Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Internet is Full of Lies

You can’t trust anything you see here.

I don’t mean that in the philosophical skeptical sense, where you could be dreaming your existence right now. I mean that, according to former Internet entrepreneur Andrew Keen, the Internet is full of lies and the truth is hard to find.

Keen is the author of “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.” He is a staunch advocate for traditional media and the editorial and review process that comes with it.

From “The Cult of the Amateur”:

“Today’s editors, technicians, and cultural gatekeepers – the experts across an array of fields – are necessary to help us sift through what’s important and what’s not, what is credible from what is unreliable, what is worth spending our time on as opposed to the white noise that can be safely ignored.”

Sounds reasonable to me. I don’t want to waste my time on junk. I, too, believe that traditional media sources are the best place to turn for important news. The public needs to be aware of local, national, and world events that will affect their lives, and traditional media is a reliable source.

One Man’s Trash…

However, sometimes what one person considers “white noise” is what another considers Grammy material. There is a niche market for just about everything. That’s why it’s important for us to have that pile of junk to dig through.

I think there is an important distinction that needs to be made. The “junk” is separated from the “good stuff” because it appeals to people on a different level. For traditional news we turn to traditional media (even if it is in a roundabout way, like through news aggregators). However, for our quirky interests and hobbies, and even just for entertainment, we look through the junk.

Sifting through all that is on the web can be exhausting. However, I liken it to shopping. Bargain stores, thrift stores, garage sales, or even just hunting through the sale racks can be such a pain. I won’t even try if I’m not in the mood. However, when I find the perfect item, it feels awesome. Afterwards, the urge to share my find with everyone is overwhelming.

…Is Sometimes Just Trash

Unfortunately, not everything is going to be a great find. Sometimes junk is just junk, no matter who is looking at it. There is no clearly defined “Opinion” section here, and opinion can be espoused as though it were fact.

Keen uses Wikipedia as just one example of the way false information is spread on the Web. Not only has it contained outright lies about people, but also the content can be edited with a bias.

“That is why, in February 2007, the Middlebury College history department banned students from citing Wikipedia as a source for research papers,” he wrote.

I agree wholeheartedly that Wikipedia shouldn’t be used for research papers. But was a ban necessary? I don’t think so.

Use Your Brain

“These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com,” Keen wrote.

I think that my generation needs to be given a little more credit. We should all know that Wikipedia isn’t fact checked for us. Heck, they admit it freely. It can be a good starting point, but following links and finding original sources for the material it contains is important. We just need to use our brains. That’s what they’re there for.

Sure the Internet contains a lot of white noise, and I appreciate the gatekeepers who filter out the important news for us. However, every once in a while I want to find something beyond the traditional, and I can do a little filtering for myself.

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Ashton Kutcher is Not a Journalist

I hate to break it to you, but Ashton Kutcher is not a journalist. Although he actively uses Twitter and beat CNN in the race to 1 million followers back in April*, he is not contributing to the world of news.

But he sure thinks so. In a YouTube video he said that this accomplishment “signifies the turning of the tide from traditional news outlets to social media outlets, social news outlets.”

(To get to the point, start at 2:06)

A Change in Medium, Not in Source

There is undeniably a shift in the way people are obtaining information, but the web isn’t the end of journalism as we know it. People will always want and need the news.

Kutcher goes on to say that sites like Twitter and Facebook are making average people “the source of the news.” In truth, it empowers people to disseminate and analyze the news, but rarely are they the source.

As Steve Outing said in his article, “What Bloggers Can Learn From Journalists,” bloggers rarely do original reporting. “They comment on the work of others, or write about personal experiences,” he said.

Traditional News is Still Bigger

Now, there’s nothing wrong with social networking or blogging, but claiming that they are taking the place of traditional news and reporting is laughable.

“I think it’s a huge statement about social media for one person to actually have the ability to broadcast to as many people as a major media network,” Kutcher said.

It would be a huge statement, if it were true. Although their Twitter numbers are comparable, CNN captured over double that number during Larry King last night alone.

When you consider the network news, one million followers pales next to the 7.620 million total viewers NBC Nightly News reeled in last week. The evening news on ABC also came in above 7 million viewers, and CBS above 5 million.

To make a more direct comparison, look at Oprah. According to her website, her talk show brings in an estimated 44 million viewers a week in the United States. She currently has over 2 million followers on Twitter. That is only 4.5% of her viewers.

Working Together

It seems to me that social networking, social news, and blogging aren’t taking over the current media, but they are a useful appendage to it.

The web has helped people connect to their news in a more convenient and personal way. Everyone can feel involved with the news instead of being a passive bystander. The great thing is that with that deeper connection, people will want to learn more.

Ultimately, this will lead them straight back to where they’ve always obtained their news: Journalists. The news may be presented in a different medium, but it is still coming from the same sector.

This fact is especially clear with the social news sites like Digg.com. The news you see can be personalized and commented on, but the stories originate from the websites of traditional news outlets, like magazines and newspapers.

Ironically, Ashton Kutcher—and others who share his opinion—is rebelling against the very thing that supports his cause. Without journalism there would be no social news. Social networking would be just for talking to friends. Blogging would be nothing more than a journal.

I wonder how many followers he would have received if this race hadn’t been covered by traditional news.

*I admit this news is a little old, but I felt that the opinions expressed in the video are commonly held today and therefore it still seemed relevant for this piece.

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