Belmont Club

A whole new world

The “dean” of news anchors, Tom Brokow, argues that information filtering is more necessary than ever because the Internet is so full of unsupported facts that it needs responsible people — presumably like him — to separate the wheat from the chaff.

MR. BROKAW: Well, I’ve — one of the things I’ve been saying to audiences is this question comes up a lot, and a lot of people will repeat back to me and take it as face value something that they read on the Internet. And my line to them is you have to vet information. You have to test it the same way you do when you buy an automobile or when you go and buy a new flat-screen television. You read the Consumer Reports, you have an idea of what it’s worth and what the lasting value of it is. You have to do the same thing with information because there is so much disinformation out there that it’s frightening, frankly, in a free society that depends on information to make informed decisions. And this is across the board, by the way. It’s not just one side of the political spectrum or the other. It is across the board, David, and it’s something that we all have to address and it requires society and political and cultural leaders to stand up and say, “this is crazy.” We just can’t function that way.

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But the really good line, I think, came from Tom Friedman who said cogently argued that technology has made everyone a member of the new media and Friedman, like Brokaw, thinks this is terrible.

When everyone has cellphone, everyone is a photographer. When everyone has access to YouTube, everyone is a film maker. And when everyone is a blogger,  everyone is a newspaper. When everyone is a photographer, a newspaper and a film maker, everyone else is a public figure.  Tell your kids, be careful. Every move you make is a digital footprint.

Mr. Friedman never paused to think that his warning to the kids might be interpreted both ways. Are people to fear the new technology because it may digitally capture any  acts they may later regret or because it may lets the powers track the fact that they captured regrettable acts which no one wants seen? The Old Media, hand it to them, knew information was “hot stuff”. They understood how to gain power from it, make money from it even Change history with it.  Whenever they see a blogger bring down a public figure for essentially nothing, what is it that they think?  Of the injustice of it or of pearls thrown at swine? Perhaps the real distinction between the New and the Old journalism is that the new citizen journalists haven’t discovered the insider’s ground rules yet; don’t understand that journalism isn’t just about discovering the news but using it as the lifeblood that flows through a network of contacts; that it is employed  according to usages that were hinted at, but rarely written down, for purposes that were understood but only occasionally disclosed.

With the old media model rapidly growing bankrupt, the focus of its floundering managers has been to find new revenue models to replace subscriptions or advertising. But maybe they are failing because their business analysis is incomplete: it doesn’t take into account the changes it must make to the groundrules having to do with those who are in power. They can no longer deal with any part of their environment from a position of monopoly, as Cronkite once did and as Brokaw finds he can no longer do. The media has become far closer to a competitive market than at any time since the Gutenberg press was invented.

How do you make money in a competitive market? Think on that one, Tom.

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