The confluence of several experiences got me to thinking more deeply about journalism.
The first epiphany occurred after I wrote an opinion piece for the local Oregon daily that generated ire from several bloggers. The piece concerned a lawsuit surrounding cigarette packaging.
I wasn’t prepared for the bloggers’ bile, and friends and family members rose to my defense.
But the comments didn’t bug me as much as the freedom the bloggers have to foment publicly. In this case the responses to my opinion appeared without apparent editing or censoring from the newspaper.
I asked a friend who has been a news editor what gives.
He said that the newspaper likely has an open approach to readers’ responses, allowing unedited comments to unfurl liberally on the paper’s electronic pages.
What that means is pretty much anyone with an opinion can write her views without edification in a public forum.
Problem is that such outlets provide an opportunity for anyone with a view to be heard. Unlike letters-to-the-editor, which (in my day as a journalist) were subjected to a gatekeeper’s control and libel laws, electronic responses are largely free of editing.
And such top-of-the head responses often lack mindful thinking.
In a similar vein, the blogger fined $2.5 million for making unsubstantiated comments about an Oregon attorney lacked any gatekeeping mechanism.
According to the New York Times, the blogger invented lies wholesale. At issue is the fact that she had access to the internet, having honed her talents at launching attacks with great prominence.
The ability to bypass gatekeepers and generate our own publicity means that, as writers, we get to frame our own stories. This bodes well for Indigenous tribes that have taken the gatekeeper reins in hand and use their own mediated channels to tell their own stories. That’s good.
But it also means anyone with an internet bull-horn can spread tales without checks and balances, and that’s bad.