When It Comes to the Media, New is Not Better—The Huffington Post as Case Study

“Come here dad,” Sixteen said a few days ago, “you have to see this.” A vid made by some of her high school classmates.

What’s the capital of Washington? Some students say Seattle, others tentatively guess Olympia. Especially funny because they’re Olympia High School students standing two miles from the Capital Campus. Goes downhill from there. What foreign countries border the U.S.? Some guess South America. One girl says “Canada,” and then adds, “no, that’s a state.”

The students’ struggles make sense given 1) social studies content, disconnected from our country’s economic performance, is not seen as worthwhile today and 2) too many social studies courses are taught poorly. The students’ ignorance isn’t the story. The story is what passes for journalism today.

Thursday afternoon, skimming the Huffington Post, I was shocked to stumble upon the vid and this story. Three things to note.

1) Don’t expect anyone at the Huffington Post to take the time to scratch below the surface and show that things aren’t always as they appear. Over 1,200 students attend OHS and about twelve are highlighted in the vid. Olympia High students have been accepted to Yale each of the last three years. Two years ago, two young women went to M.I.T. This year, two young men got perfect 2,400 scores on their SATs. Another student will play golf at Stanford next year. Those stories don’t get highlighted because they don’t serve the purposes of those who want to convince others that U.S. schools are failing, teachers are lazy, and teacher unions are the root of all evil.

2) New journalism is not better journalism. The story and the vid have next to nothing to do with one another; as a result, the story doesn’t make sense, doesn’t hang together, and therefore, never should have ran.

Comedy aside, the United State’s poor international rankings in subject proficiencies such as math is a problem that could cost the country around $75 trillion over 80 years, according to a study called “Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?” Based on the research, U.S. students place behind 31 other countries in math proficiency, and behind 16 other countries in reading.

What the hell kind of segue is that? One minute 1% of students are unsure of some basic knowledge, the next, the country is $75 trillion dollars poorer. If this is new journalism, I’ll stick with the old.

3. Young people aren’t thinking about their privacy nearly enough. One minute a few students are having some chuckles practicing their videography skills, the next, their work has a word-wide audience. When I stumbled upon the story the vid had 37,500 hits. By now it’s probably six figures. The second comment, about a friend of Sixteen’s reads, “Dammn would nail the girl in gray by herself.” The “girl in gray” had no idea what might happen to the footage once her classmates uploaded it to Vimeo. I’m not buying this “end of privacy” bullshit. I’m guessing she regrets having participated. Lots of lessons for all of the young people involved. The primary one, having a vid go viral may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Postscript—one of the comments from someone at the school:

This article is incredibly misleading and should be taken down immediatel­y. It doesn’t contextual­ize the video properly and makes it sound as if the answers given in it are representa­tive of… well, something. The following descriptio­n is from the High School Student newspaper “The Olympus” which produced the video:

“Students found Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” videos funny and decided to make one of their own. As is natural for a comic bit, the creators edited in the funniest responses, with the students’ consent. Though there were many correct answers to these pop questions, the comments in national forums concentrat­e on the negative, and, as usual, do not take into considerat­ion the amount of editing it took to get these funny, incorrect answers. So, we are taking down our video. Thanks for thinking about this. It is an interestin­g lesson for all.”

Post Postscript—On Thursday, after the video was taken down from Vimeo, someone, an OHS student I believe, uploaded the whole thing to YouTube. As of Friday afternoon, the video is embedded in the Huffington Post article under a different person’s YouTube account. My guess is the administration required student one to take it down only to have another upload it. Point four. Given the proliferation of social media, school administrators stand no chance of censoring students.