Power to the Peanut Gallery

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but as news has gone online (and print newspapers die off), your ability to “color commentate” on that news has increased dramatically. No longer do you have to submit a Letter to the Editor and have it go through some type of review to determine its relevance, fairness or interest to the general public. Now you can simply make up a pseudonym (or use your real name if you’ll gutsy) and let fly with any opinion you may care to share.

Online comments are EVERYWHERE—on Facebook, blogs like this, online stores through buyer/seller feedback and product reviews, all over the place. But is it a good thing, particularly when it comes to the news? This is debatable—and I welcome some good debate—but I’m inclined to say that it is a necessary thing though maybe not always a good thing.

With the advent of the internet, journalism has changed. No longer can journalists be relied upon to simply report the news in as unbiased a way as possible (no one is wholly unbiased). Now people don’t subscribe to one daily newspaper and watch one world news program after dinner. They have access to nearly infinite news sources, both local and global. Journalists—or at least media owners—must compete. Rather than mass appeal, they’re going for niche, editorialized news and pseudo-news.

Are you an urban liberal with a college degree? The New York Times and Jon Stewart are pitching for you. A staunch conservative in middle America? Rush and Fox News may tickle your ears. Whatever your demographics and persuasion, you can find news that suits you and covers the stories you want the way you want.

What does this have to do with comments? Plenty.

Because the news media have become increasingly biased to target these niche markets, it has become more difficult to get “the straight story.” To do so, one really has to sample multiple sources. The person who gets their news exclusively from Fox News or CNN scares me a bit. You have the ability to get multiple perspectives, and I’d encourage you to do so. At the same time, where you see inaccuracies, lies being portrayed as truth, or blatant editorializing, take full advantage of the “Comments” section. I do FREQUENTLY.

Democracy has its downsides, in politics and in the world of online news. All opinions get equal weight, no matter how educated or ignorant. So, while I like to take full advantage of correcting errors and taking editorializing reporters to task, the online agitators (“trolls”) get equal time.

I guess that’s the price we pay. If we’re going to be given what we want (choices! choices! choices!), we’re going to have to deal with spin, slant and bias. One of the few checks and balances we are afforded in this vast marketplace is the ability to comment. So, it may be futile, but I’m going to do my part. I hope you will, too.


Mo said...

The fact that there are endless outlets for news these days is a good thing. But in a culture whose mantra is 'That may be true for you but it's not true for me!' it's also scary.

I can't tell you the times I've had something that is an open and shut case, provided facts and STILL people choose to believe the opposite - often because they read it on their favorite site.

There's a difference between a perspective (which everyone brings to any topic) and an outright falsehood. People do not grasp this nowadays. They consider *everything* spin.


It's great that it is so easy these days to make your voice heard. I have an almost compulsive desire to point out error and set things straight. I don't know how effective it all is in the long run, but I've often received thoughtful replies. You never know what may get someone thinking.


Your kiddies are way too adorable. I may have to kidnap them. (Until they're about 12. Then they're aaaaaaall yours.)

Michael Atto said...

Why would Fox news, a network that claims to be "fair & balanced", invite the controversial (if not polarzing & repulsive) Karl Rove to the network? Is he really a man of integrity? Will he honestly answer any question? Can he really offer political insight & analysis on issues affecting our country? Michael Atto 8/14/08