By Andrew R. Duckworth
Armand sat at his neatly organized desk, pens in a jar and papers gathered in a small stack on the desk corner. On his pad were scribblings, notes taken from his last story submitted earlier in the day, the same story that Peter Vice wanted to speak with him about. It was his fifth news article for the Daily Dose of Truth and the thought of meeting with a superior, much less, senior editor, made him quake in his otherwise comfortable seat.
Vice walked up with a certain swagger, tall but with a lean and a smirk. He leaned against Armand’s desk, propping himself with his hand.
“So, Armand, there are a few things we have to discuss,” Vice said. “Your latest news story… eh, it’s not gonna work. Not at this network.”
“Well, if you don’t mind me asking,” Armand started, “what happens to be the issue, sir?”
“That’s what I’m here to discuss with you,” Vice said, glancing off at one of the many fluorescent lights. “Armand… you seem to be interested in… reporting the news, yes?”
“I’m a journalist, sir,” Armand answered. “It’s what we do.”
“Great!” Vice responded. “And that’s what we do here!… but… you see… the news doesn’t exactly sell anymore. It doesn’t generate revenue. No clicks, no likes, no shares, no subscription purchases. And, in order to get those purchases… well… let’s just say that sometimes the news requires a little tweak.”
“A tweak, sir?”
“Yeah! Just a tweak, nothing much. You see, it’s important to put in perspective. That’s what gains interest. If you put the news in a certain perspective, then you’ll get those views, those likes, generate that interest.”
“So, what would you suggest?”
“Well, we’ll start with your recent story,” Vice held up a printed off page and scanned through it. “Your story is a story about a celebrity treating the recent strain of Shepherd’s Flu with this rather long, laundry list of medications.”
“And that’s what happened,” Armand retorted.
“Oh, for sure! For sure!” Vice agreed. “But you noted that on their chatter page they listed 20 different medications. I think it’s safe if we cut that list down to one.”
“Yes, one,” Vice repeated. “You see, out of all of those medications, only one stood out. And, chances are, only one will stand out to readers too. You know which one I’m talking about?”
“Is it the aspirin?”
“The aspirin! Exactly! And, why might we say the aspirin?”
“Because the Drug Authorities specifically cited it as a useless medication against Shepherd’s Flu?”
“There ya go!” Vice said ecstatically. “You’re getting the hang of it!”
“But, Jason Rome did get better!” Armand said. “He recovered in a record two days!”
“Yes, but, you see, it sends the wrong message.”
“Not if we include the entire list.”
“Yes, even if we include the entire list,” Vice noted. “You see, the average reader doesn’t have time to sift through a million things. They barely have time to shove in their morning bagel and drink their coffee. And, let’s face it, who is going to read nowadays over coffee and bagel?”
“Is it not possible to do both, sir?” Armand questioned. “I mean, at the same time?”
“At the same time?” Vice nearly choked. “Armand, the average news consumer can barely walk and chew gum at the same time! We aren’t living in the 80’s or 90’s when things were sophisticated! People don’t sit outside coffee shops reading a morning paper anymore! Everyone has access to a cellphone and, if they can put a few words together themselves, they think they’re a sophisticated reader! There are a lot more people like that out in the world. They’re our target audience. And, if you want to reach them, you have to be aggressive!”
“So, how do we maintain integrity?” Armand asked. “It sounds a bit as if you’re saying we throw honesty out the window.”
“Armand, Armand, Armand,” Vice shook his head as he looked at the floor. “You can’t think like that. Why should honesty even be a question? Don’t think of it as being dishonest or honest. We craft the narrative. Whatever we say goes. When did you say you graduated?”
“Look journalism means-”
“Everything! I know! And just like a great many things, definitions evolve over time! We can’t be living in the past, can we?”
“But it shouldn’t-”
“Now, I had a few ideas for a title so I’ll run them by you,” Vice cut him off. “How about ‘Rome takes generic blood thinner to treat deadly pathogen’?”
“But that completely-”
“Or, how about ‘Washed-up former television host thinks he is a doctor’?”
“That’s even w-”
“Or, even better, ‘Jason Rome makes his fortune denying science’?”
“Isn’t this my-”
“Now, anyone of those will work” Vice said, “but it’s completely up to you! just make sure you stay aggressive!”
“Calm headlines don’t attract attention, do they?” Vice nudged. “Neither do calm news articles. People don’t care about soft or calm. They want angry and immediate! Nice doesn’t sell! Mad sells! Give people something to be angry about, and they’ll pay you for it!”
“And how do you not see that as a problem?” Armand asked.
“Easy,” Vice answered. “It’s not my job to see a problem. It is my job to help keep this network afloat. We have networks dropping left and right, victims of being too nice. Victims of their own ignorance of the average reader. We’re not about to suffer those same circumstances. Not this network.
“Now, make some changes and get that into me by the end of the day, got it?”
And it marked Armand’s last day as a writer for The Daily Dose of Truth… or any other publication for that matter. It was then that he realized that journalism had died along with the soul of the average news consumer.