Friday, December 4, 2009

what we lose? FACTS

If you've ever wondered if the blogosphere, Citizen J, and all else that masquerades as news can fill the void created by the ever-shrinking news industry, today's Boston Globe column by Ellen Goodman is a must must-read. Interested in how journalism is changing? Wonder what the almost-news is doing to the real news? Read it here: short, smart, and to the ever-loving point.

As more and more folks look to blogs, right wing talk shows, shout-out TV shows, and ridiculous email forwards for "news", we replace facts, the cornerstone of actual journalism, with opinion, and often moronic and unsubstantiated opinion at that. I don't know about you, but I'd really don't much care what someone's cantankerous, rightwing uncle has to say about the Obama administration, no matter how quickly his blah-blah goes viral.

The scary thing is that when all the noise becomes confused with boring-old fact based reporting -- the belief in truth, or any semblance thereof flies right out the window. From Goodman's column:

... Facts - along with their enforcers, editors - have long been the guides and saviors of my career, which is 46 years long.

Now I’m planning the next phase of my life. This may be why I’m struck by how much hard facts have softened in this time, how much less they seem to matter.

“Truthiness’’ has exploded alongside a new media that is decidedly not mainstream, that flows into as many rivulets as there are cable channels, points on the radio dial, and unvetted bloggers.

It’s now possible to find a group somewhere in Googleland that will agree with anything. Any outlier can find a tribe and a “fact’’ - Global warming is a hoax! Evolution is a fraud! - that reinforces his own belief.

There is a sense that we don’t need science or editing or fact-checking as long as we have crowd-sourcing. We don’t have to build opinions on facts; we can build facts on opinions.

Well, you can't, as Goodman points out. She ends the column thus:

Those of us who have spent our lives in journalism wake up to daily reports of troubles: newsrooms cut, papers bankrupt. My first employer, Newsweek, no longer covers news. My second, the Detroit Free Press, has cut back home delivery. I have watched my third employer, The Boston Globe, grow and shrink.

Hardest of all is to witness the evaporation of a profession that’s been the vetting agent for the “reality-based community.’’ A craft that has struggled to be right as often and rigorously as possible.

In a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll last month, readers were asked what professions are likely to disappear. Of the likely candidates, 28 percent chose tobacco farmers, but 26 percent picked newspaper reporters. Only 3 percent thought fact-checkers would become extinct.

Well, I have “news’’ for you. When the reporters go, so do the facts. And their checkers.

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