In­ter­net has made us less in­formed, tol­er­ant

The Niagara Falls Review - - OPINION - JIM MER­RIAM jmer­riam@bmts.com

Back around the mid­dle of the last cen­tury, a news­pa­per in Al­berta had a run­ning feud with the lo­cal MLA.

At one point the pa­per un­cov­ered some scan­dal and since this was be­fore in­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the news­pa­per pub­lished an “ex­tra” edi­tion.

It seemed im­por­tant to get this new in­for­ma­tion out to the peo­ple, since the elec­tion was the next day.

The MLA was re­turned to of­fice with his big­gest ma­jor­ity ever.

So, there’s noth­ing new about politi­cians feud­ing with news­pa­pers and the me­dia. In fact, it’s one of the old­est games in the political play­book. If you need an en­emy, pick the me­dia be­cause no­body likes them much any­way.

Largely be­cause of what’s hap­pen­ing in the United States, “fake news” has be­come a ral­ly­ing cry for any­one who doesn’t like what they read or see.

The me­dia is not im­mune to er­rors, in­clud­ing er­rors of ex­cess. But al­most ev­ery work­ing jour­nal­ist has a per­sonal man­date to get the real story out there. In­vari­ably they be­lieve in truth.

With some ex­cep­tions, there have been few cor­po­rate at­tempts to shade, shape or lie about the news.

In my ca­reer, I’ve only twice had a head of­fice of­fi­cial tell me what to write or omit.

In the first of th­ese in­stances, the owner of a group of news­pa­pers got him­self into some serious trou­ble with the law and threat­ened that any of his ed­i­tors who pub­lished the story would be fired.

Had this hap­pened to any­one else in the cir­cu­la­tion area, it would have been front page news.

For me, the or­der not to pub­lish was a red flag waved in front of a bull, so I pub­lished it and sure enough, he fired me, which turned out to be one of the best things that ever hap­pened in my ca­reer.

An­other time I was work­ing at one of sev­eral pa­pers owned by Con­rad Black’s com­pany.

Af­ter Black had been smeared by a piece on the CBC about a strike at one of his news­pa­pers, we were all in­structed to pub­lish his re­sponse.

The orig­i­nal piece was one-sided and un­fair and the re­ply only sought to get the other side out, so I had no prob­lem com­ply­ing.

Never, as an editor or writer, was I in­structed to slant or lead the news­pa­per in a cho­sen di­rec­tion on any sub­ject at any time.

So, it’s a fal­lacy that there is lots of fake news out there from legacy me­dia driv­ing some hid­den political agenda.

(Of course, there’s lots of fake news from other me­dia that present only slanted views and do one-sided things such as hold ral­lies in sup­port of their point of view.)

But peo­ple have be­come so in­tol­er­ant and so mired in their own be­liefs that for many, there is lit­tle chance for de­bate or the pos­si­bil­ity of chang­ing any­one’s mind.

Back in the day, it was ar­gued that the In­ter­net would bring knowl­edge to the masses and make our world a saner and more rea­soned place.

Just the op­po­site has hap­pened, at least with so­cial me­dia. Al­go­rithms make sure you get to see items that sup­port your prej­u­dices and be­lief sys­tem.

Any­thing that might ac­tu­ally chal­lenge you to think or give some weight to an­other point of view just doesn’t show up on your feed.

It’s a new kind of me­dia ver­sus peo­ple war.

Peo­ple have be­come so in­tol­er­ant and so mired in their own be­liefs that for many, there is lit­tle chance for de­bate.”

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