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April 14, 2004

Keystrokes and Voices
Any unit of time spent online yields numerous examples of poor reporting going unchecked or, worse, being rewarded. Harry Knowles, the capitalization-crazy and ellipsis-obsessed webmaster of Ain’t It Cool News, has actually been brought on as a producer for a major Hollywood studio picture. This isn’t Jayson Blair- or Stephen Glass-level stuff, but it’s not good.

While the internet is certainly a boon to the information delivery capabilities of modern civilization, it also aggrandizes the authority of dubious experts and gives weight to the half-assed masses. Information travels like word-of-mouth. Today’s news might as well be heard from a coworker or overheard on the train for all the credence it deserves. The skill of the reporting is becoming less important than the simple act of reporting.

Today, CNN.com posted a story about the international reactions to various kidnappings in Iraq. The story contained this credibility-eroding passage:

“Japan also advised its citizens to leave while Russia announce it is sending planes to evacuate its citizens while France and coalition partner Japan are urging their citizens to leave.”

Wired News features a terrific article about news agencies around the world reporting unconfirmed stories about Al-Qaeda telemarketing operations and a new congressional building with a retractable dome, among others. These articles didn’t just appear in small-town papers (though they did appear in small-town papers), but were reported by the likes of the Beijing Evening News and MSNBC‘s Deborah Norville. The source for these stories was, of course, The Onion, “America’s Finest News Source.”

These are further examples of mass communications creating a global village. This could be bad for news. Like any other village, the global village gets its news from whichever blatherskite sits on the most porches come tea time. Getting into print has become so easy that any rumormonger can make a statement in his parent’s basement and be taken seriously half a world away. The easiest way to be heard and recognized is, once again, to be the loudest or the most shocking. It’s too easy, now, to hollar and be heard across town. Being heard has become more important than being correct. Audiences have become more important than the show.

It’s time to stop awing at the ease with which keystrokes and voices can cross the globe and resume the celebration of the words being written and said. Don’t celebrate what isn’t praiseworthy. The sheer volume of news sources means the audience can’t trust the show anymore. Sample the best, compare, and decide for yourself what’s going on. Chew, swallow, and digest. Don’t eat empty calories.

What do you think?

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