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Media illiteracy on purpose

Elinor Tatum | 7/13/2017, 10:07 a.m.
There once was a time when most educated people, of a certain age, made it a point to watch the ...
Elinor Tatum

There once was a time when most educated people, of a certain age, made it a point to watch the evening news, read the daily newspaper or, as technology advanced, read publications online. But times are changing and the news is grim because what news is out there is losing focus and getting derailed by stupid tangents and losing sight of what really matters.

As cable news proliferated the mainstream, appointment news watching was no longer necessary. You could always tune into whatever breaking news was happening in real time. You no longer had to wait until 5 or 6 or 11 p.m. or for the morning news cycles to begin all over again. You had CNN, MSNBC, Fox News (well maybe not Fox!) 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Then as the internet exploded, there was news at your fingertips. You could log on to a website and get the latest updates before even the cable outlets could break in with special reports. New blogs were popping up every minute, and citizen journalists were born. And then as the internet grew and technology changed and mobile devices became the go-to for everything, everyone had news at their fingertips and did not need to be tied to a TV or a computer to consume or report the news. They were now wireless.

As the wireless technology advanced, the apps that were created changed and continue to change the way we consume and create media forever. First it was Facebook and people posting stories online, firsthand accounts of incidents (The Arab Spring is just one example). People begin posting their own stories. Some true, some not. Others migrated to YouTube. They gained a following and the YouTube celebrity was born. Then came Twitter with 140 characters. It started as mostly just headlines but soon became the bastion of breaking news.

Heavy D, Teena Marie and Amy Winehouse’s deaths were on Twitter before mainstream media confirmed the news. Grandmaster Flash announced Heavy D’s death: “I was just told Heavy D passed away.” Sheila E. reported details on Teena Marie’s death: “They just took her body from her home. Teena Marie found dead by her daughter whose BD was yesterday. Pray 4 her & her family.” Amy Winehouse’s death, tweeted just 20 minutes after she was found, was news even before her father was made aware.

So much, especially at first, in entertainment that was happening around the world was reported on Twitter. But now it seems that Twitter is so much more than that, but at the same time so much less. Although Twitter seems to be the official news source for the White House, it is also a place where people can get lost in what is news and what is not news. We get taken on tangents about facelifts and orange men.

So what is this development doing to our news literacy? What is it doing to the real consumption of news? Who is still reading?

I contend that, not by any fault of their own, but by the fault of the ridiculousness of the times that we are in, people are tuning out. Although we may have more access to more information than we have ever had in our lives, well educated people are just sick and tired of the nonsense and are disgusted at what they are seeing, hearing and reading about what is going on in this country, and so they are tuning out. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to people who say, “I can’t read the paper, I can’t turn on the news.” I know there are days I don’t want to. But where does that leave us? It leaves us woefully uninformed. Even when we do watch something we are still left uniformed because we are lured away from the real issues to talk about tangents that have no real bearing on policy or on our daily lives. It leaves us at the mercy of a corrupt and tyrannical regime. One that if not kept in check and stopped will be the downfall of this nation, and possibly others. And that, dear friends, is not fake news!

Freedom of the press is written into the Constitution. But there cannot be a free press if there are no more newspapers. We must support our media outlets. We must buy our newspapers; we must read our newspapers. We must continue to learn what is going on and continue to fight the injustices that are happening every day. We must hold this president accountable. And the way to do that is with a free press. But a press is only free if it continues to exist.