THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF INTERNET “NEWS”


The author (front) and his brother, Dave (back).

The author (front) and his brother, Dave (back).

y Paul Nicholas Boylan,
Columnis

People of Earth, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that very soon virtually everyone on earth will be able to easily and cheaply access the Internet.

Even really, really poor people.

It is happening so fast no one can keep up or predict where or how it will end.  Computers and telephones with wireless connections to the World Wide Web are spreading even through the poorest parts of Africa – even though there is no electrical infrastructure there. The people who live in those retched places are using solar energy to power their small, inexpensive internet devices.  And that means people from Port-au-Prince to Benghazi can watch television reruns on Hulu, watch weird videos on YouTube and look down upon their huts and refugee camps using the satellite images from Google Earth.

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Now for the bad news. Even though we are entering a brave new world promising incredible access to information, a lot of the information available is absolute junk.  This true especially for the news.

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IH071413

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The problem is found in the system itself.  Every major newspaper and every major Internet service provider offers a news page where anyone can browse the headlines for free.  Google has a news page.  Yahoo has a news page.  Microsoft has a news page.

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But there just isn’t enough news to fill those pages.  Our opportunities to find news on the Internet are growing faster than the news itself.  There just isn’t enough happening that is newsworthy to post on the Internet for you and me to read.

In the past, during the golden age of journalism, great newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times and the Weekly World News pledged to report “all of the news that is fit to print.”  Please read that promise carefully:  all of the news that is fit to print.  That implies that not all news is suitable to be put in a newspaper.  Some stories are just too trivial or too stupid to make it past an editor.  Traditionally, only the most interesting, most helpful and/or most topical stories made it into print.  In other words, quality mattered.

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It isn’t that way any more.  In this new age of fast information access, quality has lost its meaning and importance. Now quantity is king.  Electronic space, millions of times larger than all of the newspapers that have ever been printed, needs to be filled with something.

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Think about it.

The results are simply bizarre, and – truth be told – a little frightening.  When the quality of information loses its importance, the quality of thought and reason suffers.

For example, just yesterday I read the following headline on the Google News website:

“NAVAJOS LARGELY UNSCATHED BY RECESSION”

I want you to think about this headline.  It basically reports that the group of Native Americans more commonly called Navajos – who are perhaps one of the poorest people in the United States, suffering from lack of education, lack of health care and double digit unemployment – are not really being affected by the recent economic down turn.  And why? Because they are already dirt poor, that’s why.

 

The news article quoted some idiot who explained why the Great Recession isn’t really being noticed on Navajo reservations:

“Most Navajos own their own homes, tend not to invest in the stock market and have long had difficulties borrowing money, distinguishing them from millions of other Americans who’ve suffered from rising mortgage payments, sinking 401(k) retirement accounts and stricter terms from lenders.”

If you are not totally amazed at the abject stupidity of this “news” then perhaps I can help you understand by suggesting a headline that would be equally stupid for exactly the same reasons:

“RECENT STUDY SHOWS DEAD PEOPLE HAVE FEWER HEALTH PROBLEMS”

Navajos are not affected by the Great Recession for the exact same reason why dead people don’t get sick: because they are already in such bad shape that it just doesn’t matter.  Swine flu isn’t a problem for people who have died for the same reason unemployment isn’t a problem for people who already don’t have a job.  

You know what else impoverished Navajos aren’t affected by? The increase in swimming pool maintenance fees and the rising price of caviar.

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Lucky Navajos!

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The fact that our banks won’t lend any money doesn’t matter to people who could never get a loan anyway. Reporting this kind of stuff as “news” is like reporting thathpigs are born small but grow big.lIt isn’t news. It is an observation dressed up and presented to look like news.

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It gets worse.  Not only are stupid things reported, but also stupid people are actually allowed to make the news itself.  For example, yesterday I also read the following headline:

“STEELERS LINEBACKER HARRISON WON’T VISIT WHITE HOUSE

Here is what happened: President Obama invited Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh Steelers to the White House.  Linebacker James Harrison refused to go because Obama “would probably have invited Arizona if they had won.”

