Welcome to my Silo!

Loyalist newspaper cartoon

Once upon a time in America, newspapers were plentiful. Large cities had several publisher producing papers on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis. Folks had ample choice as to where they got their news. Men would gather in  pubs, tea houses, and coffee shops to discuss and debate the issues of the day. No, they didn’t always agree, but people were informed about the day’s events and based their opinions on that information.

Sounds good, right?

Well, this scenario is true, but only to a point. See, those competing newspapers? they had axes to grind on particular issues, and their reporting tended to be biased in favor of their points of view. People subscribed to the papers that shared their viewpoints and which told them the news the way they wanted to hear it.

This tradition continued through the Civil War and into the late 1800s, until the “Yellow Journalism” period in the late 1890s drove some to call for higher standards on the part of journalists. These people wanted the news in a form Joe Friday could appreciate- Just the facts, Ma’am- and for 100 years or so this was the expectation of those who read newspapers. While the editorial pages were the place for opinions, slant, and spin, the rest of the paper should be “just the facts.” As television news supplanted print as the primary source of news, we continued to expect that the journalists in front of the cameras held the same standard of journalistic integrity as their print colleagues should.

Then along came the Internet, and shortly thereafter the blogging explosion (revolution?). Now, anyone could be a journalist! Just go out, find the truth, and report it for all the world to see!  A great step forward in our quest to ensure responsibility and accountability on the part of our public figures.

But, in my opinion, we’re experienced a shift in our journalistic expectations as a result of this revolution, one that is having a Balkanizing effect on politics, education, and nearly every other issue under debate in this country. The media companies running the networks and publishing the (few remaining) newspapers and news magazines don’t really care about “journalistic integrity.” Some of their staff do, sure, but not the companies. They care about profits. Profits are driven by advertising, and only programs with viewers, papers with readers, and websites with unique visitors will produce advertising revenues, so they will do what they can to get viewers, readers, and site visits, and today that means giving you the news the way you want to hear it.

From the 1970s to the 1990s and into the early 2000s, we’ve seen a decline in the number of traditional print media outlets- with a shift towards digital combined with economic difficulties, papers have combined, failed, and clods, but without a net negative impact on the total number of news source options, and- naturally, I suppose- we become more selective in the outlets we turn to for information. Too many of us though (and I, too, am guilty of this more often than I care to admit) are choosing to stick with news sources that provide us with news the way we want to hear it. Why should I believe the Liberal Media when Fox tells me what I want to hear? Why should I listen to Glenn Beck and his colleagues when Keith Olbermann makes me nod in agreement? I don’t want to be challenged, made to think that maybe, just maybe the other side of the issue could actually have a good point; I want to be outraged. I want to feel threatened, and I want to be told that the way if feel about things is right, damnit!

It’s not just politics, either. Those of us in education, while we tell our students that they should listen to all sides of the story before forming their opinions, have Twitter feeds and RSS readers filled with folds who agree with us. Oh, we may have one or two we point to as Yin to our Yang, but I suspect that, overall, your conversations take place in the silo.

It’s not easy to listen to (or read the writing of) someone telling you you’re wrong- even if they’re not speaking directly to you- but it’s critical that we do so. We won’t be able to create meaningful, lasting change in ANY area if we aren’t willing to dialogue. We can stay safe in our silos, railing against the unfairness of it all, or we can accept the fact that we aren’t always right.

A favorite movie of mine is 1776, a musical version of the story of the Second Continental Congress as they debate the Declaration of Independence. In one scene, a delegate from Rhode Island comes into the room (after a visit to the privy) to find he’s the deciding vote in whether the issue will even be discussed by the Congress. He says: “Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!”

Take the risk. Open the doors to the silo.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jim Connolly, seani. seani said: @jimconn is blogging again! – Welcome to my Silo! http://bit.ly/9Ng6Mz […]


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