'Fake News' has emerged out of trends that have been decades-long in the making. The media, which love to predict and tell you what to think yet totally missed the dotcom boom of the 1990s that destroyed their businesses, has been shedding reporters, cutting back on operations and surviving on bare-boned, skeletal staffs that are largely young and inexperienced. This includes major cable news stations by the way and their bureaus in Washington DC, of all places. I've written about 'boyers' (see Blog 6/2, January 2017): newsrooms are largely populated with these young products of the Information Age who think googling a topic gives them all the answers they need. Experience -- built up over decades of living and interacting with people from all walks and shades of life, of hands-on dealing with different parts of government and business, of making mistakes, of making a fool of yourself and falling prey to deception -- has been so diminished by our corporate masters that it's only natural the young should feel this way as well.
However, older people lived in a day when experience was what mattered. Even as a young journalist in the pre-Internet days, sitting by the Reuters terminal day-in and day-out was frowned upon, fiddling with spreadsheets was dis-encouraged. Going out, meeting sources, building contacts, seeing things first-hand, interviewing people face-to-face were valued. Sure, the experiences could be risky and they were hard to quantify into 'profits' or 'productivity,' but year after year they ended up reaping rewards in the form of context, perspective and an overview - a view that spans large and wide over countless terrains and people. Older people's institutional knowledge has, and continues, to be invaluable to me personally and professionally -- I don't need to consult an encyclopedia or wade through research that would take a week to draw a conclusion from. I can call a voice I trust and ask what such-and-such was like back in 1960.
To not have older journalists in these fast-paced, 24/7 news environments is to further reduce us into Information Junkies always stuck on 'written words', over-relying on 'the written word' and looking for the next unsatisfying hit of words strung together in a cheap news story or headline, instead of curators or builders of knowledge. A case in point was the 'news story' about US State Department officials resigning en masse once Trump took office. A veteran journalist would've informed his staff that political appointees always must resign in a new administration. This is standard operating procedure across all Federal departments and would've happened even if Hillary won. However, the rush to get the scoop first, plus no experience or guidance meant a 'fake news' story that had to later be corrected. But the corrections never do trend, do they, for Information Junkies? The misinformation lingers. In actual fact, some State appointees requested to stay on to help with continuity. But who cares? We've all moved onto the next breathless story.
That's the other thing, older journalists don't tend to get breathless unless they're over-exercising. It takes a lot to shock some of them with current events. They've seen it all, as they say, and can be calm in a storm, whereas younger people tend to slip into panic, outrage and indignation at the first whiff of a crisis. Older, qualified journalists have opinions, but know when to park them at the door. Because they've learned from experience, they can suss out deception and manipulation a little better than Info Junkies who think every 'gaffe' is an intentional lie in which to turn into a cheap piece of headline news.
I may be generalizing a little: I do see some of my senior friends exhibit partisanship rants and rages, while I have younger friends with level-heads and wisdom. However, the dearth of older people in media -- guiding and mentoring our younger journalists on everything from civics to grammar, and writing and speaking on current affairs -- is a big part of the 'fake news' problem. Now more than ever, it's so refreshing and fun to hear an older person talk about past moments not that far back in history that were filled with uncertainty, crisis and drama, and yet somehow "the sun also rises". How would our news stories look with such a perspective?