Big stories are often drowned in the torrent of little stories in the news business.
Sulky and dismissive, the American press had to be prodded and nudged to cover Occupy Wall Street. One might have thought the editors would have been glad to see it fizzle to justify their inattention. Not so the foreign press. News organizations like Al Jazeera and the Guardian in the United Kingdom have covered the story diligently.
In its aborted attempt to marginalize what has clearly become a global story the American press inadvertently helped to frame a story as big as the protests: the American people aren’t getting their information from a single newsroom anymore. In fact, they’re acting as their own news editors.
Each Facebook page is a newspaper, each Facebook participant an editor, and stories are whizzing back and forth from page to page across the world. Not just stories from identifiable media but videos from witnesses and participants in events, eyewitness accounts, tracts, posters, slide shows, essays, speeches, even documents. The mainstream media establishment no longer defines the game. It has been sidelined by our ability to share information, giving the Share button on Facebook a significance comparable to the advent of the computer. Never in the history of mankind have we been able to share such a wealth of information and viewpoints.
The power of the mainstream press to filter, to vet, to censor and to prioritize has been lost. Readers and viewers themselves are deciding what’s important. The significance of this development can hardly be underestimated.
Traditional media are trying to find ways to embrace this evolving revolution, but they are mired in a 19th Century sense of self-importance. They find it difficult not to be the arbiter of what is and what isn’t important.
It’s true that much of the information exchanged in cyberspace originates from media organizations, but never before have ordinary people around the world had such a wealth of resources. Better yet, they can refer to Poynter Institute, the Pew Research Center, FactCheck.Org and other media study organizations to verify information and to identify misinformation.
Many young Americans can’t appreciate the magnitude of this revolution because they were born into it. But those of us who remember the situation of Americans vis-Z-vis the press in the 1950s and 60s can savor the mind-blowing impact of these developments.
The ability of the press giants to bury stories like this one is at stake. It’s next to impossible to bury a story that may just pop up anywhere in cyberspace. I once quit my job on a newspaper that was deliberately burying the fact that a giant food processor was buying up properties, an action that diminished adjacent property values. That kind of story is no longer so easy to bury.
The reason the talk show pundits are so boring is that they represent the yak world within which Corporate America is comfortable. It would be a considerable ecological leap if we could recycle waste as well as the pundits recycle their views. Their controlled dialogue is like those prescription drugs Big Pharma is always pushing and then warning us about in a fast whisper. The ill effects of the pundits’ narrow parameters outweigh any good they do.
We should be able to rely on the press to tell us what the bad guys are hiding. That’s why we celebrate Watergate, and justifiably so. But in this environment of unfettered greed we have to ask ourselves what the press is hiding.