know, the kind that makes you crawl with anger at someone or something? More importantly, if you had consumed something historically known as “the lowest form of journalism” (if we can call it that), would you even know it?

Most people wouldn’t – in large part because we’ve gotten so used to attacking articles that we hardly blink when we see another one. Like the gamer whose violent streak has been jaded by hundreds of hours of Call of Duty, an eviscerating essay elicits a yawn rather than a gasp these days.

This is not good. In fact, it’s a really bad thing because our collective search for truth as a society depends on the integrity of institutions like the press. And if we casually accept something that defies all classical ethical boundaries of journalism how an acceptable form of commerce, we have effectively left those ethics behind.

For example, imagine if we started accepting body slams as an acceptable form of contact in basketball and then continued to pretend it was still a regular basketball game we were watching. But of course it wouldn’t be. Body slams would fundamentally change the game.

Similarly, rhetorical slams in journalism fundamentally change the game.

You would think that this kind of shift would be very important. In fact, there was a time when a “hit piece” stood out as a unique violation of crucial norms. We used to have derogatory terms for sensational, unethical “yellow journalism” — with bright lines drawn between that kind of bottom-living “tabloid” fodder and respectable press. But those bright lines have progressively faded until they’re barely noticeable.

While we’ll likely always be able to spot the ridiculousness of a story about a celebrity who gave birth to an alien, it’s no longer shocking to come across scandalous headlines that claim insanely disturbing things about individuals or institutions.

This could be one reason Hunter Biden’s laptop story didn’t get traction when it was first reported; it’s harder to know what will pass as a legitimate message.

A “hit piece” is commonly defined as an attempt to tarnish reputation or incite public opinion against someone or something under the guise or guise of objective reporting. The Free Dictionary defines it as “a very critical attack on someone or something,” often involving “biased, misleading, or outright false information.”

It is exactly the calculated effort appear Aim while presenting misleading information making it difficult to recognize a piece hit. In consultation with journalism professor Joel Campbell and the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, here are five questions to help each of us recognize when we’re reading something that actually aims to cause harm rather than illuminate reality.

1. Does inquiry show genuine curiosity and intellectual humility, or does the answer seem predetermined?

It is said: “A journalist ideally writes an investigative article because he wants to find answers. A journalist writes a hit because he thinks he already has the answers.”

Just as a serious research study is open to answers that contradict its initial hypothesis, so too serious journalism should have the humility to discover (and disclose) nuances that do not agree with its implied narrative. Do you see any evidence of this kind of genuine openness in this next flashy article?

A simple way to measure intellectual humility is to determine to what extent Miscellaneous Perspectives relevant to the topic or conversation are acknowledged. A sure sign of zero curiosity is to have a whole stack of citations espousing one perspective—and little to no presentation of alternative views (or, at best, only poor and weak-sounding examples). Keep an eye on this ratio.

2. How serious and strict is the investigation? Could it withstand the scrutiny of others without a dog in the fight?

Every hit track demands serious research. For some people, even hearing the word “research” causes their brain to stop thinking. But in our age of activist science, the opposite should be the case: we need to think for ourselves and ask ourselves how serious the investigation behind the article is. It doesn’t take a graduate student to spot signs of substandard research and incomplete investigations.

3. Are there any obvious conflicts of interest that indicate how the author can gain something from the writing?

This has long been a classic standard of journalistic integrity, but too often overlooked, especially in new forms of media. In a case where a popular YouTube channel was unfairly attacked for racism, one author pointed out how much the critic can “substantially gain” by ruining the person’s reputation and thereby eliminating “some of their biggest competitors.” . Are there any indications of similar benefits (money, reputation, cultural standing) accruing to the author of something you review?

4. Does the author sound angry, agenda-driven, or rigidly ideological in any way?

This is not easy to spot. As Eric Wemple once clarified, a hit means “intent, a plan, go out and get the issue. That is a high level of evidence.”

Neither of us knows the heart of another. But that doesn’t mean we’re blind to intention. Do a gut check: Does this article or video feel like a screed or an honest inquiry?

5. Does the author acknowledge positive aspects of the criticism?

It is rare to find anyone or anything totally devoid of humanity or kindness. Most people are complex, and even Darth Vader had some good in him in the end. Honest and sane journalism is willing to acknowledge goodness where it exists, even when it conflicts with an otherwise critical narrative.

If that doesn’t pull through at all — if the author doesn’t even seem able to say, “You know, I have some serious questions about this, but there’s still a lot of good here” — then pay close attention.

Ultimately, this is perhaps the surest sign of a crushing hit piece: no indication of it any Redemption for the tested person or group possible.

Instead of building and raising, the goal is to tear down and demolish. For many “awakened” minds of our time, this is essentially the plan to work towards a better world. If something like this effectively takes over not only journalism but also our universities, then there is no doubt that we all really need redemption.

So think twice (or thrice) when you see scandalous allegations being made. Healthy journalism standards still matter, and junk journalism can do real harm. But you and I can tell the difference.

Jacob Hess is the editor of Public Square Magazine and a board member of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation. Since the publication of “You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)” with Phil Neisser, he has advocated a liberal-conservative understanding. Hess also coauthored The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints with Carrie Skarda, Kyle Anderson, and Ty Mansfield.

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