I've always loved my local paper, the Allentown Morning Call. After all, where else am I going to see who has died that I might know, find a good Pennsylvania Dutch recipe I've been wondering about, read about the guy who was all drugged up and threw a can of baked beans at a car, and see what's opening and closing in my hometown? But for the first time ever, when I got the bill I wondered if I should really pay for a paper newspaper to come to my house.
I'm lucky if I get to sit down and read it front-to-back once a week. Now, "front-to-back" isn't what it used to be. We are talking maybe 30 pages. I've already seen most of the national headlines on the Huffington Post, so I'm usually just skimming for the local stuff. And I do use the paper to start fires in the winter and to light the grill (in my grill chimney) in the summer, so it is useful....
But as my local newspaper has gotten thinner and I've taken to using the Internet for the headlines (or Twitter for breaking news--it's unparalleled), I've noticed something really, truly disturbing: So much of what passes for news these days is from sketchy sources, regurgitated and recycled, and just plain old. While Facebook is the worst (I think Nelson Mandela has died a few times already, and so many shared stories are from weird sources or are years old), even the major news portals seem to be skimming the surface, recycling and reusing, and overly relying on loud-mouthed gripers to define what is "news." I just saw something in the news that said those loud-mouthed gripers are the highest-paid people in news, other than the "titans" who own the news (although I wouldn't want to be any of them!). But who knows, maybe that story was just a hoax or wrong. Does anyone have a fact-checking department anymore?
Now, this loud-mouthed (unpaid) griper (me) is not complaining about change blah, blah, blah. I'm all for change and am managing my own industry transformation as we speak (paid). However, I am worried about our democracy and literacy--not because of the potential for fascism or communism, but because of our own ignorance. The GREAT thing about the Internet has been that it's given EVERYONE a voice in the news, whether they are in the middle of a riot or a war or just sitting on their couch in a free country watching a stupid TV show. That's amazing! The bad thing about the Internet is that every kind of information is free, so news organizations have a harder time paying for good, deep investigative reporting.
I've noticed that even the major news outlets often get things "wrong." They can easily become mouthpieces for all sorts of agendas rather than beacons of truth because, after all, there aren't enough time, money, and people to get the truth. And the TRUTH is most people won't pay for the truth! Unless it's highly entertaining, makes one feel very important and superior to others, or involves very adorable and goofy animals or children.
I was going to make this blog a quiz and ask your opinion about whether I should renew my subscription or not. But I think I've decided to renew just on principle...although even I was shocked when I saw the price: $167.76 for SIX MONTHS!!!!!
(Cue the old lady voice.) I remember when it was $52 for a whole year! But I'm getting old. Not old enough to believe that news back in the day was any better or more truthful. But old enough to believe we should be concerned if we don't get better at telling the truth in the news, digging for it and spreading it and paying for it and working for it.
The real news is that each of us can make a difference with what we read and what we don't read, what we listen to and what we don't listen to (NPR and BBC are still the best, I think), what we share or don't share (I'm guilty of this, too!), and--most important--how we spend our money on information. Spend it wisely, please.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.