Woke Journalism is Bad News

When journalism becomes activism, we're all screwed.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

Woke journalism is way worse than partisan reporting.

Is the news media partial to the left or not?

In my experience, I find the alleged leaning towards the political left amongst journalists to be accurate.

However, this only seems to be true when you see the news media as a macro phenomenon; as soon as you move in a little closer, there’s no telling what you might find.

All news organisations present news skewed by ideology, culture, formats, and profit demands.

Mass Media - Woke Journalism - Do Not Swallow
Image Credit: Allriot.

More journalists leaning towards the left is a statistical outcome, not a rule of thumb.

However, unlike many PR professionals, I don’t mind that most journalists lean towards the left.

I find it reassuring that journalists are relentlessly working to expose various elites.

Power and influence don’t make us evil by default, but strength amplifies the adverse effects of harmful behaviour. With limited journalistic resources, it makes sense to prioritise accordingly.

While I wouldn’t credit the left for being better storytellers, they statistically have better stories.

Ergo: I can live with a surplus of left-leaning journalists.

But there are also extremist varieties. From a news media perspective, one particularly hazardous persuasion is where journalism abandons stories about individuals on behalf of sweeping generalisations based on demographic affinity.

I’m talking about woke journalism.

“With an increase in social consciousness and a rise in the millennial culture of being ‘woke’, there has come an increase demand of political correctness especially in journalism. On one hand lies the decency of a report that gives journalists an authority to phrase their stories in an ethical way using political correctness. On the other hand, it does hinder honesty or true freedom of speech.”
Source: Political correctness: An obstacle for media?

When we filter news stories through ethnicity, group beliefs, sexual orientation, and ancient injustices, we get journalists promoting a mandatory disregard of objectivity on behalf of subjective interests.

Yes, woke culture and identity politics supporters will favour this reporting. This blatant disregard for the truth unites the leftist woke movement with their ideological counterparts—fascism and populism.

“On social media, the country seems to divide into two neat camps: Call them the woke and the resentful. Team Resentment is manned—pun very much intended—by people who are predominantly old and almost exclusively white. Team Woke is young, likely to be female, and predominantly black, brown, or Asian (though white “allies” do their dutiful part). These teams are roughly equal in number, and they disagree most vehemently, as well as most routinely, about the catchall known as political correctness. Reality is nothing like this. As scholars Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon argue in a report published Wednesday, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” most Americans don’t fit into either of these camps. They also share more common ground than the daily fights on social media might suggest—including a general aversion to PC culture.”
Source: Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture

Imagine being a medic arriving at a scene of a massive accident with lots of wounded people all around you.

Triage, the practice of medical priority, means that you won’t tend to those screaming the loudest first; they have enough energy and life spark to shout and make noise.

If saving lives is the medic’s priority, they should prioritise those who can’t even make noise to protect themselves.

If the medic, however well-intentioned or righteous, takes it upon themself to save people based on group identity, the whole medical system will quickly start to break down from within.

“We’ve been here before—on college campuses in the late 1960s, when student protesters occupied buildings, making demands for curricular and other changes, and administrators and prominent faculty members gave in across the board. The students at Columbia and Cornell were leading a revolution from the left, and the authorities who surrendered to them were liberals. The liberals folded because they were terrified of bad publicity, but also because they felt shamed by the moral purity, clarity, passion, and certainty of the young rebels. In all those respects, our newsroom revolutions are following the same script.”
Source: The woke revolution in American journalism has begun

It’s not a journalist’s job to protect and promote those who already have a voice and a platform. But woke journalism will always empower already strong voices over uncomfortable ones.

Suppose we allow the news media to become platform amplifiers instead of platform providers. In that case, we pave the way for censorship, cancel culture, propaganda, and damaging identity politics on both the far left and the far right of the spectrum.

The Spiral of Silence

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann - Spiral of Silence - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Professor Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916-2010).

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s well-documented theory on the spiral of silence (1974) explains why the fear of isolation due to peer exclusion will pressure publics to silence their opinions.

Rather than risking social isolation, many choose silence over expressing their true opinions.

“To the individual, not isolating himself is more important than his own judgement. […] This is the point where the individual is vulnerable; this is where social groups can punish him for failing to toe the line.”
— Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann

As the dominant coalition gets to stand unopposed, they push the confines of what’s acceptable down a narrower and narrower funnel (see also the opinion corridor).

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
— Noam Chomsky

Read also: The Spiral of Silence

I firmly believe we need journalism of the classical left, where the individual without a voice can speak truth to power.

We need objective and brave reporting in the face of severe repercussions from organised, established, and institutionalised elites. We need journalists who care more about the truth than political correctness.

In short: It makes sense for journalism to lean toward the left. But if that left also goes woke, journalism will cease to be journalism.

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

Additional Resource: The Culture War

How to Navigate the Culture War (and Avoid Cancel Culture)

Cancel culture can be a challenging PR problem:

“Cancel culture or call-out culture is a phrase contemporary to the late 2010s and early 2020s used to refer to a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles—whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those subject to this ostracism are said to have been ‘cancelled’.”
Source: Wikipedia 1Cancel culture. (2023, January 4). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancel_culture

Public opinion often forces brands to deplatform individuals, partner organisations, advertisers, collaborators, etc.

“Deplatforming, also known as no-platforming, has been defined as an ‘attempt to boycott a group or individual through removing the platforms (such as speaking venues or websites) used to share information or ideas, or “the action or practice of preventing someone holding views regarded as unacceptable or offensive from contributing to a forum or debate, especially by blocking them on a particular website’.”
Source: Wikipedia 2Deplatforming. (2023, January 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deplatforming

Here’s how to navigate the moral war as a business:

  • Avoid breezy grandstanding. CSR- and ESG activities should be laser-focused, clearly defined, and business relevant.
  • Internally, celebrate different thinking. Having coworkers who think differently is an asset to any business culture.
  • Don’t let the call-out culture intimidate you. Protesters are loud and noisy, primarily online, but they don’t have the numbers to match.
  • Focus your PR strategy on the silent majority. Most of your customer base will be in the silent majority, not in the extremes.

Read also: How To Navigate the Culture War

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Cancel culture. (2023, January 4). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancel_culture
2 Deplatforming. (2023, January 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deplatforming
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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