The Four-Letter Word We Shouldn’t Forget 


J.D. “Jim” Fox

“I don’t need anyone else to call me a whore,” she said.  “I get it.”

That’s part of what New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said in answer to my question about social media at a panel previewing Showtime’s documentary, “The Fourth Estate.”

The Four-Letter Word We Shouldn’t Forget Haberman’s words were in the back of my head as I read “Merchants of Truth,” the new book from former Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson (who says she tried to lure Haberman from Politico).  If you don’t have time to read it — it’s worth your time —there’s a critique by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore in the New Yorker.

“Merchants of Truth” details the sea change from print to digital journalism — and certainly its traditional ad-based business model — by profiling the evolution of BuzzFeed, Vice, the Times, and the Washington Post … with a necessary nod to Facebook and Google as the champion vacuums of advertising dollars.

We’ve all heard some of this before:  digital ate the traditional economic underpinnings of the big newspapers for lunch; online news has to live side-by-side with Kardashian clickbait; and feisty upstarts like Vice captured the young lad market and made billions for their entrepreneurial owners.

In this detailing of journalism’s demise, both Abramson and Lepore make just passing nods to a factor I consider an essential corollary to the online explosion:  HATE is the easiest and quickest thing to communicate.

In her book, Abramson noted that Candidate Trump’s bashing of “the fake news media” was a reliable crowd-pleaser, along with chants of “Lock Her Up!”  The reporters covering the 2016 campaign, including Maggie Haberman and others, were (and still are) routinely threatened by the whipped-up crowds.

But it’s so much easier online, where you can spew hate anonymously.  Jill Lepore’s New Yorker piece noted the preponderance of lists in the digital realm: “Lists were liked.  Hating people was liked.  And it turned out that news, which is full of people who hate other people, can be crammed into lists.”

For anyone with a journalism background (like me), watching this devolution has been painful.  What’s even worse is to remember the historical antecedent:  Hitler was the quickest hater of all.  Those vile posters the Nazis plastered all over Europe in the 1930s never featured more than five words.

JD Fox - Coach's CornerAbout the Author: J.D. “Jim” Fox is Head Coach at Next Act Coaching.


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