Who needs tough questions when you have likes?

By Joe Coffey | The Fifth Estate

When your grandmother says “Well, you know what they say,” I doubt that you stop her, mid-witticism, and demand that she expand upon who, exactly, “they” are.

When you hear the promo voice guy on the radio say, “Cedar Rapids’ number one station for new country,” I doubt you call the station up to ask which ratings company provided the data, and which ratings period they’re referring to.

When you see a local medical entity touting its “Best in ____” claim, I doubt if you do research on who exactly said they’re the best and whether the victorious claim involved some kind of exchange of money.

After all, did we take it upon ourselves to get more info on the “nine out of 10 dentists” who favored that toothpaste? No need. That whole thing was legit.

Did we look into the criteria for what exactly constitutes a healthy bowl of cereal? Why go through the trouble? That brand’s bowl was firmly placed in the center of that massive buffet table and the voice told us it was “part of this balanced nutritious breakfast.”

We don’t have time to suss things out, anyway. When a station says, “Your 24-hour news source,” over and over again, just trust them. Surely that means the station’s news team has multiple journalists on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Supporting one’s claims simply up takes too much time. It drains the Tweet character count and our attention spans. Why attribute something with, “According to this 20-hour old Iowa City Police Department press release that wasn’t followed up with a call and further questions,” when all the news presenter has to say is “Police say…”? Even better, make it official sounding – just say “Officials say…”.

Aren’t we all “sources who wish to remain anonymous”? We get it. The phrase isn’t even necessary anymore.

That’s why we’re just fine with, “A new study shows that…”. Just get to the point. We don’t need to know which university was involved, and whether or not the research was actually published by a peer-reviewed journal of repute – let alone duplicated with a comparable sample size that replicated the findings. Forget about explaining methodology – we don’t even care if the research was qualitative-based, conducted by an undergrad or how any of that stuff really works anyway.

Give us the snappy headline that “something that used to be bad is now good” (or vice versa) and we’re all ears. We’ll even share the link and amplify a vague recap to whoever is scrolling aimlessly on Facebook that day.

Did you see how many likes that share got? And look at how many people commented on it before sharing it themselves. Now we’re talking.

That’s how we know something’s important or trustworthy – engagement.

We have no idea who HawkFan321 is but wow, look at his glowing endorsement! In fact, that thing has mostly four-star ratings, so it has got to be good. Just one click and the transaction is complete – the product will arrive in the mail tomorrow. Progress!

If it works so well in retail, why not skip the constant declarations of verification and attribution in journalism, too? Just cut to the chase. Anyway, we’ve all heard about the fact-checking departments at the New Yorker and the New York Times, so obviously that means our local media entities have full-time fact-checkers, too.

So, just state things as facts and give them to us whenever and wherever we go online. We know what we’re doing as media consumers –we’re not idiots. We trust our trusted sources. After all, the cookies and algorithms that determine our search results and suggested videos know us better than anything else. They know what we want to see and that, of course, has more to do with truth than anything else. People won’t click on things that are patently bogus. False information can’t survive in the system we have now.

That’s what they say, anyway.

Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator, and marketer in the Corridor.