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The Devil Plaguing Journalism

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Devil’s Advocate: “Whenever nine people looking at the same information come to the same conclusion, it’s the 10th’s duty to disagree and actively look for evidence to the contrary.”

This policy from the movie World War Z explains why Israel was more or less ready for the zombie apocalypse. When properly utilized, one lucky contrarian gets to plan for something that should not and can not happen. (Israel is believed to have such a policy by another name as a result of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.)

Think how different the business world would be if a Devil’s Advocate strategy had been employed by companies taken down by upstart competitors. Would Microsoft have defeated IBM in the world of personal computer operating systems? Would Netflix have dismembered Blockbuster? Would Google have vanquished Yahoo? Most importantly to us: Would newspapers have been virtually defeated by the Internet?

I would have done well in World War Z as the 10th man out, because for better or worse, my personality is contrarian even combative by nature. I often take the less popular, opposite side of an argument just for fun. While I am not, thankfully, Donald Trump-like, I suppose it’s worrisome that I learn about myself from zombie movies. But hey, whatever works. 😉

So if you haven’t already guessed, this blog will be about taking that Devil’s Advocate position. After all, I often tell my kids that if something didn’t work the first two times, try something else the third. Here are three examples of where we can play Devil’s Advocate:

 

Accepted fact 10th-man thinking
The internet is responsible for the decline of newspapers. The 10th man wonders whether the internet is only a catalyst for underlying structural business and editorial problems that had been evolving for decades.
Paying subscribers are a must for survival. With the loss of advertising revenue, it’s easy to understand why media companies should, at least logically, charge for their news products. But what if free content is not only socially, culturally and morally required, but a financial necessity for many publications?
Journalists measure news by overall importance. What if the way we prioritize news is completely backward? Instead of the biggest news being most important, what if relevance should actually be defined by a 10- or even 5-mile radius from the reader?

Of course, there is a reason why society generally views the 10th man as an outcast. More often than not, the 10th man is an outlier at best and a crackpot at worst. Because the truth is that an actual zombie outbreak is about as likely as accidentally creating a space-time wormhole with your toaster (or electing a balding, orange-skinned Reality TV star as president.) I’ll work hard to avoid those pitfalls, and offer as insightful solutions for journalism as possible.

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