When I was in high school, I was a major journalism nerd. I know, shocking. Think Andrea from 90210, except I was never Brandon’s friend because I was too busy in the newspaper room writing yet another article that would get me pulled into the principal’s office. Because I’ve always been a troublemaker too.
Anyway, one of the big lessons I learned there (aside from the fact that the administration does not like exposés on their salaries) was that a good journalist treasures facts. The crazy, sensationalistic stuff got put on page 5, the home of our editorial page. After all, this was a high school newspaper we were running, not a tabloid.
Fast forward a good many years and you arrive in the new millennium and the advent of social media. Blogs were a new creature none of us knew what to do with — after all, there’s no law that says you need an editorial review process to hit publish on Wordpress.
So before we knew it, everyone who had something to say, true or not, had an infinite audience in front of them. And when that happened, an ugly truth The National Enquirer has known for years came to light:
People don’t care about the truth; they care about a titillating headline.
That was fine back when there was a clear delineation in the marketplace between newspapers and tabloids. People knew that if the front page of Star mentioned Queen Elizabeth’s alien abduction they could just laugh it off, but if you saw the same headline in The New York Times it was time to panic.
For a while, online media was able to hold onto that tenuous differentiation between truth and speculation. One could assume that a news media outlet would attempt some form of corroboration before hitting publish on a post the same way they would perform due diligence in print. So if one found a strange bit of information on a random blog, you could at least confirm it from a trusted news site.
Sadly, those days seem to be dwindling. In the Wild West of the Internet, where page-views rule supreme, struggling online newspapers now have to compete with freewheeling individuals who can print just about whatever they want with little repercussion; and the freewheelers are winning.
In a desperate bid to keep up, it seems even one well-respected bastion of journalism is now looking to reddit just to figure out what to put on their front page (I'm looking at you, CNN).
Why does this matter? Because when you logged into Facebook this week, you might have seen 15 or 20 versions of the latest viral hysteria, the whole “Class action lawsuit alleges Beneful is killing dogs.”
This is true; someone did file a lawsuit. People file lawsuits all the time. There is very little barrier to do so and that in and of itself is not news. Call me when you win.
This matters because lazy media outlets are just rehashing what they read on the Examiner and reporting the filing of a lawsuit as if it means something, when in truth there is way too little evidence to determine if it’s going to go anywhere, and what little evidence does exist suggests it’s very likely going to get thrown out.
The media nowadays is interested not in facts but in clicks, and in that respect this story is a slam dunk.
It matters because it drives a further disconnect and distrust between people and companies, and causes them a great deal of distress they didn’t need.
It matters because the Internet is getting louder and louder and increasingly difficult to comprehend. If we were at a party, the Internet is 1 a.m. at the bar, when everyone is drunkenly slurring and yelling over the music. That’s not where you want to get your information, right?
It’s funny how we’ve almost come full circle now, where we’re realizing we’re in over our heads when it comes to trying to make sense of an overwhelming barrage of information and misinformation.
And like that late night call to dear old dad for a safe ride home, it’s time to pick up the phone and call your old-school, luddite, boring, non-controversial, friendly, local veterinarian to help you understand just what the heck is going on. They’ll make you feel better, promise.
Veterinarians don’t care about page-clicks; they care about you and your pet.
I hope that as these current trends of media hysteria continue, perhaps clients will regress to the point of once again coming to the most trustworthy source of accurate information when it comes to pets’ health: their vet.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Image: Odor Zsolt / Shutterstock