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Harrison is the one in the air.

Harrison is the one in the air.

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Excuse me? Is he kidding? No, he is not kidding, and that is exactly what is wrong with this “news” article.  He is one serious intellectually challenged American style football player. I mean, what the f**k.  Seriously, what the f**k? Is there anything inside his cranium at all?

Mr. Harrison – if I may address you personally – please try to understand that being angry with the President because Obama would have invited the other team if they had won is just as stupid as a man divorcing his wife because, if she had not agreed to marry him, she would probably have married someone else.

Oh hell. I sincerely hope Harrison doesn’t read this, because if he does, he is going to agree and divorce his wife. I do not want to be responsible for that or anything like it.  I am sure they are a happy couple. I mean, I bet Harrison’s wife takes advantage of his lack of mental acuity to do just about anything she wants.

“Hey, honey, who is that in our bed making love to you?”

“No one, sweety. You are dreaming.

“I am?”

“Yes, you are.”

“Okay!”

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Harrison thinking.

Harrison thinking.

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But I digress.  The point I originally wanted to make is that his stupid reason for not visiting the White House is just a stupid reason. It isn’t newsworthy.  Yet it has engulfed enormous space on the internet.

Navajos that are “lucky” because they are condemned to hopeless poverty and stupid football players aren’t newsworthy.  At best that is information devoid of usefulness or meaningful content.

Welcome to the Information Age.

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ZippyT.Pinhead writes:

” ‘Welcome to the Information Age?’ That is a terribly weak last line for an essay that is marginal at best.”

Zippy, I am forced by self-honesty to agree with your opinion that I ended the essay poorly. However, as for your assessment that the essay itself was somehow not up to scratch, I offer the following in rebuttal:

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hailey young

6 Responses to “THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF INTERNET “NEWS””

  1. I had to fact check this one Paul. I had to see if what you were saying was your typical “cynicism” or not. I am so displeased that it wasn’t. Sigh

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  2. ‘All the news that’s fit to print’ (as distinct from printed to fit) – how could ‘Man eats underwear to pass breathalyser’ fail to meet the required standards?

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  3. When I took a tour of the local paper some years back, the guide admitted that news is actually printed to fit around the ads. A story would be dropped, rather than reduce the ad percentage.

    “All the news that’s fit to print” only meant they wouldn’t publish anything off color. Quality and accuracy weren’t necessarily considerations, as far as I know.

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  4. paulboylan Says:

    uamada – not everything I write is a total fabrication. Most, but not all.

    Yobbo – I actually agree. The pic doesn’t quite fit in with the theme of the essay, and, indeed, sort of disproves the central thesis, but I couldn’t help posting it.

    Doug – I didn’t know that about stories fitting around the ads. But it makes perfect sense and does show that the thing I am complaining about has been around for a very, very long time. Ultimately, the news is about money and is offered to make money.

    I guess if those who put out the news think people will look at ads because they want to read about how unemployed people aren’t affected by rising unemployment, then it is what it is.

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  5. Ana Nymous Says:

    Total fabrications? I thought at least some of your pieces were observations dressed up and presented to look like news, and quite hilariously at times.

    Unemployed not affected by rising unemployment? Have you visited your local underpass or food bank lately?

    Look at that Navajo pic again, that home is neat and tidy and has new siding. Maybe the home of one of the families fighting to keep another coal strip mind from cutting the shit out of their land and fouling their air and water.

    I guess I also have a problem with assumptions based on how much money one has/makes. There is $ poverty and then there’s moral poverty.

    Sorry, it is foggy, nothing but gray outside, and likely to be so for days. Don’t take the last 3 paragraphs personally, PNB. In fact, take heart, there’s a piece on Indianz.com about the Navajos winning a at least one battle against the largest coal company in the U.S. (world?) AND they were helped when the company had to release some info.

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  6. […] paulboylan.wordpress.com, […]

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