Message from Keith
By Keith B. Richburg
Every day now, it seems, we are being constantly hit with an unending firehose of information.
Breaking news comes at us through mobile alerts on our phones and the newsfeeds on social media. Websites, blogs, daily digests, tweets, listservs and forums all deluge us with disconnected data points. Never in human history has so much information been so readily available almost instantaneously, literally at the click of a button or the swipe of a screen.
But with all this new access to information, are we really better informed?
I would argue the opposite—that we are actually less informed than in the past, in several ways and for a number of reasons.
First, and at the risk of being labelled a Luddite, I do believe that print newspapers served a useful filter purpose. Papers provided all the news that was fit to print and no more. The articles that appeared each day were vetted by professional reporters and editors, and organised neatly according to their importance. What was most important appeared on the front page at the top, lesser important stories at the bottom of A1, and so on.
How can anyone now tell the relative importance of any single article on a news website when the positions on the page constantly rotates, depending on the number of user clicks and how long the piece has been displayed?
Also, news shared through WhatsApp or WeChat, or posted on Twitter or Facebook, are most often those selected by your friends or by algorithms attuned to your past viewing habits. This inevitably leads to self-selection, meaning people are only reading what they are already interested in, or what their friends think you need to know.
Reading a print newspaper or a magazine is often a voyage of discovery; you find yourself drawn to a catchy headline or captivating photo, and reading a fascinating article about a topic you never knew you were interested in, and may never have stumbled across if you only consumed your news digitally.
And we all know that this new tidal wave of information carries with it the detritus of deception—the real “fake news,” lies and clickbait sloshing around the Internet masquerading as legitimate. Sometimes it is satire, often it is pure propaganda and many times its purpose is to deliberate mislead. The adage is even more true in our digital age, that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots.
Finally, there is the problem that with all this information there seems a dearth of depth, a lack of reflection, perspective and analysis. An article appearing in a daily newspaper or weekly magazine has typically been thoroughly thought through, written, rewritten and edited. Instant news online is typically rushed, and too often inaccurate or incomplete.
We cannot turn back the clock on this new information overload. What we can do is be more literate, and more discerning, consumers. It might also help to once in a while turn off the alerts, and get news the old-fashioned way, once a day, after a story has been properly researched and vetted.
And try picking up a print newspaper or magazine sometime, and enjoy it leisurely over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Who knows—you might even find something that surprises you, and leaves you more informed and more satisfied than before.
Director of the JMSC