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A View On The Fake Blogpost: The Oversight Was That There Was No Oversight

In the quick-click age of digital journalism, comes a jolt of a reminder that truth and trust still count for something.

22/04/2017 14:13 SAST | Updated 24/04/2017 10:39 SAST

"We are fierce and fun," says the writing on the wall in the newsroom of the Huffington Post South Africa in Media Park, Johannesburg.

When I stood in front of the manifesto this week, with its keywords popping out in Huffington green, I thought to myself: what a fine ideal for a publication to have to live up to.

Most of the journalists I have known or been over the years have been grumpy, agitated, and stressed out to the point of hyperventilation.

Fierce, yes, when arguing about the proper placement of apostrophes; fun, yes, when we can finally, to use our most beloved catchphrase, put an issue to bed. And boy, do we have issues.

Gone are the days when we could proudly proclaim our place in society, as town-criers, crusaders, filters of insight and meaning from the chaos of the world. Now we are curators, facilitators, sentient channels for the transmutation of User-Generated Content into User-Generated Click-Click-Clicks.

Journalists speak a strange language these days. They talk of engagement and metrics, they use social as a verb. "Let's social the hell out of this post."

Last weekend, when the HuffPost SA socialled the hell out of a post by a man pretending to be a woman pretending to want to strip white men of the vote, it wasn't a mark of the failure of a system of editorial oversight. Because the oversight was that there was no oversight: the system was primed to crash, like a self-driving car speeding towards a wall with its governors removed.

How can it be fierce and fun, how can media workers fulfil their mission of "shining light on truth and exposing absurdities and lies", to go back to the HuffPost SA manifesto for a moment, when they are effectively left to their own devices in a newsroom where the traditional support structures of check and double-check, balance and counterbalance, appear to have been sacrificed in a favour of a streamlined digital flow?

Newsrooms are supposed to function on redundancy; what one editor misses or overlooks, the next editor will pick up, sometimes on gut-feel and instinct alone. Now they malfunction because of redundancy, because nobody wants to squander their human resources on pernickety copy-tasters and sub-editors and accuracy-prefects anymore.

To bleat about this is to risk sounding like a meter-taxi driver, waiting on the kerbside, wondering why nobody wants to hitch a ride in their battered old machine as the Ubers rush on by. This is the Age of Post-Journalism. Traffic, not content, is king.

Which is why that weekend post, like hundreds before it, went live in just two swoops, from intern to blog editor to the Voices section - or "vertical", in digital-journo-speak - of the HuffPost SA , and it's not as if there wasn't a global precedent for the speediness of the transaction.

The American mothership of the HuffPost allows bloggers to upload and be damned, without any editorial intervention or policing, and that too is a fine ideal in the Land of the Free.

Why shouldn't we, with our cherished Section 16 of the Bill of Rights – "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression" - follow that model too? Why shouldn't there be a free-for-all on unsolicited thought and opinion?

Why can't we, after all these years, learn to tolerate or ignore the agit-crackpots, the logical fallacists, the stirrers and the shakers, as much as we put up with the media houses who dispatch their reporters to enable the delusions of Hlaudi Motsoeneng?

The answer, in a world aflood with fake news and fake views, is that truth and trust still count for something. We can't trust politicians, we can't trust big business, we can't trust the Kardashian who handed a Pepsi cola to the cop.

But we can and must trust the media, because we - all of us who tweet and Facebook and WhatsApp and Instagram and blog - are the media of the modern age, and the oversight is on us. We are the watchers, the clicktatorship of the proletariat. We hold the ultimate power: to click or not to click.

Slow down a little, HuffPost. Pause, ponder, reflect. Question fiercely everything you upload. Is it true? Is it good? Is it worth the rush? The world will still be here tomorrow, and there will still be time, in-between the page-views and the engagements, to be social and have fun.

Gus Silber is an award-winning journalist, editor, speechwriter and author, with a special interest in social entrepreneurship.

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