Separating fact from opinion ain’t what it used to be. There was a time when the more you read, the more engaged you were with your world. Your city. Your neighborhood. Not some imaginary world you wished could be, but the world as it actually existed outside your door.
Back in these ancient times (otherwise known as “just a few years ago”) being up on Current Events was a thing people aspired to. (See? It was even a proper noun.) The simple act of staying informed separated you from those who lived in a bubble or just couldn’t be bothered.
Part of what made this true was that the main news source for most people was the newspaper, filled with page after page of news items written by professional Writers and double-checked for clarity by professional Editors. Each story began with a simple sentence—the “lead”—that delivered the most important factual information first and ensured that regardless of what happened later (spin, cover-ups, etc—sometimes within the article itself) you at least had some facts to chew on before all the hemming-and-hawing began. Opinions were there too, of course, but they were usually relegated to one clearly labeled page at the back of the paper. Sometimes it was even called The Opinion Page. How cute.
But then came the 24-hour news cycle, niche news channels aimed at specific audiences, online news feeds and aggregators, not to mention email portals and homepages that don’t so much deliver actual news as merely use news-like headlines as filler or decoration, giving people the illusion that they’re being informed before they jump to something more important like checking out a Groupon or updating their relationship status.
Nope, these days if you’re reading about something that has just happened, you’re probably reading about it online. A place where there are many more opinions than facts. Where “What’s Happening” has been replaced by “What’s Trending”—a phrase that couldn’t sound more subjective if it tried.
From Twitter to the Like button, to the scores of Op-Ed pieces from people you’ve never heard of that now grace the front page of every news site and trade publication around, suddenly we readers find ourselves awash in opinion with not nearly enough factual lifeboats to go around. How do we cope? By doing what all desperate drowners do: we start flailing about, eager to grab onto anything that might keep us afloat, which in this case results in people merely clinging to one another for the safety of their shared beliefs. (Which makes things even worse of course, since the only thing more helpless than a world with too many opinions is a world with only one.)
Add in the ubiquitous comments section of most websites and you reach the conclusion that to be an engaged member of the reading public today is to be surrounded by arguments. All of which makes you feel less like a reader and more like a spectator at a shouting match.
I’ve noticed the same thing happening in Advertising. Not the shouting so much (unless you work for a real jerk), but the ever-increasing supply of opinions. Big meetings where small ones used to suffice. Endless comments streaming in throughout the process via email. (FYI: Just because we’re all connected doesn’t mean we should spend all our time connecting.) All of it capped off by the constant inclusion of everyone in everything, regardless of interest, experience, talent or qualification. The more opinions the merrier. And since opinions rule over fact, there are no experts. Which means everyone’s an expert. Hooray! Participation Medals for all! Amateur hour? We call that Crowdsourcing now. A disorganized mess? No, no, no, that’s a Hive. A true buzzword in more ways than one, I suppose. (Speaking of buzzwords, can someone tell me why people stopped calling or emailing and instead started “reaching out?” It’s such a ridiculous term, and one that’s very telling about the conflicted state of the workplace psyche these days. Apparently we’re so afraid of the cutthroat capitalism we claim to love so much that we feel the need to give a cutesy name to even the most mundane workday activities. But does the simple act of rational business communication really need to be described like a rescue attempt or an invitation to join a cult? Bizarre.)
Anyway, the points I’m trying to make here are these: I think some of us are better than others at certain things, and that’s as it should be. When I pay someone for their expertise, I’d prefer they actually have some, thank you very much. I also think it should be corporate policy that some opinions matter more than others. And I think most people at work are happier knowing not only who’s in charge of a given project but that they’re actually qualified to be. Yes, good ideas can come from anywhere. But anywhere’s an awfully big place. And as such, the bad ideas—much like opinions—will always be in much greater supply.