Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. I’m not sure if that’s true yet – but in the era of Twitter and Facebook, something else is beginning to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy: that everyone is becoming a journalist.
Think about it. We are living in the Age of Information, and information is our most readily-available and widely-consumed drug. Thanks to social media, it takes just seconds to assimilate new ideas from the cosmos and disseminate them to our friends and followers. Indeed, last year, research from Pew showed that two-thirds of American adults get their news from social media.
Unlike traditional journalism, reposting something onto your wall or timeline doesn’t require any training, copy editing or verification. So you can imagine how that has impacted my job – having worked as a qualified broadcast journalist for twelve years, for organisations including CNN, Sky News and the BBC. From day one of journalism school, I had been taught the imperative value of tenets such as accuracy, impartiality and the right-of-reply of your subject matter. Back then we didn’t have concepts like stories going viral, or anything close to as immediate an assessment of current popular opinion.
But how times have changed.
Now all it takes is 280 characters from a man in Washington to upend the entire news agenda as we know it.
And if he can do that – why can’t we?
When President Trump tweets – or indeed when other influential public figures (like Roseanne Barr or Peter Fonda) – it can often be a filter-free expression of what is on their minds at that moment in time. Gone are the carefully scripted press releases or statements programmed into an autocue. When it comes to social media, the facts may often have to wait.
And if those in positions of power chose to abuse their voices, then we begin to have a serious problem… one that I felt needed to be redressed.
That is why I wrote “Fake News”, the one-man show I am performing at the King’s Head Theatre on July the 7th and 8th: because I had no other choice.
Right now, the leader of the free world is attacking the free press in a way that has never been seen before. And unfortunately, that sort of attitude filters down quickly.
As a journalist, I’m hearing the words “fake news” a lot these days. If it isn’t from Mister Trump, it will be from people at dinner parties or on social media. Liberal, educated people, sometimes, who might think they’re being funny or ironic - but for whom a dangerous precedent has been set.
I have people come up to me all the time and say, “hasn’t the news always been fake?” “Don’t you just want to sell papers?” Or “aren’t you told what to write?” Some people genuinely believe I’m part of some cult, manipulating the truth for the sake of power and profit.
But I know none of that is true, and I want this show to prove that once and for all.
Journalists are simply ordinary people, doing the best they can with the often-limited resources available. There is no higher power or conspiracy at play. My job would have been a lot easier over the years if there had been.
Having retrained as an actor with a penchant for writing, telling this story at a venue like the King’s Head was too good an opportunity to ignore. Because it is a story that resonates so deeply with so many of us now, who, like it or not, are indeed "journalists" too. Whatever your thoughts on the news, we are all now part of its ever-evolving narrative.
And that's why this is a tale that you won’t want to miss.
Yes. There are stories that out there that are indeed “fake news”. But the only one you’re getting from me will be on a stage.
Written and performed by Osman Baig
Kings Head Theatre,
115 Upper St, Islington
7 and 8 July 6.30pm
Part of Playmill Festival
@ June 2018 London Pub Theatres Magazine
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