"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Saturday, December 29, 2012

N Is For.....News

I'm a news junky. It's not just what you'd normally consider "news" either. I'm very curious -- about things, places, events, people. If I care about something, be it a national news story, an academic question, a political debate or even just whether or not a friend had a fun Christmas, I won't stop asking until I get answers. I'm persistent.....or stubborn....or annoying, I suppose it depends on your perspective. I love having LOTS of sources of news, but I don't go in for the usual ones. I don't regularly watch any national newscasts on TV, I don't have a subscription to Wilmington's local daily, I don't get Time or any other news weekly. I listen to NPR every bit as much as I listen to Rush Limbaugh. I read quite few political and news blogs pretty regularly, both right wing and left. I have 735 "liked" pages on Facebook. I love Facebook as a news source, not because everything is accurate, because it most certainly is not (especially the re-posted and linked things from friends and relatives), but because it opens up the door to a huge variety of sources. As long as I know where my news is coming from, it's useful to me. The trick is to take it all in, consider all the sources, and noodle out the truth best you can from that. It isn't perfect and it takes patience and some intelligence, but it's the way of things now.

The mass media, as we were taught it functioned when we were children, is dead.

It took reading a friend's blog about the news and Facebook posts during the day of the Sandy Hook shootings to bring that fact home. Jen wrote about all the falsehoods reported and then spread all around Facebook during the day of the shootings. They weren't malicious falsehoods, not purposeful untruths, but they were certainly hurtful to some of the people involved. They were simply the result of trying to be FIRST rather than ACCURATE. That's what our media has become. It's driven by us and our need to have all the news immediately, but just the same, that's where they are. Reporters print or broadcast anything they hear as soon as they hear it. Then  it gets picked up and spread around social media until the next "first news" comes along to contradict it. What gets me is that this hasn't made many of the consumers of news as wary as they should be. Jen is an exception. Most people, even some very smart and savvy ones, eat up and spit out anything coming from the news media. This is foolish.

When I started college, way back in the pre-internet dark ages of 1989, the New York Times was the Gold Standard of American journalism. By the time I graduated, in 1993, it was becoming a joke. By the turn of the new millennium, the Old Grey Lady was meaningless. She'd been exposed knowingly printing falsehoods, not even to be first, but simply because she was lazy and politically motivated. All of the national mainstream media followed suit. The local press is a bit better, it is closer to its consumers and a bit more accountable, but still it is falling victim to the same degradation. Our local daily, the Star News, ran a whole big front of the feature section story about a friend of mine's neighbor's successful career as a professional wave runner rider. It was a great story, with pictures and exciting anecdotes, except for one thing. It was entirely fabricated by the neighbor. One or two phone calls would have exposed that, but the reporter didn't use one source outside of the supposed wave riding champ. That would have gotten you thrown out of my journalism school, but it is perfectly fine in today's journalistic world. Now, we see local politicians calling news outlets with stories and having them aired or printed as Gospel truth, often without one attribution. We see the web sites of news organizations play host to totally unmoderated "mesage boards" or comments sections that become grand stands for lunatics.

It's a new world, for better or for worse. There's nothing I can do about it, and that is driving ME insane. The local news outlets are bumbling along, faithfully printing and airing anything they hear without the first attempt to verify it. The national news outlets have all become partisan, making the self-proclaimed partisan radio shows and news casts and magazines and blogs into the most trustworthy. I'm hopeful  my son's generation will deal with this better than my own. I know he is not one to believe everything he reads or sees or hears. I don't know if it's just him, though, the kid has always been a skeptic and an independent thinker. It is the one thing I am most proud of in him. If he is representative of the future, we'll be ok. I pray he is.

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