Who Gets To Decide What You Read? The New Paradigm for Online News and OpinionSomervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


Who Gets To Decide What You Read? The New Paradigm for Online News and Opinion

26 April 2010 at 12:08:56 PM

Something I read recently about the dirty campaigning of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams caused me to request some books through interlibrary loan regarding the history of newspapers, particularly in this country. I got the first of the books the other day, entitled " The Tyranny of Printers".The premise of this book is that the press, and journalism, have changed from what they once were at the founding of our country. From p 1.

It is much less well known .. that journalists once were politicians, some of them among the most prominent candidates, officeholders, and party operators in the nation. .. Taking the old partisan press seriously requires a fairly radical shift in the typical late twentieth-century perspective on the subject of the press and politics. It requires abandoning the teleological notion that there can only be one model of a poltiical press; namely the modern United States-one in which journalists themselves take no role as active political partisans except on editorial pages and talk shows, and even then, typically shun formal affiliation with political parties or candidates. It requires an openness to the possibility that newspapers might have useful functions besides gathering, writing and disseminating news stories.

... In nineteenth-centery America, by contrast, the newspaper press was the political system's central institution, not simply a forum or atmosphere in which politics took place. Instead, newspapers and their editors were purposeful actors in the political process, linking parties, voters and the government together and pursuing specific political goals.

... How and why was the press so central to the nineteenth-centery political system? One possible argument might stress technological necessity; print was the only means of mass communication available in the age before film, radio and television.

When Gutenberg invented his press, as we all know, it created a revolution. No longer did the citizenry have to rely on gatekeepers, such as scribes,  to make manual copies of what they deemed to be important for people to read. The potential was suddently there to be able to print information not only a mass production scale but with far more topics. However, the role of the *gatekeeper* of the printed press was apparently still not, in colonial times, apart from one man with a press and an affiliation with politics.

At this point in history, news has gone beyond paper press; paper has become one of many avenues to dissimenate information.

Dave Winer wrote, in 2001, a great article called "Who are Your Gatekeepers?" which talked about the upcoming sea change in online journalism, re: weblogging. He asked his frield Paul Andrews to write: (bolding is mine)

- ....what you read -- and hear, and view -- for the most part undergoes a highly engineered process of filtering, editing and packaging before it reaches your consciousness. Innumerable decisions are made along the way that affect not only what you read, but whether you get to read it at all. The process falls under the heading of "production value," and decisions about what to print are often termed "gatekeeping."

I've seen griping about this very fact about the news media on television, that one channel versus another slants a particular way politically and know of a number of instances where some stories were not run because some editor, for whatever reason, decided not to do the story or to postpone it. The other part that equation is the bromide that "if it bleeds, it leads" where some tragedy is the start for the nightly local news.. and if there's no video of it, the story doesn't exist. I remember once watching some reporter in Dallas go to a house to get a comment and stand there knocking on the door with no one answering. An editor undoubtedly made the decision to have the reporter do that, with footage, ANY footage, just to have it on the air. What did NOT get on the news that night?

Traditionally, there have been legitimate reasons for packaging information. Because content was necessarily circumscribed by length, largely out of consideration for distribution and cost, decisions had to be made on what a physical product should contain.

Not to mention advertising. I worked at a newspaper, ad sales, and recall that there was a formula used, for the print, of how much news content versus ad content.

The advent of the Internet, and then the Web, radically changed -- eliminated, even -- any physical need to limit content. Length and distribution requirements no longer burden publication considerations. Incremental costs associated with additional volume are minuscule....

I absolutely agree with that. One of the advantages to internet publishing is that there are no constraints on how much information one might bring to bear on an issue. The only constraint, really, is for the reader, if he or she is not the type to want to read a lengthy article but prefers a sound-byte.

