Posted by: JDM..... | February 8, 2010

Everyone’s a “journalist”…

…but most are full of feathers

Labels bother me. We all use labels. They are a normal component of communication. They are necessary. Without labels, communication would be tedious at best and most likely impossible. But, some people use them to excess. In fact, they seem to comprise the entire lexicon of some. That also tends to make communication tedious at best or impossible, as one must constantly winnow fact from overstatement and try to assemble the intended meaning. I suspect the overuse of labels, metaphor, and the like led to the invention of the word “Huh?” That’s when I get bothered. It’s like having to chip through a coating of concrete to discover every segment of the message being conveyed.

You Liberals are all the same.

You Conservatives are all the same.

What the hell does that mean, really? Taken concretely, so to speak, these are ridiculous statements. Their primary value may very well be their function as barometers of passion rather than as vehicles of useful information. When one is looking for useful information, passion often becomes a coating of concrete. If one is simply interested in locating lodes of passion, such communication serves quite well, but one must remember not to mistake the container for the contents, which is somewhat reminiscent of the old saw about not being able to tell a book from its cover.

The blogosphere is a hotbed of concrete wrappings and book covers, but salvation does not lie in Google or Wikipedia alone.

Just as there is much being postulated about the function and impact of the internet on markets and commerce….witness such pieces as Cluetrain Manifesto and Cult of the Amateur….the market of ideas and the field of journalism also has been thrown into a tizzy by the advent of the electronic communication phenomenon. When everybody has access to everything, and virtually anyone anywhere can be considered a “source”, where does truth lie? It wasn’t all that long ago that I could write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, and a few days later those who read the newspaper would know that I, by name, considered the guy who was running for mayor a poor choice because of his record of financial instability at his place of business. Today, under a veil of anonymity and professional looking graphics, the mayoral candidate might be accused of running around on his wife and being a closet supporter of al-Qaeda without any way of verifying or belying the allegations, and in most cases without recourse. The slanderer goes free and the damage is done even if he is identified and taken to task. The public attention span is measured in nanoseconds and its appetite for sludge is insatiable.

Today, anyone with an ax to grind and an opinion, or simply a penchant for mischief and access to a computer is a “journalist” until proven otherwise.

Oddly enough, this state of affairs has a regressive tone to it in that it resurrects the concept of caveat emptor, or “Let the buyer beware”, which probably should never have been retired in the first place. It puts the onus on the reader to utilize his or her own native intellect and judgment to differentiate between fact and bovine fecal material.

That said, the recent controversy around President Obama’s campaign to tuck the American medical profession under the eagle’s wing has bred journalists like a summer pond breeds mosquitoes. For bats and swallows this might represent a feast, but for the average person it can be a bit overwhelming. Who to believe? Which Pied Piper to follow? From one perspective, it might be useful to note that the eagle is a raptor and meat eater.

The issue is more than just a moment of distraction while one tries not to spill coffee on the keyboard, it is important. People really want to know what the proposals mean relative to their political and economic philosophies, as well as to their own finances and health concerns.

In addition to being more than a little annoying, perhaps this circumstance also provides us all with an opportunity to abandon some really bad habits we have acquired in just a few short years, such as worrying more about who might be kicked off the island on Wednesday night than about who is driving this bus and where they are going. The American people have been lulled into an unsettling state of complacency and the mistaken belief that the momentum of the past can carry us through the difficulties of the present without the need for anyone to pedal harder or get off and push. That is unfathomable, considering the “fact” that the past ten years have not been particularly peaceful. It is vitally important for all of us to think for ourselves and make some decisions.

The written and broadcast material is infinite. Much of it is interesting, much of it is amusing, much of it is outrageous, some of it is accurate, and none of it comes from within each of us according to our own values and beliefs balanced against our concerns or fears and the things we feel confident about.

Perhaps the most glaring truth of the time is that its only reliable source resides in the mirror, not on the internet. We just have to learn how to use it and trust it again.

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