Filter-Free News

Politico featured a great story about how President Obama is “seek[ing] filter free news.” The idea behind it is that some people aren’t news junkies (they aren’t?!?) and could potentially miss out on news that is important to our politics and our society.

The concept behind it is an interesting one to me. It seems that the idea is to communicate constantly to an array of people in an array of mediums. This includes tv, radio, internet, print, traditional, nontraditional, bloggers, twitter-ers. You name it, and I’m sure it’s covered in one way or another.

Even with all of this and my relative faith in Obama, I still have to wonder what is exactly that we don’t know. I mean we are working on a backwards trajectory in some cases. A lot of what Obama has to talk about regarding wars and economics is rooted deeply in an administration that is not his and did not value the constant stream of communication with the general public.

I’d like to say that President Bush spoke just as much as President Obama does and that I just wasn’t paying attention, but the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that it genuinely is not true. I know for sure that it didn’t filter into any of my liberal news sources. You would think, at the very least, I would have read and heard a wealth of criticism.

When I began studying journalism 9 years ago, the internet was a relatively new phenomenon in the journalism world. It was new, and it was mostly untrusted by the veteran reporters I was privileged to call professors. At the time, I could completely understand why an “online journalism” emphasis was not given much credence by these writers who could count the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times amongst their employers. The internet, to them, was diluted. It was something that “anyone could do.”

And it is. It’s something that anyone can do. Anyone can sign up for a blog just like this one and write. Anyone could start up an online magazine, newspaper or (heaven forbid!) a blog.

I can see the positives and negatives. The biggest negative for me is that there is no editor for an online blog such as mine. Presumably, I could make up just about anything and publish it. I wouldn’t do that, of course, but who’s to say it doesn’t happen? The positives though? There are many from my vantage point. Online writing gives someone like me a medium to express myself. It provides yet another layer of that “watchdog” quality that journalism is known for. All of these bloggers and online reporters can instantly post their work and disseminate information much faster than any print newspaper could. I think that’s pretty cool. I think it also gives people (i.e. elected officials) less leeway to lie. Tell a lie? It’s all over the internet pretty much instantly. I think people my age and younger pick up on these things within seconds, and seconds later you have a viral situation going on where millions of people not only know what President Obama said in his news conference this evening, but millions of opinions have already been posted.

For me, that’s the best part of all. One of the lessons that I have carried with me from my journalism education was one taught by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist of the New York Times. He covered the Vietnam war in Vietnam for several years. When he left for Vietnam, he asked his significant other to collect copies of the Times with his articles in them so he could have an archive of his work upon his return to the U.S.

In class, he described to us some of the most horrific firsthand descriptions of war that I have ever heard. Strangely, the most disturbing part of his story was that upon his return he read each and every article printed in the Times with his byline only to find that they had been edited, altered, “cleaned” up, sanitized and otherwise violated.

“I didn’t write for 12 years after that,” he told us. Thinking about it right now, I still want to cry. I bought his book on Vietnam when I was a junior in college. He signed it for me, and I still have it on my bookshelf. It took him 30 years to be able to write that book, and it is a very moving and very true tale of what it was like to be a reporter during one of the darkest periods of our recent history.

When I think about that story, I always think about Iraq and how little we really know. What makes me even sadder is that the little we know is probably much more than people knew in the 60’s. Even with the advent of the instant “news” online, I think in some ways we’re still pretty censored, even if it is self-censoring.

It just gives me a little comfort to know that we are making strides. The more often that news is disseminated to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible, we are finally making headway on a problem that genuinely plagues this country.

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