Former Bay Area TV news and sports anchor Hutchins, spent 20 years selecting what is news. He spent several years in local politics including time as Mayor of his town. We decided to see what his varied experiences have him thinking about journalism and current content practices since Jan Hutchins is now running a thought leadership and content marketing company.
The most violent element in society is ignorance. Do you agree with that in relation to content?
We tell ourselves that whatever blog, Facebook musing, or marketing piece we deliver justifies the reader’s attention. After all, our interesting, relevant content MUST be as valuable to them as their other choices and obligations. It MUST be! What I take from the mentioned Emma Goldman’s quote is that writing content that is understandable, useful and meaningful is the opposite of, in her words, the violence we do when we spread ignorance by, in my words, writing only to sell or convince. Ignorance is spreading. Both writers of content and journalists tasked to inform democracies are under pressure to provide more and better content every day. This calls for continuing education.
Elbert Hubbard said “The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.” How do you think that applies to this subject?
Do you take time to reflect, recheck, research, and recreate yourself so as to be neither satisfied with your opinions nor content with your Content? Self-full and savvy, we smell selling and convincing and “not relevant to me” miles away, and opt out. This demand to continuously grow and learn suggests we consciously choose discomfort, dissonance, discovery, and release a comfortable facade of knowing and satisfaction. It’s what having sore muscles is to staying fit.
How do you choose what content’s most important?
The subject of whether and/or how what we write adds to ignorance is vital, not only to content marketing, but for all responsible scientific inquiry, informed civic deliberations and fair public judgments. Journalism changes our perception of the world and defines our moral experience. Ethical reasoning is required to make fair choices in a world of cultural differences, conflicting interests, and moral pluralism. Since postindustrial society runs on communication and information, we should be asking what’s our writing is putting in our tank.
Steven Ward in his “Invention of Journalism Ethics” writes, “Journalism at its worst, is the art of the demagogue and the despot. It is the propaganda tool of powerful interests that subvert popular self-governance by manipulating the channels of information… business overwhelms its (journalism) democratic function… using every cheap trick… jingoism, sensationalism and fear mongering.” Ward says that this choice is more than philosophical “Internationally, the performance of global news media directly influences public support for wars, human rights, famine relief, environmental treaties and the cessation of ethnic (and gender) conflict.”
Everything we write competes against the fact we appear to be ignorant about 300,000 children dying of preventable causes every year, that women in our world are, today, victims of culturally accepted ignorance like bride kidnapping, honor killing, acid attacks, genital mutilation, human trafficking (forced prostitution) and ritual servitude (slavery). Millions of women! Our mothers, sisters, daughters… On a moral level how do we write about anything else until that all ends?
How has this shown up in your career?
A favorite award received during my career, came when, while doing TV news “content”, I chose the issue surveyed by the local paper as being of most interest to the audience and thoroughly reported on it. Abracadabra, award!
If “The Awareness of the People is King” and we hear the call to be their content creators, where is our clear method for verifying what is “fact”? Where is our agreement on enforceable standards to help us decide what’s “responsible” to write? Certainly it’s not simply whatever sells?! At least let’s it discuss among ourselves.
In the spirit of Goodman’s quote you started with, like physicians, perhaps the best we can do is to do no violence. Does that imply content in which there is no us vs. them since that is clearly unconscious and subjective? Is it content aimed at expressing balance between head and heart triangulated with responsibly advancing public understanding? Is it content that arises from love and connection with its subject rather than from separation, cynicism or fear?
In his book Ward calls it Pragmatic Journalism, a new Global journalism ethic, which responds to the new forms, social trends and changes in the journalist-audience relationship. It sees all forms of journalism as interpretation.
Observing from the rim of a circle teaches that the reality of an object sitting at the center is different for every viewer. The power of the crowd, at its core is inclusion. With that mature, 360-degree perspective to interpret our modern complexity and dissonance, we can build a modern Content model that Illuminates and eases suffering, or at the very least, retards adding to fear-full ignorance.