This interview with Ben Huh, the founder of the site that made cat memes famous, is over five years old but relevant today. People crave a viewpoint and personality. News organizations that sterilize their presentation of facts lack the color necessary to get attention in an ever more crowded market.
Is it possible to communicate the facts of a story in a balanced way without sacrificing your voice? Ben Huh thinks so and
I think — among entrepreneurs, too — there’s an idealistic notion that there is a truth, a singular one truth. Among journalists, there is “the truth,” slightly liberal, slightly populist, but most of the time it’s “We’re the truth.” If you ask the people who watch Fox News who is credible, they’ll tell you Bill O’Reilly is credible. Maybe I disagree. Maybe I believe that he stretches truths a lot, but the fact of the matter is, it’s human biology to seek out shared perspective.
Creating a singular measure of credibility is a slippery slope to censorship. Like, “Oh, these people are not credible, so maybe we should all act in concert to not print their things,” or discard them. The world’s greatest ideas come from the crazies, the people on the fringe. For a while, they’re not credible, but then one day they are. So that’s a very, very dangerous idea. It smacks of centralized mind-control to me. And I’m probably extrapolating from what he’s saying really to the extreme, and I’m sure there are good ideas, but a universal credibility measure? Even if they could create such a thing, why would you? It’s very Orwellian. I don’t like that idea at all.
Facts are very important. Facts are absolutely important. What society’s gotten really good at — we’re actually really good at the facts. What we’re really bad at is the dissemination of value-added interpretation of the facts.
If you look at great journalists, it’s not because they were able to convey the facts, it’s because they were able to convey part of the emotion on the things that are subjective to the right audience. Like Anderson Cooper down in New Orleans. That was his break-out moment and he was like, “this is B.S.” He kind of went off the rails a little bit, and became a guy who decided that he was a guy who was going to say what he wanted to say. I want more of that in journalism. It’s a very, very dangerous tool, because it’s a tool of emotion but I think we are lacking that. I think journalism became very sterile.
This thing called objectivity is B.S. We are being subjective merely by deciding what to cover and what we decide not to cover. I don’t like the term “partisan papers,” but I’m okay with the idea of more differentiated perspectives.