The new churnalism
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A colleague from a TV news network was telling me the other day that its informal slogan was now "Never wrong for long." News goes on air as it emerges in a furious competitive scramble, and then if it proves inaccurate it is supplanted rather than corrected. That, I guess, is what is meant by the new "churnalism." So intense is the churn that nothing has much weight. Accuracy sometimes seems a quaint journalistic concept. As for truth, it belongs to a distinct moral universe.
On the 11th anniversary of 9/11 the Middle East has erupted, driven by a meme — one of those notions that spreads across the new media ecosystem at lightning speed once a spark has been provided, in this case a pitiful porn-like trailer for a movie in which the Prophet Mohammed appears as a highly sexed buffoon. The movie was initially attributed to a Jew who proved not to exist although he had given interviews to The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal. It was later found to be the work of right-wing Christians in California, one a convicted felon. They were aided by a member of the Coptic diaspora in Washington who managed to propel a clip onto a popular Salafist TV station in Cairo, setting off riots across the Islamic world that drove up the clicks for the trailer on YouTube. Suddenly Innocence of Muslims was trending.
The whole thing sounds like a bad churnalistic joke. But of course people are dead and the least funny aspect is this really is the world we live in. In a hyperconnected world possibilities increase for a minority of extremists to manipulate the moderate middle: Look at what a handful of idiots in California helped ignite.
But memes don't just happen through curious symbiosis. As Evgeny Morozov, the author of The Net Delusion, told me, "It's not necessarily true that memes are born rather than made." In this case, a ferociously anti-Islamic Copt named Morris Sadek laboured hard to interest an Egyptian journalist in the movie; only then did the infernal cascade begin.
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