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Producers of the distortion

Producers of the distortion


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I finished an interesting book this week. The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The title refers to the highly improbable event that changes everything. For example, 9/11 was a "black swan." While the book was a little high brow for this reader's taste, I did find a number of thoughtful observations in it - including a description of journalists as "industrial producers of the distortion."

And I had to pause.

Do we do that? Do we say "breaking news" when it's not really breaking? Do we tout our "exclusive" interview when the guy talked to the other station yesterday, but it's "exclusive to this five minute period!" Do we hype up the fear of west nile virus and terrorism and teenage gang violence? Do we help or harm society when we report, every hour, several times an hour, on a threat in our community?

I think the answer is "yes." We help and we harm, and I think on balance we help more than harm. I believe that information is a good thing, that the way to combat a bad idea is with a better idea, that I and my neighbors are smart enough to hear everything and discern what is important to us and our families. I want to err on the side of giving you too much information in order to make sure that you have the information you need.

Having said that, I think there is something to learn from the criticism that we are the producers of distortion. We need to check the words we use. They have power. We need to check the stories we choose to tell. Those choices have power. And we need to check our motivation. If it is anything but serving you, we should pause.

Pause and ask another question.

The author of The Black Swan said another interesting thing. He said our highest currency is respect. Yes. If we're not respecting you, your time, your intelligence, then we need to pause.

And ask another question. A better question.

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Amanda Dickson

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