Living in a post factual World: the challenges for media and citizens of a democracy

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Updated October 1, 2017.

In the book, The Nightmare Years 1930-1941, , William L. Shirer chronicled the rise to power of the National Socialist movement in Germany. Shirer was there, at the dinners with Goring, Himmler, and Hitler, and Charles Lindbergh. Shirer witnessed Charles Lindbergh, the famous flier, being fed lies that showed a strong German war machine, when, much of it was a fabrication. Lindbergh was championing the America First movement, prior to WW2. In November, 79 percent of Americans, prior to Pearl Harbor, wanted nothing to do with the European war. Shirer's columns on the rising threat in Europe were read across the Unites States by a public still recovering from the scars of WW1, and mass Depression.

I feel that we are reliving those crazy, challenging times, when leaders exchange bravado for real actions, and partisanship is rampant. With major media groups such as Facebook and Twitter, putting their heads in the sand, not accepting how much lying (that is what non factual news is) can stir up people who see content that support their baser feelings and take it for reality. The lack of overview of social media has allowed many less than benign groups, and perhaps, countries, influence much of what many of us read each and every day.

My biggest question is, didn't anyone listen in history class when you were taught about contemporary sources and how difficult they were to determine their veracity? I guess not.

While there was not social media in the 1930s-1940s, the role of media is even more important now. Allowing non-factual stories, from either political spectrum, is wrong. And trying to stop speakers, whether, they are right, left or center totally shows an absolute ignorance of our Constitution, where we are to protect the rights of people to speak, especially when it upsets us so much that we want to throw things at them. Consider what our forefathers, imperfect white males (some yes, who owned slaves), to say the least, were trying to do.

Are we living up to the gift we have in this country? I think not.

After the last week we have had, I thought it might be good to re consider. I am not trying to push an agenda, I believe that we must, in a democracy, make difficult decisions. But, we must rely on facts, which, if one takes some time to truly consider, can be found, even today.

Originally posted January 22, 2017.

I just wrote this piece for my Linked-In site. I thought you might want to read it.

IMG_4746.JPGLarry Eder and Brian Eder, day before Rio Olympics, photo by Victah Sailer/PhotoRun.net

I have been in the media world for nearly four decades. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some of the finest writers, photographers and videographers in the sports media world. I can honestly say that, around the world, there are high quality journalists, who want to tell the truth, and who do tell the truth. There are also some, who get, how shall I say, carried away in the heat of the moment, and forget what their responsibility is to their readers and to themselves. The late Bert Rosenthal taught me a great lesson on doing interviews. His comment was, " If I interview with you, you have one chance to lie, and it better be a good one, because you lie to me, I know that you are a liar."

The late James Dunaway, one of my largest influences, told me stories about working for ad agencies, and then freelancing for six decades. James edited me for fifteen years. It was not a pretty process, but I learnt to write simply and honestly. I learnt to check, and recheck sources. I never thanked him enough. I wish I had one more time to drink and learn from James. I miss him very much.

We are in a revolutionary time in media. Advertising dollars have left much of traditional media, and money for fact checkers, proof readers and investigative reporters is not what it used to be. Facebook is not media, it is entertainment. Facebook gives the reader what they want to read or hear, it does not challenge them. Until Facebook takes true responsibility for its content, until it stands up for what is honest and what is not, it besmirches the notion of free and honest media. Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat are wonderful social media applications, however, both consumer and media worlds are confused. What is real and what is not?

I have covered nine Olympic Games and fifteen World Championships. I have enjoyed each and everyone of those events. Interesting note, before each and every Olympics, I have read, in regular media and in sports media as well, how the Olympics would a) never be completed, b) there would be repercussions, for public, for athletes. And, in the end, all of them were completed, with all of the human frailties shown.

Humans are imperfect beings. Sports are nearly a modern religion. Olympics are a religion. After World War 2, the 1948 Olympics were a godsend. Newspapers and film reels carried stories on of Bob Mathias, the nineteen year old decathlon champ and Fanny Blankers-Koen, the Dutch housewife who shocked and entertained the crowd with her multiple Olympic medals. Then there was the amazing run of Henry Eriksson. Henry Eriksson, of Sweden won the gold medal in the 1,500 meters, in the cold and rain that day, when any of three Swedes could have won the 1,500 meter final. The theatrics of that final, the multiple changes in the lead is part of what makes sport so wonderfully exciting.

Modern politics are acerbated by social media that makes money whether content is true of false. Much of the content is incendiary. But, politics was incendiary one hundred and fifty years ago. Don't believe me? Just go and read contempory accouts of Abraham Lincoln.

Such was the situation in both Brexit and recent U.S election. Outright lies abounded on both sides of the political spectrum. Social media was not a help, but a hindrance. Social media, in its most inflammatory form, only shows readers like minded content, whether it is true or false. Don't get me wrong, in both Brexit and with Mr. Trump, there was a long, simmering frustration by majorities in both countries that were capitalized on by the winning sides. That's politics.

Modern sports has similar issues. Doping in sports has been part of the sporting scene since the Ancient Olympics. In the 1904 Olympics, several of the top finishers were given a combination of strychnine and egg whites, at 22 plus miles, to help them finish in the heat and humidity of Saint Louis. The actual winner, Thomas Hicks, was given strychnine and eggs twice, plus brandy once, before he finished the race. He was in terrible shape, as officials had restricted liquids during the marathon, to see how it affected the athletes.

Today, modern sports is rife with doping. It seems to me, however, that the IAAF, tracks governing body, the imperfect body that governs athletics, is trying to battle doping with its battle with the Russian Athletic Federation and the IOC. This may be our last chance to control doping in sports. I pray for their success. I also pray that the IOC pulls its proverbial head out of its backside, and stops compromising the Olympic movements' future.

Today, I cover thirty-five to forty events a year. We do them live, via Facebook, twitter, Instagram as well as pre- and post-race comments on the events. We also use video, thanks to our partnership with The Shoe Addicts. Video has become a strong part of our story-telling. At the end of the day, we are story tellers, and the platforms provide us additional tools to tell our stories better. All of our stories are available, whether video, content, photo assets, audio via mobile. Mobile is king in this day and age, but websites, blogs and social media are key communication tools.

James Dunaway always reminded me that we were story tellers. I never got it until the past few years. Our only way to survive in the modern media world is to focus on the story telling. How did I learn to tell the stories of sport better? Writing daily on a blog, RunBlogRun, for the past decade. Writing, like running, fishing and painting, three of my other favorite activities, gets better with practice.

In a time when we need honest media more than any time in recent history, we have belittled its value. I am still trying to find out how to make those media platforms work together to entertain and educate our readers.

Let me know if you have suggestions or observations on how to make athletics media work in this modern post factual world.

Until then, I will continue my athletic pilgrimage.

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