Information is one of the most valuable assets anybody can have, but we need to be able to process information in order for it to be truly valuable. Today, quantity can be a problem. If you are bombarded by a huge amount of information, how can you process it effectively? We can’t. The majority of us, at least, can’t.
So what to do?
We create filters, so we can only deal with the information we have deemed valuable in the past. One may say we create ‘editorial policies’.
And this brings me to THE News.
Press, News Outlets, Mass Media, or any other name you want to use, is a platform. A platform that helps us to filter most of the information out there and give us, based on its own editorial policy, news from around the world.
But what is news? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is ‘newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.’
And using the same source, THE News is ‘a broadcast or published report of news.’
Thus, we can safely say that a press medium is a broadcast or published report of newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.
What filters does a news platform use to sift through all that information? On what basis is an event deemed newsworthy, or in the public interest?
One of the main rules is proximity. The closer the event, the more likely to affect us. This was absolutely true throughout the history of journalism, visible since the early 17th century.
For instance, a bridge collapses in a corner of Europe; this will disrupt the lives of the people around, therefore, is noteworthy information. It can go as far as national, depending how much it affected the people in the immediate vicinity. It can trigger ‘empathy’ further away geographically.
Looking back at our beloved platform, THE News, a couple of things changed dramatically in the last century. And, as any other living organism, it tried to adapt, usually by getting the quickest route out, or reacting in self-defence.
First, let’s take the financial ‘nourishment’. As any living organism, THE news needs to find resources to live. The basic one is money. It needs it to ensure its physical existence. At the beginning, the relationship was simple. It was a basic trade between her and us. We would give her a penny and she would give us the filtered news. The deal was, we were ‘feeding’ her, on the condition she will do her best to give us relevant information, gathered by educated individuals, who would ‘objectively’ filter the information, and put it in a pill.
I think that we still trust THE News, based on that simple principle that is the basis of society. I trust that you will return my favour! It is an idea you can read about in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. It is based on the assumption that when you are granted a ‘favour’, we have to return that ‘favour’, in order for our society to work.
To adapt it to our case: I trust you to give me correct information because I have given you the necessary means you need to continue to exist.
That relationship was embedded in our society for about four generations, from the late 17th century.
What happens when you change the players? How does THE news react to the fact that her nourishment comes from somewhere else? Instinctively, she has to, based on our principle, return the favour to the feeding hand. I know your first thought is to blame the ‘moguls’, and you would not be entirely wrong. But please bear with me, I don’t think it is that simple.
I don’t think the players changed, we just added some new ones, in a very short period of time. We have added a middle man. So instead of giving the ‘penny’ directly to THE press, we are giving it to a middleman who, in turn, passes it over to her. Because it is our ‘penny’, we still believe that we are owed that ‘favour’, but because it doesn’t come from us, THE press does not believe she owes us that favour. In the same time, the middle man is able to stay more or less invisible.
Plato talked about whether an intelligent person, regardless of previous beliefs, would be moral if he did not have to fear of being held accountable for his actions in the Ring of Gyges. Spoiler alert: he believes we can’t.