I suppose I was, and still am, a news junkie, and get my news from The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The New York Times, the Vancouver Sun, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Atlantic, Harper’s, and the CBC. (I dropped the Huffington Post when I got tired of the celebrity gossip.)
I remember in the ’60s and ’70s serious issues being discussed by serious men (regrettably, there were no anchorwomen). I mention this, in part, to give free publicity to an excellent museum in Washington, D.C., called the Newseum, which, in a city filled with museums, is one dedicated to the freedom of the press. Not only is there a large chunk of the Berlin wall in the basement, there is the crumpled antenna that once sat atop the World Trade Center. It is displayed next to an emotionally charged documentary of news reports from that day that are still hard to watch. The Newseum is not to be missed.
I also mention this to illustrate the phenomenal change in “The News” over the past 20 years; prompted, in part by a lawyer friend of mine on Facebook last week making this post in exasperation: “Why in the hell do I go to CNN online? The top story is ‘Miley tweets from hospital.’ Buried down the page under world news: five dead in Calgary stabbing. Really CNN? Really?”
Whether it’s a function of the 24-hour news cycle, a function of North American fascination with celebrity gossip, or the fact we can get our news from any source we want and have it directed to our laptops or our iPhones, there are fundamental problems with “The News” in the second decade of the 21st century.
First, real news seems to be less important than news about Miley, Kim, Angelina, or other non-ebrities. Case in point? Today, as I write this, Time magazine has proclaimed Beyoncé to be the most influential person in the world. Yes folks, that’s the entire world. (Really Time? Really?)
The more significant problem is virtually everyone with a laptop or a smartphone (or for that matter, cable TV) has the ability to live in news bubbles, where the news they get is limited to the news they want.
So if you believe that Barack Obama is the worst president in American history and a socialist bent on destroying America, you can limit your news intake to Fox News and the Wall Street Journal; both controlled by Rupert Murdoch. If you think global warming is a hoax, you can include Christopher Booker’s columns from the Telegraph in your news feed. If you believe vaccinations cause autism and other ailments, you can include former Playboy model and media darling of the anti-vax movement, Jenny McCarthy in your news feed. And of course, you can always read/listen/watch Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and others whose political views you identify with, notwithstanding these men either get their facts wrong, or disregard facts entirely.
One can live in a bubble of anti-Obama, anti-Obamacare, anti-liberal, (and to some extent, anti-science) rhetoric that is devoid of balance because balance is not what these people are after. If you’re in this bubble, there’s no one there to call out “bullshit,” or to speak truth to power. And if you believe in civil society, as I do, it’s troublesome, because you can’t tell people what to watch, what to read, and what to believe.
I have an old friend who lives in the States who constantly posts the Fox News/Sean Hannity/Wall Street Journal view of the world to Facebook, and some of these posts are so crazy, it drives me crazy. But even though I’m tempted from time to time to delete her “feed,” (because to me, it’s all crap), I still believe in the freedom of the press.
Besides, it’s important not to confine your news intake to one bubble.