What Can You Believe?

Cover the world…

People like to say that we are awash in information.

Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth.

We have until now lived in a world of very limited information.

It may have been broadcast globally, and it may have extraordinary reach, but it is a mile wide and an inch deep.

The technology of transmission – predicated upon using portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, inherently limited the number of ‘voices’ that could be heard.  When radio started in the 1920s everyone and their brother started putting up radio stations. All it really took was a transmitter and an antenna.  Not hard to find. All radios that time were transmitters as well as receivers.

It soon became obvious that this was an unworkable solution.  There could be no free press in radio. The technology would not allow it. It only lead to a cacophony of sound.  A mess.  So the federal government through the FCC intervened to license frequencies.  It was the end of a ‘free press’ in radio.  There would, henceforth, be only a limited number of voices.

When television was invented in 1939, the situation followed suit, and for the most part, TV licenses were granted to radio companies who already occupied a good part of the EM spectrum.

Thus, we became accustomed to television and radio being a fairly limited world.  There was NBC, or ABC or CBS.  Later there would be Fox, and with the arrival of cable, CNN or MSNBC.  More, but still limited.

We got adjusted to the idea that we would get our news from CBS or NBC or CNN, and that they would be as objective and honest as possible.

But news is not objective, neither in the coverage nor in how an event is covered.  News is not black or white. It is endless gradations of grays.  If you don’t think so, read Drudgereport.com and Huffingtonpost.com on the same day and see if you think they’re both ‘objective’ news sources.

This notion of ‘objective’ news has always been a myth.

And perhaps, as a myth, it is time to deal with reality instead.

The CNN iReport story on the false death of Steve Jobs has raised interest in ‘citizen news’, but this is but a red herring.  The world has been filled with liars and false reports forever.  This is simply a matter of fact checking.  But the greater issue is one of objectivity.

In a world of 3 voices – CBS, NBC and ABC, striving for objectivity may be admirable, but it probably isn’t possible.  My wife and I split our time between England the US. We read The Daily Mail and The Guardian every morning along with The NY Times.  Sometimes it seems that there are two worlds co-existing. The view of The BBC about a story can be vastly different from that of NBC News.  Most stories covered in The Guardian never even appear in the US.

The arrival of Fox News, with their clear bias shattered the notion of even an attempt at ‘objective’ news.

But in an Internet world, with the potential for thousands, if not millions of voices competing, I tend to thing that objectivity comes from multiplicity instead. A true marketplace of ideas.

We have lived in an information desert for so long that the concept of a truly free press – millions of voices all competing for attention – can seem a bit disconcerting. And in the beginning it will be.

We are going to hear from people we have never heard from before, and we may not like what they have to tell us.

We have been in Iraq for 5 years. There are more than a million Iraqis with video cameras. Yet how much footage shot and produced by an Iraqi with a camera have you ever seen?  Ever?  Isn’t that a bit odd?

The world is going to change. Technology is going to make it possible for millions who were once TV watchers to become TV makers.

Is it going to be different?

You bet it is.


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