Our Orwellian World

George Orwell has been making headlines recently, due in large part to his book 1984, which has resurfaced in a big way in early 2017. USA Today recently featured it as No. 1 on their books list, and astonishingly, Amazon sold out of both paperback and hardcover copies in late January.

It’s easy to see why. With words and phrases like “alternative facts,” “post-truth” and “fake news” swirling through politics and public discourse, it’s hard not to picture a dystopian reality.

But believe it or not, 1984 wasn’t the main Orwellian citation that caught my eye recently. Instead, some of my former reporter colleagues were sharing a quote of his regarding journalism itself:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

At a time when chief political strategist Stephen Bannon says, “The media here is the opposition party,” it’s clear that this administration intends to declare war on journalism. The lack of transparency that we saw in the campaign, with a refusal to release tax returns by then candidate Donald Trump, is now exacerbated because there were no penalties for his previous encounters with the media. I can’t blame my peers for finding this quote to rally around given the circumstances.

But as someone who has now made the transition from journalism into public relations, I took some umbrage to the perceived slight it gave to my current career. Honestly, I think there is a lot of newsworthy value generated in the stories we share that aren’t rooted in conflict but are still worthy of a wider audience.

Like this innovative program at Lebanon Valley College that wants to encourage students to make healthier decisions as they eat in the dining hall. Or the way that Bucknell University is developing better and more tailored ways to ensure students succeed at college, and proceed all the way through graduation. Not to mention, practical advice from experts who have helped students navigate numerous unchartered waters, including landing a fantastic summer internship.

I don’t believe anyone reacted to these stories and thought, “I wish they hadn’t printed that.” Yet the takeaway is still impactful for the audiences they’re meant to reach.

While the media has long served an invaluable role as the fourth estate, and as watchdogs to our nations’ leaders, we shouldn’t overlook some of the negative perceptions that have allowed such doubt and direct confrontation to resonate with a significant portion of the population.

Too often, the media are thought of collectively, and transgressions of the few reflect on masses. Submitting to the “if it bleeds, it leads” mindset, and focusing only on the negative has left a lot of the country jaded.

It may be hard to find sometimes, but there is still good news out there. Researchers are learning new and incredible discoveries every day that will change our everyday lives. Not to mention, focusing on the good news we all want published might just provide some commonality to foster additional conversations, rather than shouting matches.

Orwell may have been prescient, but there’s still time for a more optimistic view for the future than his other telling quote, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

Let’s not forget to focus on good news from time to time, so the vision of the future is not so bleak.