Any new medium, it seems, tests its technological waters with purported "news." In many cases content begins as pure gossip and hearsay, facts so closely interwoven with opinion and half-truths that it is nearly impossible to distinguish truth from interpolation. The coinciding of Columbus' voyage (1492) with the advent of Western movable type (Gutenberg, 1455) raised the "local event" to global scope, but what was significant was how Columbus' content relied on the Blog of his time -- a real ship's log. An early letter by Columbus recounting his adventures was reprinted as a pamphlet and widely distributed though England and Europe -- the first "international bestseller." It was composed of personal thoughts and observations but treated as the news of the day.

This is a reference to Columbus' diary.

A lot of early newspapers were one-person, even first-person, operations which quickly gained enough notice to attract the attention of "authorities."

Early newspapers, no matter what their content, thrived on a decidedly anti-establishment bias. Mother Jones' motto, "The purpose of a newspaper is to raise hell," and Joseph Pulitzer's admonition, "Newspapers should have no friends," reflected the rebel nature of the medium. (The exception was wartime. As far back as print news extends, it proved wholeheartedly jingoistic in times of conflict. It is remarkable, in fact, how aloof (in some cases admiring) early American coverage of Hitler was, while the U.S. figured out where it stood on the Third Reich.)

..Where the Weblog changes the nature of "news" is in the migration of information from the personal to the public. One to many, circumscribed by voice communications to an immediate circle, then by paper-based text to an institutionalized distribution system, becomes an integrated artifact of any Web communication. Hit the "post" button and any personal writing becomes published writing. I do not pretend to understand all the implications of this. But it seems to me that it breaks down not only the traditional barriers to entry in publishing but the more subtle and inimical barriers to information retrieval as well. Yes, there is too much information out there. And yes, it is a challenge to separate the signal from the noise.

Reminds me of the quote by Louis Brandeiss -“Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears . . . If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

There will always be a role for gatekeepers of our choosing, as is implied in any publisher-reader pact. I have postulated before that Weblog "swarms" will emerge -- bloggers of like minds and values who form virtual ad hoc "publications" around events and trends. But bloggers have the opportunity to conduct the process for ourselves, rather than relying on an official or sanctioned gatekeeper to define truth and beauty for us. As a thousand flowers bloom, the Web's garden of information becomes more diverse, enlightening and transformative than anything the traditional paper-based print world can provide.

That was written 9 years ago. Yes, there's a huge plethora of news and information sources now. Not just newspapers, but also radio, television (24x7 news), and content via the internet. But not without issues.

"News and public information have been integrated formally into the highest levels of financial and nonjournalistic corporate control. Conflicts of interest between the public's need for information and corporate desires for 'positive' information have vastly increased." ... "When fifty men and women, chiefs of their corporations, control more than half the information and ideas that reach 220 million Americans, it is time for Americans to examine the institutions from which they receive their daily picture of the world."

5 years ago Somervell County Salon started up as online news and opinion, again, as one of many avenues for readers and viewers and listeners. We appreciate the fact that we have an outlet to express ourselves and do not believe we are the only game in town, but merely *more speech*. I myself am a subscriber to the official paper newspaper, the Glen Rose Reporter, I do not personally believe that we have to fit in some model of how News Must Act, because it's a new world of liberation past the constraints of paper or space or who gets to decide. A reader can skip opinions he or she doesn't want to read. I recently was looking at the online Cleburne Times-Review and saw they had a column by Ann Coulter in it- I skipped it! We record governmental meetings when we decide to go and if we also happen to believe in a cause, we usually will try to record that too (like Save Chalk Mountain) and we put up the audio and many times video clips of the meeting. If anyone doesn't agree with us or believes we are distorting the facts, he or she is welcome to listen or watch and then make a comment, sans personal attacks, of course (Speech is free but Somervell County Salon is moderated). We've even occasionally had people who have tried to tell us WHAT we should be talking about. To me, that is the casual reader attempting to be the gatekeeper and perhaps even the suppressor of speech.

My point is that the genie is out of the lamp; we have, as a country, moved beyond only a few ways to communicate with a bottleneck at the top of the fount of ideas.The gatekeeper, in the age of the internet, has largely become each person who chooses to write.

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