There is Some Truth in “Fake” News.

Fake Reporters

 

Early on in my career, I worked for a Pulitzer Prize winning editor. This was before the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet. Howard James was a brutal boss for his reporters, because he demanded perfection and absolute impartiality in our reporting – core tenants of the prize he earned. While working for Howard, I watched the news industry radically change as we ushered in the use of computers, digital film, and eventually the internet.  With the introduction of this technology, we watched the news-cycle speed up to the point that decisions constantly needed to be made regarding the balance between thoroughly vetting a story versus “scooping the competition.” This problem continued to compound with the rise of 24-hour news stations and fast-moving online and social sources. In addition, the low barriers to entry for online participants led to increased competition looking to upend established news brands, which has led to organizations looking for other competitive advantages such as focusing on, and adjusting their messaging towards, targeted demographics.

 

Over-time this has led to nearly all news organizations adjusting their messages to appeal to the particular demographic they seek to capture. Put simply, all sources of news are biased in one form or another, so, yes, “fake news” does exist and you cannot escape it.

 

To survive, news outlets must make money and that money comes from advertising. Advertisers pay to reach a specific target demographic and are willing to pay more for the more viewers within those characteristics that agency can provide. This is the lifeblood of any news organization (even NPR, but in a different income model). As such and to remain relevant, the business will put in place persons to adjust its programming to grab as many persons as they can in a targeted demographic. This leads to two forms of bias.  Number one is the “voice” of the organization. E.g. Fox News skews right while CNN swings left. The second comes from “speed bias” where competing stations seek to break a story first. This is nothing new in the news business.  However, the speed at which we disseminate information today is so rapid that it requires many organizations to break stories without all the facts and, perhaps more importantly, without thoroughly investigating the opposing view. Why would they anyway? It could alienate their core demographic (e.g. their purse).  

 

Ultimately, this means that we are typically only getting half the story at any given time no matter how much each organization touts their “unbiased” views. The current economics of the news industry prevent that, so take a note from this old reporter. Always, and I repeat ALWAYS, get both sides of the picture before you make your judgment. For you Fox folks, that means watching some CNN and for you CNN folks. Watch some Fox news. Just like Howard James taught me, you must remain impartial. More than ever, it is up to the consumer to investigate the information being presented and cast their own final judgment with the understanding that their preferred source does contain, at least some, bias.

Capitalism isn’t a dirty word.

Marx believed that capitalism was purely negative and that it fed the bourgeoisie graciously at the hands of the proletariat. This made sense when he and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848. They had yet to see how capitalism would (and continues) to evolve into a driver for social change.

1.1% of United Airlines‘ stock (or $255 million) was lost today, because consumers demanded vengeance due to the Airline’s unacceptable behavior stemming from how they forcefully removed a customer when they overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville days before.

Had the government intervened, it would have taken years for this issue to be resolved. Millions would have been spent in lawyer’s fees, regulation changes, committee building, and analysis. However, only a very small percentage would have been paid by the airline in any type of “punitive”damages.

Instead, the company got flogged publicly on social media and lost millions in market cap overnight, which forced the major airline’s hand to “make things right” not just for the man forcefully ejected, but a new breed of consumer. One who demands fair trade coffee, responsibly sourced salmon, and their brethren to fly home without being bloodied by some corporate bully.

Modern day MBA courses spend a lot of time explaining the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility and this is why. Today, the business world moves too fast. One seemingly small error, or worse a hiccup in accepting responsibility and efficiently correcting the wrong, can quickly become a global phenom. And with markets just as fast, that word-of-mouth on crack will transform into social justice.

This is something that Engels and Marx didn’t have to deal with in the late 1800s and while there is still much room for improvement. The proletariat do have a weapon to knock the bourgeoisie off their high horse, which will continue to enhance the capitalist relationship amongst classes.

 

Reflections in the Ocean

An Empty Beach

I celebrated my Christmas weekend of 2016 with my family at St. Augustine Beach in Florida. Since the holiday is also my birthday, I get to choose where we spend our annual family time. Having lived on the sea for years, I feel a unique pull to the surf and take any chance I can to get back to those crashing waves, so this year I chose that we hit the beach.

I believe humans are drawn to the sea because of what it represents…life. Great tales have been written about brave men facing the ocean since the adoption of the written word. Homer gave us the Odyssey. Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea and no list would be complete without Melville’s Moby Dick. All of these tales share a similar thesis. They are stories of men challenging what the sea, or better yet…life, is throwing at them. Each sets sail on a journey through uncharted waters seeking to find their own sense of being, accomplishment, and truth. Their success hinging on an understanding that they do not know what may lie ahead and the confidence to overcome obstacles that will undoubtedly exist in both calm and rough waters.

During my ship time, I remember we would sail for days on end and never see land, a bird, or another ship. Much like life, we could go in any direction we wanted. We just never really knew what would lie ahead in our course. The surf could be calm or it could rise-up as if it were trying to force us in another direction. Life is like this as well. You have so many choices of which way you shall live, but each carries with it its own unique risks and rewards. It is up to you regarding how long you shall stay that particular course, choose to re-navigate, or if you will give up and let the current take you away.

*****

It is the last day of my birthday weekend and I am sitting on an empty beach as a storm rolls in. I must be stuck in its eye, because the beach has disappeared into the rainy darkness both to my right and left.  The only clear site is the ocean in front of me. It looks so peaceful framed against the approaching storm. Yet, despite the apparent calm path at my bow the cool gray waves continue to crash on the shore and then return to the deep.

It is as if the sea is reminding me that even though the course ahead looks the clearest. There will always be challenges on my journey. The waves will never stop. It is only up to me what kind of captain I shall become and which course I am willing to sail.

May you all navigate your own success in 2017 and in the process find your own truth.