Writing the news we want to be true, or writing the news that is
Many of us are concerned about Tibet, China's control over that country, the many Tibetans killed by the Chinese government, the exile of Tibets government, the usurpation of Tibetan Buddhism by China and so forth. So when a friend pointed me at a News article titled "China agrees to give Tibet back to the Tibetans" which started off by saying that "In an unprecedented announcement, President Hu Jintao of the Peoples Republic of China has announced the long-desired return of the land of Tibet to its indigenous people," well, I was kind of ecstatic. Reading down the article said he had agreed to return the land to its people, free the Panchen Lama, and a bunch of other things including ending the practice of harvesting organs from prisoners.
Sounded cool but it started to sound like a hoax. Heading over to Google News I see this article over there, but all the rest of the Tibet articles talk about a wave of self immolations, recriminations against China over the immolations, and other violence by China against Tibet.
Obviously the guy who wrote the article was pulling an Yes-Men-esque stunt on the rest of us. He was writing the news that we want to be true, and doing it so well that a lot of people are falling for it.
As of this writing the article has over 10,000 page views, over 2000 likes onto Facebook, almost 140 tweets, etc. Clearly it's catching the imaginations of a lot of people.
I mentioned the Yes Men because of some stunts they've pulled. Their an activist group whose schtick is to stage fake news, the sort of news we want to be true. The biggest stunt they pulled was to arrange to be interviewed by the BBC posing as representatives of Union Carbide and apologizing for the Bhopal disaster, and promising to pay reparations. In case you don't know about that event - the disaster was a chemical plant explosion in India that killed and poisoned a bunch of people in India. Union Carbide has denied responsibility and refused to pay anything (so far as I remember), so what they did was concoct the sort of news we want to see happen. Namely, a large company actually taking responsibility for their misdeeds.
In this case the target is China and Tibet, but we have the same pattern.
In the Transition Town movement there's a process we call "back-casting" where we create a picture/story/etc of where we want to be and project that backwards to find out how we get there. One of the ways some Transition groups have approached it is to publish fake newspapers containing the stories we want to be true.
But - is it appropriate for The News?
The story was published on AllVoices.com, a citizen journalism website. Anybody can sign up for the site to write articles and earn money. It's real easy to sign up - I just went through the process and got signed up in about 30 minutes. It appears to be a small website still with not many people writing on the site. Their pay structure appears to be pretty good. etc..
But the point of mentioning this is that the people on the site aren't always gonna be proper journalists with proper journalist ethics. In this case the guy obviously wasn't interested in posting Real News but instead News That We Want to be True. But because AllVoices is hooked up with Google News as a News Source, the article can be found (right now) as a news story on Google News amongst all the stories of bloodshed in Tibet.
The stories we see in a place like Google News obviously should be true. We want places like Google News to contain Real News. The reason is so that we can interpret the world as it is with the benefit of accurate information about the world which exists.
Real Journalism ideally focuses on Real News. This is completely distinct from the News That We Want To Be True sort of story as this one about Tibet. Fortunately AllVoices has policies saying that News That We Want To Be True (or any other sort of false news report) violates the policies of AllVoices, will be removed, the author will lose out on earning any money from pieces that violate policies, etc.
Maybe there should be a place to publish News That We Want To Be True. There are places which publish Hoax News such as The Onion (an utterly fine publication), for example. Hurm. We just have to make sure we don't pollute Real News with News That We Want To Be True ... right?