The Hot Take: a Media Catastrophe

Roman King | United States

Years ago, I was charged with political fervor and revolutionary zeal and landed myself some rather important volunteer positions within the Libertarian Party. I became a leading member of their social media teams. I was a Facebook inbox manager, as well as a leading Twitter content manager. It was where I learned some pretty useful skills in the modern working world. I learned how to professionally manage a social media page, how to professionally communicate with people asking important and sometimes thought-provoking questions, and how to interact with co-workers in a professional environment. I have always and will always attribute many of the skills I have now to where I began: working with the Libertarian Party at both the local and national levels. It’s hard to overstate the importance that year or so of work had on me.

The Hot Take Blows Up

That said, there’s a reason why I am no longer on their social media teams. I’m blacklisted, as a matter of fact. I didn’t quit, and I didn’t leave. No, instead, it was an incident of gigantic proportions that found me at the receiving end of a permanent ban from ever working with the national Libertarian Party’s social media teams. It was an incredible spectacle of stupidity from top to bottom that is becoming all too common in the modern world of social media and quick news.

I was managing the Twitter page one night and my phone began blowing up with notifications. Much more than usual. Checking the source of such intense feedback, to my chagrin, I saw thousands of people tearing apart a post that somehow found itself online. I was absolutely flabbergasted to see a post suggesting that North Korea — yes, that Korea — was freer than the United States.

This was an epic take. With both the implications that such a post carried, along with the sustained reaction, the correct line of action was to take the post down and issue an apology. Which is what I did. I deleted the offending post and issued an apology on the public Twitter page. It did a lot to ease the public relations failure that had just happened. I clarified that the post should have never seen the light of day and that it wouldn’t happen again. That should have been the end of it, but of course, what should be rarely is.

Witnessing the Hot Take Aftermath

No, instead, the immediate reaction of the executives was to go on a hunt to find the person who issued the apology. I volunteered myself and was lambasted by the higher-ups (one of whom was Arvin Vohra, disgraced former vice chair of the Libertarian Party) for being a spine-deficient weakling. Somehow, the decision to stop a complete public relations meltdown was one that the executives couldn’t handle. I was kicked off all social media teams.

For those of us with any sense of intelligence, this is an appalling breach of common sense and dignity. But this is the expected reaction for the ever-growing majority of people who enjoy reveling in kneejerk stupidity. This whole event is just a symptom of a larger problem in the world of media news and information. There has been a radical shift in the way we as consumers receive information, and there has been an equally radical shift in how media companies and political organizations present that information. We love to consume controversial media, and for a pretty simple reason — it evokes emotions in us.

We love to feel something when we consume our media. There’s a reason why a majority of people get their news from CNN and FOX instead of Reuters or AP. CNN and FOX, along with nearly every other media company, have turned from news organizations to controversy factories. They drop hot takes left and right, disregarding the ethics of journalism in the process. Even my current company isn’t perfect in regards to the dispensation of hot takes. We’ve published things that we’ve had to retract before because controversy and clicks motivated them, rather than facts. While I’m relieved to say my current company does this a lot less than the rest of the field, nobody is perfect. Especially in the hypercompetitive journalism market, where any click you can get is gold, sometimes you just have to go for what gets views.

The Root of the Problem

This is the tragedy and catastrophe of the hot take, and it is truly devastating. It’s a symbiotic system that circles from company to consumer. It leaves people to go to great lengths to find the truth in modern news. The hot take hurts the customer by disguising the truth under a veil of charged rhetoric and controversy. It hurts the media companies because it makes its consumers distrustful. Everybody loses in this current game of media publishing, and something needs to change. But what, exactly?

Well, for one, there are examples of unbiased, neutral news sources out there. The aforementioned Associated Press and Reuters are media juggernauts. They’ve built their trusty reputation on the foundation of facts and well-practiced journalistic ethics. They show it isn’t impossible to form a media company on the merits of truth. For one, they report the news as is, mostly free of any personal opinions or ideas. They don’t often dabble in editorial opinion pieces, either.

Does this mean that editorials are the first thing to go when we reevaluate our positions as media companies? Not necessarily. As an editorial journalist myself, the medium of the editorial is a useful tool to give perspective on topical issues of the current day. It even gets across whatever a journalist feels is important to discuss. Simply having an opinion is not necessarily a bad thing; actively attempting to make controversial opinions for the sake of having controversial opinions is. Controversy itself isn’t bad either; some topics are going to generate controversy no matter how delicate of a touch a journalist has. The harm begins when you churn out hot takes simply for the sake of getting views and clicks. That is where the violation of journalistic ethics truly lies.

The Lesson from all This

So where do we go from here? Where do we go in a world where journalistic racketeers fill the media landscape with biased and heavily opinionated rubbish. The simplest answer is to be diligent while browsing media. Use common sense and be on the lookout for red flags that something might be off. Know the facts, then judge the media based on how well it serves those facts. If something seems a bit dishonest, odds are it is. Use your gut instinct, and follow up on your gut instinct should something pique your radar. That’s about all you can do in the current environment. Recognize what’s real and what isn’t; recognize what has a degree of truth to it, and recognize what is only there to generate controversy.

That’s about all you can do. As people, we almost have a civic duty to do just that. We must regulate our media consumption to only what is as factually correct as possible. That’s the backbone of an informed society, and that’s how people build intelligence. With enough work, we can put the hot takes out with the water of truth, and become informed.

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