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The New News

07/08/08 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Commentator Bill Mares is an author, as well as a former teacher and legislator. He has also worked as a journalist. Lately, he's been thinking a lot about how the news business is changing.

(MARES) On a recent Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece about the rise of  non-professional journalism.  The most notorious, some would say enterprising, example of this trend was a woman's secret recording of Barack Obama's description of rural Pennsylvania voters as clinging to "guns and religion."  

That same Sunday, while cleaning files in my home office, I found some clippings of stories I'd written as a reporter for the Burlington Free Press thirty years ago.  

As I held those brown bits of paper, I reflected upon how much journalism has changed since those glory days of the late 1970's.  It was only a few years after Watergate, and journalism schools were filling up like recruiting stations after Pearl Harbor.  In my ten-year journalism career with four different newspapers, I was trained to dig for stories, to look for multiple points of view, to be respectful and protective of sources, and to keep my opinions out of my reporting.  Today, an ever-growing class of non-professional or "alternative" journalists scorn objectivity as a false creed.  Jane Hamsher, who runs a political web site called Firedoglake.com, told the Times, "Journalists should be loyal to their readers - NOT to their subjects."

Over those thirty years, the gap between news and entertainment narrowed both in ownership and in presentation.  Talk radio became ubiquitous.  National and state public radio stations came into being.  Reporting scandals at the New York Times and Washington Post tarnished their revered authority. "Reality TV" gave us a new oxymoron.  And many young people - like our twenty-something sons - found Comedy Central more credible than network news.  
Of course, the greatest change was the Internet - which now provides instant access not only to stalwarts like the BBC and CNN,  but also to all the newspapers and news services we'll ever want to read. It also brings discussion groups, neighborhood bulletin board,s and the multifarious clipping services of our friends.  
The Web's extraordinary search capacity has allowed more of us to do our own digging and reporting.  YouTube and blogs are also building a digital Information Mall of the World, full of self, stupidity, sham - and significance.
But this profusion of news has spawned one immense unintended consequence.  Under the new journalistic rules, there are no rules, no gate keepers, no editors.  As the Web drenches us with individual prejudices and preconceptions of every shade and stripe, it becomes a tempting echo chamber for our own views. This poses a greater burden on ordinary citizens to separate the wheat from the chaff - and not keep the chaff!  
So it would seem that even with new journalism, one fundamental thing remains the same - the citizen's responsibility to evaluate all this new information and then ACT - do something constructive with it  - the better to contribute to a democratic society.
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