Wednesday, October 5

goodbye to feedback

“Living effectively means having the right information”

Norbert Wiener

This summer marks the 39th anniversary of the day I stood before a microphone for the first time, which, it must be said, belonged to SER. The memory is pleasant, but also pertinent because many things have changed since then. I am going to focus on one of them, which was none other than the solitude of the sender. In those years and, until much later, standing in front of a microphone or writing in a diary or, even more, standing in front of a camera, was an exercise in absolute solitude since we were never given to know if there was someone on the other side or who. there was or how was the one that was there. It was an exercise in imagination rather than faith, since we knew that our readers or listeners were there — sales or global data proved it — but they had no name or face, nor did they take any other form than that of the entelechy of what the studios, which not all media could afford, told us about what they were like.

That was the reason why we opened the telephones to the calls of the listeners, crossing our fingers so that they were not the usual ones, the landlines, the subscribers or that one of the bizarre crazy people who were never lacking around the media did not enter. Or we eagerly awaited the letters to the editor, which almost always spoke of the readers’ own problems, and more rarely commented perhaps on an article or a specific report that they had liked or that they wanted to correct. Those were the times when the discussion about what was important to give or what deserved more space or what should be left out had a lot of theoretical debate that took place in, sometimes, heated debates in content meetings. In the end, some criteria prevailed over others, but these were hardly the ones coming from the potential recipients since that return line was weak and little used.

That return line, of communication feedback, was technically called feedback and it was formulated at the end of World War II by Norbert Wiener who thus came to perfect the first scheme of the communication process that Shanon and Veawer had established, which only contemplated a unilateral emission towards the receiver. Well, these are little things that we studied in General Information Theory, thus understanding all the theories of mass communication established by various authors. Perhaps that is the reason why we do not swallow these manipulative attempts to make it appear that the theory of the hypodermic needle or the magic bullet – which advocated a direct relationship between the media’s message and the public’s reaction – are real and do they work. No, neither one medium nor two nor three can get a mass of receivers to react in the way they want… or voters. That is false.

What was I going to. The concept of feedback also changed substantially with the arrival of social networks. Three decades ago, driven by this emotion, many journalists immersed ourselves in them looking for that legitimate return on the part of the audience about our work. At first it worked. They were not massive, but they brought feedback and that was interesting. The programs of all the media began to put labels to comment on their contents and, as they went along, they were taking advantage of that return to modulate the times or the interest of the topics. That doesn’t work anymore. The conversion of social networks into a veritable quagmire, into a communication dump, has killed the interest they had gained in the communication process.

Quite the contrary, the networks have become true sources of pressure, often modulated and directed, even falsified by the use of false accounts and bots and, for this reason, a reason for dysfunction of the communication process and of the journalist’s own work. . That means that, to date, every thoughtful journalist has already realized that maintaining their independence of opinion inevitably involves modulating the scope of that feedback Or even protect yourself from it. It’s not that I know it just from experience or because we talked about it among ourselves, but I invite you to check how many real interactions in response to those feedback comments you see online lately. You will see that very few. We journalists, who know a lot about determining where pressures come from and trying to avoid them, have already detected this false feedback process as an unacceptable form of pressure.

I advise you not to believe those who try to convince you that a black hand or the owners of the media force us to express certain opinions or carry out certain jobs. In the case of opinion, I already tell you that it is not like that. Ever since I’ve been on talk shows and writing opinion columns, I swear no one, no one, has even tried to tell me what position I should take on any issue. No one. Never. It is true that there may be those who decide to do without you if they do not like your position —so far it has only happened to me with Telemadrid de Ayuso and Vox— but since there is plurality, what for some is reason for execution is liquid gold for others. Nothing happens. Regarding the comrades who provide information, don’t lie to them either, people are very dignified and journalism has various means at its disposal such as the withdrawal of signature, the clause of conscience —enshrined in the Constitution— or the secrecy of sources, to enable you to maintain professional dignity.

Of course there are pressures. They come from outside, from politics, from advertisers, from the powers that be but, of course, they are not insurmountable. Moreover, in most cases in professional media it is the media directors who act as a cushion between the pressures and the informant or opinion firm. I think they don’t even tell us half of what’s going on so we don’t feel pressured. At least I didn’t when I was director. I will also tell you a secret: a journalist is never freer than when his media outlet earns a lot of money. A solvent media can surf with good rudder the pressures that are consubstantial to the nature of society and the human. A medium with economic problems is fodder for those who offer to support it in exchange for non-confessable things.

What about the dump of insults, threats, stupid campaigns that seek to boycott one or the other that are produced on the networks? Well, they threaten to drown us without any mattress to protect us. Since we are not completely stupid, we know that such actions are only intended to condition us or our media so that we do not issue opinions or give information that annoys a sector of the public (normally a staunch supporter of some political or social option that claims to have a non-existent right not to have opinions that do not coincide with theirs not issued). What does a journalist or commentator have to do when they verify that there are actions aimed at conditioning their work? I tell you: protect yourself from those pressures wherever they come from.

That is the reason why more and more media professionals are stopping reading what is written about their work. We would be delighted to see other points of view or even to reflect on other approaches or on intellectual debates that arise, but it is definitely not the majority case. So, although many do not know it, for the most part we have been activating the restrictions on notifications and mentions in our networks and, basically, we do not spend much time to see what is said about us in them. It is necessary to be able to give quality work to recipients who seek it. We are not going to be as exhaustive as Faulkner was when he said: “I am too busy writing to take care of the readers”; but yes, he would take the phrase that “no honest work is easy”. Neither does ours and maybe that’s why we love it.