Author and journalist Chirs Hedges (whose books “American Fascists” and “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” were much enjoyed here on Don Street) – a veteran New York Times reporter who reported from Bosnia, El Salvador, and Israel – gives us a reason to pause and remember the value of newspapers:
“The decline of newspapers is not about the replacement of the antiquated technology of news print with the lightning speed of the Internet. It does not signal an inevitable and salutary change. It is not a form of progress. The decline of newspapers is about the rise of the corporate state, the loss of civic and public responsibility on the part of much of our entrepreneurial class and the intellectual poverty of our post-literate world, a world where information is conveyed primarily through rapidly moving images rather than print. “
Further, Hedges argues that blogs (like this one) are not to be highly regarded:
“We live under the happy illusion that we can transfer news-gathering to the Internet. News-gathering will continue to exist, as it does on this Web site and sites such as ProPublica and Slate, but these traditions now have to contend with a new, widespread and ideologically driven partisanship that dominates the dissemination of views and information, from Fox News to blogger screeds. The majority of bloggers and Internet addicts, like the endless rows of talking heads on television, do not report. They are largely parasites who cling to traditional news outlets. They can produce stinging and insightful commentary, which has happily seen the monopoly on opinion pieces by large papers shattered, but they rarely pick up the phone, much less go out and find a story. Nearly all reporting—I would guess at least 80 percent—is done by newspapers and the wire services. Take that away and we have a huge black hole.
“Those who rely on the Internet gravitate to sites that reinforce their beliefs. The filtering of information through an ideological lens, which is destroying television journalism, defies the purpose of reporting. […] If we lose (the journalist ethic) we are left with pandering, packaging and partisanship. We are left awash in a sea of competing propaganda. Bloggers, unlike most established reporters, rarely admit errors. They cannot get fired. Facts, for many bloggers, are interchangeable with opinions.” (emphasis mine)
While I don’t share all the opinions Hedges expressed, they do hit home when I consider my own tendency to read news from sources that agree with my worldview.
That said, Hedges’ vaunted ethical journalism is not always in plain view. From convicing the public to go war over Weapons of Mass Destruction or the sinking of the Maine or the Gulf of Tonkin, some in the media have a bad tendency to want to believe the big lies. Other “journalists” are just plain nationalist mongers of war, like Fox News.
Hedges does make clear, however, that these fringe news sources are surviving in the form of biased blogs and ideologically driven websites – while the well-researched news organs are cutting back. His warning should be taken very seriously as we move from the era of TV – which Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death aptly describes – to the era of the Internet.
But I’m an optimist on this point. If the medium is the metaphor, then what are we to read into the internet? If you are still reading this, then you have read far far further than any newpaper article written today. And all this without pictures! I believe that the internet could see a return to longer articles as well as the acceleration of memetic evolution. As I pointed out in my first-ever post, memes reproduce in much the same way as genes. As this process speeds up, ideas live and die very short lives and reproduce only if they are able to survive the criticism of and competition with other ideas. On the internet – though we may gravitate to certain sites – we are often thrown curveballs which make us reconsider fundamental ideas.
As we construct our own understandings of the world, is it not advantageous to have access to as much data and opinion as possible? Yes, but only if our education system teaches us to synthesize, analyze, and evaluate complex ideas, rather than to memorize facts. Teaching these higher-level skills is the major challenge for Educators in the Age of the Internet.