I started reading the introduction to The Elements of Journalism, published in June, 2006. I stopped at this paragraph:
When the flow of news is obstructed, “a darkness falls,” and anxiety grows. The world, in effect, becomes too quiet. We feel alone. John McCain, the U.S. senator from Arizona, writes that in his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, what he missed most was not comfort, food, freedom, or even his family and friends. “The thing I missed most was information — free uncensored, undistorted, abundant information.”
And it occurred to me that, though I was no prisoner, I shared this feeling when I was living in Singapore. I had comforts and avenues for learning, but I missed the vibrant news cultures of Bangkok and Mumbai and even Los Angeles. Lo and behold, a few paragraphs down, the authors, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, write this:
Journalism provides something unique to a culture — independent, reliable, accurate, and comprehensive information that citizens require to be free. A journalism that is asked to provide something other than that subverts democratic culture. This is what happens when governments control the news, as in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. We’re seeing it again in places like Singapore, where news is controlled to encourage capitalism but discourage participation in public life. Something akin to this may be taking root in the United States in a more purely commercial form, as when news outlets owned by larger corporations are used to promote their conglomerate parent’s products, to engage in subtle lobbying or corporate rivalry, or are intermingled with advertising to boost profits. The issue isn’t just the loss of journalism. At stake is whether, as citizens, we have access to independent information that makes it possible for us to take part in governing ourselves.
To me, this is what is exciting and daunting about a life lived, in part, on the Internet. Those worlds of information open up, dare I say, revolutionizing how free information and conversation can be. I did go to the Zocalo talk, “Age of Rage: “Is the Internet Making Us Mean?,” which I mentioned in my last post. It turned out to be more of a discussion along the lines of, “Why are People Mean to Journalists on the Web?” To quote from an article by Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic once more, “Writers can be sensitive, vain souls, requiring gentle nurturing from editors, and oddly susceptible to the blows delivered by reviewers. They survive, for the most part, but the thinness of their skins is legendary.” I think this explains pretty well the focus of Wednesday’s panel, where journalists were the three speakers. And it’s a topic I can sympathize with certainly, but it’s still not as interesting as a more direct conversation about the effects of cyberbullying, Internet hate campaigns and the potential neurological effects of social networking. I’m not as worried about anonymous people burning journalists in comment sections as I am about what is happening to those people who lose their inhibitions (or create new ones) as they go virtual.
Speaking of going virtual, a piece I co-authored for the Far Eastern Economic Review has just showed up as a blurb on their site. It’s subscription only though — yes, some people on the Internet do that.
Two more random links: Zocalo does some pretty cool stuff, including giving shout-outs to really great writers. And let’s be honest, globalization and connections and entrepreneurship aside, the Internet is pretty awesome.