Something to think about at the dawn of 2017:
This morning at work I walked by our common cafe area. On one of the tables was a copy of the New York Times. On impulse, I picked it up to look at the section (an editorial about all that woman have lost this year) and was overcome with a sense of nostalgia, from the feel of the paper and the ink to the smell that only a newspaper has. It took me back many years to my childhood, of Sundays where my parents made an event of the family reading the Sunday paper after breakfast. No TV, no digital media; just the paper for an hour or so. So, clearly those feelings reminded me of a more innocent, hopeful time.
But as I stood there, sniffing the NYT, it made me reflect on some of the issues facing our country, specifically journalism, the emergence of fake news and the culmination of an almost universal distrust of traditional news sources. With a PEOTUS the routinely questions the nature of facts, that trucks in misinformation and with news companies that are rapidly focusing more on ratings than on journalism, I ponder if perhaps all of this didn’t start with the decline of (and if we’re not sorely in need again of) printed media.
As I writer, I’ll make no claims that I am not biased. EBooks are wonderful in their own right, but nothing feels as real to me as an actual physical book. Call me a Luddite if you wish, but I feel that printed news is more easy to trust, to believe. Why? Because a printed newspaper by definition takes time. It takes preparation. Huffpost, Brietbart, FoxNews.com, MSNBC, you name it. News on websites is nearly instantaneous. You can get a lead, call some sources and have it printed in minutes. That’s the problem: in a world where news can be generated in seconds, people will create it in seconds. That means its a race to be first, the get the most attention, the highest ranking on news aggregators. That leads to the obvious argument that the faster we create news, the less time we are cultivating it and the more likely we are to generate news before it is properly vetted or to ‘fill in the blanks’ where something is missing. That observation is not new; I am far from the first to forward it.
However, I think that is a flaw in the medium as well as in the system. It has opened new worlds, especially in respect to international views and events, but if the price is believability, then the value of those new and influential opinions dwindles to zero. But with a printed newspaper… you sense the time and care it took. The news was developed, cultivated. Facts were checked. Sources consulted. Viewpoints considered and editorial decisions made. That’s not to say that the news might not have an obvious political slant or that it was not as susceptible to bias as its digital media, but the essence of printed suggested validity, believability. Trust.
American Journalist changed our country more than once. It inspired advances in the workplace, took us to war in both just and unjust wars, brought down presidents and propelled us to other worlds. This year might see the death of journalism, for all intents. Twitter and Instagram, with all of the boons and curses inherent in them, may replace the New York Times or the Washington Post. People trained to identify, research and peruse facts will be replaced by people with a mobile device, a viewpoint and an agenda. Perhaps it could be said that the news deserves it: last year was a shameful one for news media, as they feigned mock indignation at the audacity of Donald Trump, all the while waiting with eagerness for every single drop of outrage and insinuation that dribbled from his mouth or those of his surrogates. They should have denied his views oxygen to survive in but instead turned on gas lines and lit the match. For their part in the coming world, the deserve to suffer in ignominy and die in disrepute. But we need them. We need honest reporters who will pursue the truth, editors willing to put unflattering truths to print, and executive willing to forgo profit for purpose and ethics.
I don’t have an easy answer. If I had my way, I’d institute a government allowance, allowing all citizen to subscribe to a printed newspaper of their choice. unfortunately, there’s no way to cork the genie back in the bottle. The world has changed and so has the news. Perhaps we need fresh eyes and hearts, people uncorrupted and idealistic, pursuing truth for its own sake. Yet, even if they succeed, they will eventually falter, as success and prestige is corrupting and seductive and renews the cycle we see in play now. Perhaps the system will need to self-destruct and be rebuilt, to endure a draconian purge in order to be reborn.
Or perhaps I’m high on paper ink. Who knows? Maybe I’m just a middle aged guy with memories of a better time which -in truth- differed far less than today than I choose to remember. Something has to be done. Yet I think it must be done by those with a better grasp of the options.