Good Journalism Is Like a Science: It Tries to Disprove Its Hypotheses
What happens to a nation that only reads headlines? They get journalists who chase clicks, rather than facts.
Matthew Hiltzik is the president and CEO of Hiltzik Strategies, a highly regarded strategic communications and consulting firm with offices in Manhattan and LA. He has worked closely with industry leaders in film, finance, sports, philanthropy, tech, music and entertainment and public affairs.
As an attorney as well as a documentary producer, Matthew has enjoyed a fascinating career as the quintessential “guy” behind the guy (or the woman). He often does his best work in ways that are invisible to the public (though not necessarily journalists) but appreciated by his clients. After graduating from Cornell and Fordham Law School, Matthew began his career in politics as press secretary and deputy executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee. From there, he moved to Hollywood, as the head of corporate communications for Miramax Films while serving as a spokesman and advisor to Harvey Weinstein. In 2005, Matthew left Miramax to become President and CEO of the U.S. office of the U.K based publicity firm Freud Communications before founding Hiltzik Strategies in 2008.
Biography courtesy of The Sunday Long Read.
Matthew Hiltzik: It's unfortunate when anybody, not just the journalists, determines a storyline before they actually consider all the facts. The only time that it's good to have an ending and work backwards is if you're writing a screenplay or a book. Or maybe a poem or something similar to that.
In general it's much better—if you're in a journalistic environment—to be able to make sure that you actually are considering all the facts, and very often some of the best stories and the best reporting comes where the actual facts don't jive with what the original hypothesis was, because it actually can be more revelatory, it can be more insightful, it can be deeper and it can be more impactful if you're not going with the conventional wisdom.
That's especially bad in our environment when you have reporters who are writing about similar topics and trying to find some new way to be able to discuss the same thing that we hear over and over and over again.
One of my pet peeves is the fact that you have this tendency, and I won't point fingers at that specifically who, but in general it's too frequent that outlets and individuals are pressured to focus on the quantity of the stories that they're writing as opposed to necessarily the quality; because it really hurts themselves and it hurts the perception.
When you're looking at reporting on really serious issues, whether it be in government or local issues or energy or education or any of the things that really are very—foreign policy—that matter in our world, it's really unfortunate if you have someone who feels the need for click-bait or for other reasons to do ten stories on something when two or three of them were actually really strong, excellent reporting, but the public sort of tired of them because if they weren't the first or the second or the third and maybe they were the 68th and the 10th, by the time they get to those they're tired of the subject, they're less likely to read it and it won't have as much of an impact. There's a fatigue about subjects and I think that there's less of an understanding in the media about how damaging that potentially can be when they're dealing with serious subjects. Because they talk about them too many times; the minutia of every single tree being discussed instead of the actual impact of the forest can actually be very damaging.
Our world moves very quickly. The instant gratification is there. Anybody who has children sees the way that they're used to a world where they can have information or gratification in the form of games or purchasing things online or whatever it might be, at the touch of a button. It's much faster and so people have those expectations. If you think about how long dial-up used to be when you would go online and the patience you would have to have and if someone told you that you were going to wait 10 or 20 seconds now before everything was going to work then, that was fantastic, because you had cut it down from maybe a minute or longer, and now people expect it to be instantaneous; you see ads that are focused on the fastest speed, and the differences between a lot of them are ones that regular human beings cannot notice at all.However, being fastest and best and first is something that's critical.
And I respect that. I understand the competitive nature of things, I understand why reporters who put a lot of time into it who may get shafted by somebody then trying to jump ahead in line by just throwing up something right before, but I still believe that there is a place for the longer, more in-depth insightful pieces.
And then you could have the short-form analysis, and you can have the response and you can have the explanation and you can have the feedback on that. But I still believe that it's important to give time. And the truth is, there is short-form that can also be very substantive. I believe it can come in all forms. A sound-byte may be very effective because it may be very insightful into someone's feelings about something, it could tell a real story in itself. So I don't think it's one or the other, I just think there needs to be more of a responsibility about both.
What is good journalism? For one thing, says PR strategist Matthew Hiltzik, it's responsible and it doesn't play into our cravings for instant gratification. When Hiltzik visited our video studio, he remarked that attention has become the currency of the digital publishing world. In order to keep site traffic peaking, some sites may prioritize the quantity of stories being published over their quality. The side effect? Reader fatigue. "I think that there's less of an understanding in the media about how damaging that potentially can be when they're dealing with serious subjects. Because they talk about them too many times. The minutia of every single tree being discussed instead of the actual impact of the forest can actually be very damaging," says Hiltzik.
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The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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