Too much of a good thing

Published 18.02.2018 21:26 Modified 18.02.2018 21:26
Too much of a good thing

As increasingly interconnected people around the world begin to move as one in many cultural avenues and trends, it is important for journalists to avoid getting completely swept by the tide and focus on the overlooked parts of our lives and society

It is always an interesting experience to look at the origins of terms we use in our everyday lives to describe complex concepts and social constructs that take more than a few words to adequately describe. More often than not, you find that many of these started as literal descriptions at first and took a more descriptive and abstract notion as the term gained a life of its own. For example, the term "jumping on a bandwagon" was first introduced as a literal bandwagon, belonging to Dan Rice, a famous American entertainer. He was also famous for his additions to popular culture and terms he coined during his career. Back in 1848, he used his bandwagon to increase attention to his political campaign appearances, becoming wildly successful in his time. So much that he drew other politicians to him and his bandwagon, all eager to gain a share of his success.

Of course it shared the fate of everything popular, being a fad for a limited time and its meaning became something derisive. During the 1900s, bandwagons were the go to option for promoting political campaigns. Its overuse made them less effective, and others started to use the term to describe those who jumped headfirst without thinking a single thought.

When we fast-forward to the future, it is clear that bandwagon or more correctly the term "jumping on a bandwagon" continues its negative meaning but instead of being related to success, it now covers a phenomenon where people adopt trends that became popular due to the fact they are popular. Being a massive phenomenon in today's society, it also spawned its opposite where people dislikes fads due to the fact they are popular, abandoning them to find more obscure ones.

We can safely say the media is a mirror of society just as a society is shaped by its media. Therefore, it is not surprising that a societal phenomenon also shows itself in media publications regardless of the medium.

While news media may be more immune due to new stories happening everyday, news articles about life, technology, pop culture, movies, games, books, plays and so forth are more vulnerable. After all, don't we see everyday that as something gains popularity, it becomes almost all we see in the media. Take the recent resuscitation of "Star Wars" movies by Disney for example. It covered every possible platform, every related news website, every magazine and so forth in a short time. So much so, that it started to instill an adverse reaction in some people that started to drift from appreciation to indifference. And from there, it is a short way to annoyance.

Overexposure is a thing after all.

It is clear much of this can be related to advertisements and paid promotion, as a sizable portion of articles can be described as a bandwagon are still there. Due to their popularity, media ramps up its production of related articles and that production brings more popularity in turn. Who would say no to an increase in clicks when you rely on ad revenue of your website after all?

Just like many similar problems in web media, such as too many advertisements leading to readers resorting to ad-blockers, this became an issue due to the lack of moderation. Short-term gain continues to blindside, while these articles not only damage the platform where they are published but also are detrimental to their subjects.

While we dismissed the share of paid promotion and public relations (PR) fueled articles earlier, this is also a good chance to mention a related problem we see quite often in today's journalism as well. Due to time constraints, a slow news day or simple laziness, we see too often that journalists treat PR texts they receive as a suitable substitute for a news article. After all, every day many of us receive dozens of emails from many different company representatives about their activities, new products, developments and so forth. While these can be used as a supplement to related news articles, they cannot be treated as the meat and bones of the news. The primary reason for that is simple. When a journalist uses someone as a source, one of the first steps of critically examining the knowledge would be asking how that news article would benefit the source itself. In this case, the benefit is clearly monetary whether directly or indirectly. That doesn't mean PR representatives are at fault here. This is their job after all and they are well within their rights to contact journalists within those parameters. However, a journalist cannot let PR emails dictate the flow of that day's news cycle. Doing so would be unethical but also feeds the overall problem we are examining today.

Slippery slope

Of course, you might say that you are adhering to the readers' wishes, and if they want to read a thousand articles on the same subject, who are you to argue against them. While it is true that we as the media must hold the wishes of our readers in high regard, it is not our highest calling as journalists. A journalist must inform the public. And that also means shedding light on unseen places. That does not mean we can dictate what readers see or read of course. That kind of ivory tower thinking is a thing of the past, and even if it can be seen from time to time, it should be a relic nonetheless. But without taking note of unassuming things or giving voice to the voiceless, how can we expect the general public to be informed of matters to which they have no variable forms of access without media?

Or you might say that while that is all fine and dandy, it is a matter of pop culture. So what if there were too many articles on some movie or game? What if some of them were obscured during the high time of those trends? Sure it is an annoyance but a relatively minor one compared to the "real" problems we face today.

Well, while I think that no problems are too big or small as they feed off each other and in turn force us to face more complex and problematic ones, you might be right if not for the fact that we are actually facing this problem in very "real" situations and events as well.

If you would cast your mind to recent history, to one of the biggest media phenomenon, you would find that jumping on a bandwagon played a big part in that. I am of course talking about the last presidential elections in the United States.

By looking at the mainstream media or even most of the social media, the victory of Donald Trump came as a big surprise. Only after the proverbial dust of politics settled, people started to realize that despite being wrong in their predictions, media played a large role. Only it was the opposite of what they intended.

Negative articles on Donald Trump and his campaign were a dime a dozen during that period. This is not a negative or positive statement on the validity of those articles by the way. But the sheer amount of them as people jumped on the bandwagon of disliking Trump reached such a state that it also began to be actively detrimental to those who disagreed with that statement. So they kept to themselves and stayed mum outside of their echo chambers. Combine that with the large number of fake news stories resonating in those echo chambers, well the result should not be a surprise.

As people were overexposed to the negativity of Trump-related articles, it also started to lose its impact. Adding to that, people started to go from indifference to annoyance. But that annoyance was not directed at Trump. It was directed at the platforms and writers of the articles and news.

Thus, a seemingly small problem, combined with a large one, such as fake news and information disorder, led to a very different future.

Therefore, while this problem is still largely seen in mediums that deal with pop culture, it can easily bleed into the political arena even further in the future. Remember that once upon a time, fake news was seen as a small problem that would surely be a simple annoyance. And now look at it.

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