When should you expect an entertainer to delivery journalistic-type content? Short answer: Never. When should you expect an entertainer to delivery a “story”? Short answer: Always.
Actor and comedian Mike Daisey recently made hay from his one-man show about Steve Jobs and all things that go wrong in the world of Apple -- particular all the problematic worker issues surrounding super-long work hours in China where super-popular electronic products like iPads and iPhone are made.
Public radio storytelling program,“This American Life” ran an excerpt of Daisey’ on-stage spiel and found that some of the stuff he “reported” didn’t exist, such as a conversation with a worker at a Chinese plant called Foxcomm. Though the radio show did do some fact-checking, it allowed the piece to run as if it were “news.” (To be fair, worker conditions, as reported by outlets The New York Times, continue to yield big question marks for Apple in China).
Now Daisey owns up to his faults and what he should have done: “What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism…. For this reason, I regret that I allowed ‘This American Life’ to air an excerpt from my monologue.” He says his act "uses a combination of fact, memoir and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.”
Integrity of the story, I’m guessing. It further offers a little more collateral damage surrounding new media efforts when it comes to the term “content” in place of “journalism.”
For example, do we need to fact-check “content” for TV reality shows? How much of this veracity do advertisers really want? Marketers surely want to know what they are getting when they buy in -- even when it comes to public broadcasting-style “underwriting” and “sponsorships.”
This is not to say some of this stuff doesn’t have a place. “The Onion” seems to have figured this out well. But the mixing of created storylines and real-life facts can generally be confusing for consumers of such media.
We should have expected some of this. We are told the mountain of on-air opinions from cable news channels seemingly features real reporting and factual stories. Now, with hot and heavy competition among media platforms, we seem to be moving to the next step -- allowing entertainers to create a strange brew of fiction/fact “content.”
If we are not fact-checking this stuff, we need to create a new label, or at least slap a disclaimer on it.