Brexit, Trump’s election and Corbyn’s surge seemed to have caught the whole world napping. Surprises in themselves are not new, but the gulf between the unfolding of history and the mainstream news media’s reporting on those same events, grows wider. And yet, the hegemony of neoliberalism is not under threat, merely the new right has become a broken mirror of the liberal left; filter bubbles rather re-vitalise neoliberalism.
Yet, the response from traditional journalists, think-tanks and scholars is not to recognise that the former dominant insularity of the liberal mainstream was actually part of the angry engine that propelled Trump into the White House, the mistake is to see the product as toxic and not the journalism.
Hence the moral panic over ‘fake news’ and the rush to set up a ‘fact-checking’ industry merely reinforces the old paradigm of left liberal news promoting an ‘unbiased’ journalism that seeks and finds the truth about events, rather than being honest about its business as one built upon a shifting mix of opinion, speculation and propaganda.
Meanwhile, the old models of agenda-setting and media bias, are the zombies which haunt media studies, being forced to fit into yet another broken imaginary of media, of binaries of mainstream/alternative content providers. Rather, bots are the new bias, the machinic and the human working in consort to push individuals further down rabbit holes.
This new paradigm of broken media requires a radicalised imagination of the individual as a centre of their own media ecologies. This is a post-trust era of devalued journalism and of the historic principles of truth-seeking, with an array of emergent forms of human and non-human legitimizations of opinion. This is an era of multiple and connected yet containing media ecologies of self, where one person’s Facebook, 4chan or Google is different to the next; ‘news’ is where the algorithm takes you.
Post-trust is the primary motivator for reception and engagement, forged through repetition, remediation, endorsement and a disruption of the legitimacy of countervailing views, within paradoxically individualised but hyperconnected media ecologies. Media bias has come out of the shadows and is now the de rigueur of the mainstream right.
Our broken media projects interrogate the downfall of the previously dominant Western news media ecology and the emergence of a series of co-existing, blinkered and self-fulfilling media imaginaries. Fact-checking won’t save journalism, but a radical lens on the new post-trust order just might.
Catherine Happer is Lecturer in Sociology and a member of the Glasgow University Media Group. She is co-author of Communicating Climate Change and Energy Security: New Methods for Understanding Audiences (Routledge 2013) and has been published in international journals including European Journal of Communications and New Political Economy. In 2015, she collaborated with Chatham House on a major international study, has given evidence at the House of Commons Select Committee on Climate, Policy and Public Understanding, and appeared on the BBC and Al Jazeera. She was previously a Factual programme-maker with the BBC.
Andrew Hoskins is Interdisciplinary Research Professor in Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow. His latest books are Digital Memory Studies: Media Pasts in Transition (ed. 2017, Routledge) and (with John Tulloch): Risk and Hyperconnectivity: Media and Memories of Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, 2016). He is founding Editor-in-Chief of the Sage journal of Memory Studies, founding Co-Editor of the Palgrave Macmillan book series Memory Studies and founding Co-Editor of the Routledge book series Media, War & Security.