Yesterday I was listening to a radio broadcast concerned with the future of journalism. While novel and informative the underlying theme was disturbing regarding where the world is moving, from an information perspective. It is news to nobody that journalism, as we’ve known it, is in jeopardy due to the emergence of digital media and social networking groups, such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.
A recent study conducted by The Pew Research Center revealed that 68% of the American Public now get their news from such social media sources even when they don’t trust what they read. Why? Because (1) it is free, and (2) they trust their “flock friends” more than traditional media forms, nearly all of which are going belly up without charging a fee to read digital versions of the news.
This trajectory is a real threat to the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The trend is a threat for two obvious reasons, and one not so obvious. The first obvious threat arises from a simple financial principle: Journalism conducted by unpaid journalists is highly distorted, suspect, and influenced by common coin biases of their selected pod. Good journalists don’t work pro bono. They, like every other professional of any industry, are highly paid or should be. It is next to impossible to compete with quasi-journalists who offer their opinions for free to those who are unwilling to pay for services rendered.
The second obvious reason is related to the first: Distrust of traditional media sources and trust of “Birds of a feather,” in other words “friends” who cluster together in opposition to other birds with opposing views and beliefs. Anyone who has spent time in social media discovers this growing tendency to cluster into pods of like-minded friends who reject the views of other birds that don’t share the group ethos. Those tossed out of one pod join another pod with an opposing ethos, and this phenomena is running rampant, dividing our population into tribal groups, none of whom are willing to entertain opposing perspectives.
The third, not so obvious reason? Alienation. This problem is evolving around the world making null and void the assurances of our First Amendment. Freedom of Speech is a precious right but means nothing when such freedom evolves into a proliferation of tribal groups who sing harmoniously to choir members ONLY. Any student of history will quickly discover that control of the media is a fundamental aspect leading to totalitarianism and was one of the preliminary measures established by Joseph Goebbels Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany, and fundamentally not dissimilar to attempts to universally control the message. If this attempt to control what the public needs to hear was limited to the U.S. it would be bad enough but is, unfortunately, happening around the world at the present time.
This clustering tendency is nothing new and is illustrated within a religious sphere by counting the thousands of religious sects or denominations that have evolved, regardless of religion. All religions have their divides that have occurred by way of this clustering inclination amongst we humans, and results in close-minded, “my way or the highway” dogmatic anchors that define the pod.
The radio broadcast referenced at the beginning of this post presents one person’s solution to the journalistic dilemma: Selling “news” based on the differing ethos’ of different pod groupings. The originator of this solution argues, convincingly, that people will not pay for what they need to hear but will pay for what they want to hear. From one point of view, this makes sense: Who amongst us all is eager to listen to people who are closed-minded to our perspectives and just want to argue their dogmatic point of view? Virtually nobody, which is the driving force undergirding this inclination. THAT is not news. It is entertainment and confirmation bias. And the end result? That too ought to be obvious: Dogma, religious or not. Everyone loses when we don’t differentiate between news and entertainment. And without realizing it (the third not so obvious reason) this lack of discernment leads to totalitarianism. Freedom of speech does not ensure freedom when we give way to joining political spheres who sing only their “tweets,” as song-birds of a feather.