Can Joe Rogan Save American Journalism
feb 4, 2022
The Antidote To Joe Rogan
By Jenna Lee
The latest Spotify dust-up between host Joe Rogan and singer Neil Young reveals more about the state of journalism than the “threat” of a popular podcast. Consumers vote with their most powerful and valuable commodity – their time – and in this case, the people’s choice is undeniably decisive. Joe Rogan rises as journalism falls.
And I say this as a journalist who loves and believes in journalism – but who also appreciates Joe Rogan. I listened to some of his recent interviews because I was curious about those with different opinions on the pandemic, and to his credit, Joe Rogan built a destination for some of the world’s leading (and at times, controversial) thought leaders to sit and talk for hours with someone who isn’t afraid to ask questions like a normal person trying to navigate a very strange time.
Listening to Joe Rogan did not push me to pop strange pills or go rogue against CDC guidance, no more than Neil Young’s lyrics made me want to smoke weed. But listening did ignite more questions and stimulate broader conversation – the same by-products of a healthy free press when we prioritize illuminating diversity of thought instead of covering claims of misinformation.
The antidote for a confusing time with conflicting voices isn’t pulling seats away from the table of discussion – but expanding the conversation with smart content to provide the best customer service for the audience. The lesson of Joe Rogan’s popularity has little to do with his – or Spotify’s – alleged reckless editorial judgement and more a call to action for journalists everywhere to work harder – “misinformation” becomes a nebulous scapegoat when the audience can’t find a trustworthy source for real news.
And the proof surfaces in the data. News networks have hemorrhaged viewers as Joe Rogan created a broadcasting juggernaut, with an audience more than triple the size of the top cable news program and beating ABC’s leading World News Tonight by nearly 3 million viewers per episode. He did this without fancy visual graphics, flashy animation, or polished studio production at the exact moment people needed more information. He sat across from guests of all kinds, asked questions, and listened.
Leading TV programs embraced the opposite: endless breaking news banners, rapid fire interviews with the same faces squeezed between frequent commercials. Sneak in perceived political bias, one direction or the other, and a tone of condescension from broadcasters who seem to share the culture of those they interview more than those they serve, and even your most loyal audience will look elsewhere.
Compassion goes hand and hand with curiosity. Americans have had their lives upended over the past two years in a unique shared experience and have the battles scars of the pandemic – personally and professionally – to prove it. Media empires to podcasters to rock stars don’t need to “hide” storylines or opinions to protect the public.
Even the most understanding among us have naturally had questions, wondered who to trust, and have numerous examples of changing “misinformation” (two years ago this week, the former CDC director described the threat of the new coronavirus to the American public as “low”). Journalists build trust by honoring the many angles of a story, some that may prove wrong, that lead to a more complete picture.
And that’s why instead of wasting time labeling content as “misinformation,” we should learn from Joe Rogan’s model of success. Instead of pushing controversy to the shadows, we should grab those topics with both hands and pull them, and their voices, into the light in the pursuit of accuracy.
We have the resources. America’s major news networks host debates every presidential cycle – If we can juggle a debate with 12 presidential candidates, we can certainly handle a roundtable discussion among half-as-many leading doctors, scientists, or officials on any given topic, on any given night.
But so far, the only editorial change seems to come from the people setting the standard for success - Joe Rogan issued an apology, promising more editorial balance that no one really expects from him. Spotify will add a new content advisory disclaimer – a modern day warning akin to a reminder to wash your hands after you use the restroom – unnecessary and ineffective for most. And we’ll go on and wonder what happened to journalism and why the public not only doesn’t trust us, but feels like we are purposefully against them.
And in the meantime, one man with a microphone, will continue to cannibalize news audiences all over the world, all the while providing a very easy template for success. Joe Rogan may just save American journalism if we let him.
Jenna Lee is the founder of SmartHER News, a digital nonpartisan news platform. After earning her masters at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Jenna worked as a writer and producer, before she co-anchored a weekday national news show on The Fox News Channel.
Jenna discusses misinformation and Joe Rogan during SmartHER News Debrief:
8:37 - 11:11 U.S. National Debt
Mostly we discuss misinformation starting around 13 minutes and what the true takeaway is of the dust up with Joe Rogan and Spotify.
More on all these stories at SmartHERNews.com!