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Journalism – Why it matters

I, dear reader, am an American. As such, I have the God-given right to spout off about any subject, without regard to whether or not I actually know what I’m talking about.

Today, that’s exactly what I intend to do.

I don’t like his politics, but I’ll be damned if Ed Asner couldn’t play the perfect newsman

Now, I’m not a journalist. I have no training in the field. But, I’ve been reading newspapers since I was three or four, when I sat on my dad’s knee and we read the funnies together. I’ve read a lot about the work reporters do. I’ve watched every episode of Lou Grant. Since the protagonist of my Conway Report series is a reporter, I’ve done a lot of research on the subject. I even know the difference between “off the record” and “background”.

I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two, but I’m certainly no expert. Call me an educated amateur.

As a profound believer in human liberty, I stand firmly with the Founders in the belief that for a people to be free, they must be well-informed.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

–Thomas Jefferson

We know things in two ways. The first way, and the most limited, is our own experience. We see it for ourselves. I know the eclipse happened on Monday because I saw it. The second way is somebody told us. This second-hand knowledge comes to us by way of a variety of sources. It makes up the majority of what we know, and it can save us or destroy us in direct proportion to its veracity.

Of course it’s there. I saw it on the internet!

Let’s take a rather silly example. I’ve never been to Spain. I believe it’s there, because other people have told me it’s there. I’ve seen it on maps. I’ve seen satellite photos on the web. I’ve read Hemingway. I’ve even “strolled” down the streets of Madrid via Google Earth. My shipmates went there the year after I was discharged. I’m pretty sure there’s something taking up the space between France and Portugal.

The weight of the evidence, and the trustworthiness of it, is enough to make me believe that Spain exists. But, in truth, I’m taking this all on faith. It’s possible that Spain is an elaborate lie, put together by an immense conspiracy with the absurd goal of fooling a guy like me.

We can only see so much for ourselves, the rest we have to take the words of others for. We have to trust the sources of that information. That’s called “credibility.”

I want to believe.

When it comes right down to it, that’s all a journalist has. Credibility. We need an accurate account of whatever event is going on. We rely on them to provide it. If they play it straight, we can make informed decisions. This is important, because we are a free people. We can’t just throw up our hands and say it’s somebody else’s responsibility. We have to choose the right people to deal with these situations on our behalf.

In the end, it’s our responsibility. We have to be grown-ups. We have to be told the truth.

Now, I don’t have any illusions. The Press has always had biases. Let’s go back to Jefferson:

“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”

–Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807. ME 11:224

That’s a startling shift from the first quote, isn’t it?

The point I wish to make today is simple. Be informed, but don’t be a sucker. That article you found that you want to joyfully post on Facebook may or may not be the truth. Check out some opposing viewpoints. Try to dig a little deeper and find the truth.

The truth is valuable, and nothing of value comes cheap. You have to put in the work.

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