The Speed of Blight

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by Tom Schultz-Morning Show Host 97.1 The Wave

Several weeks ago, I took my millenial daughter Emily to see the movie “The Post”. It stars Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the female publisher and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of The Washington Post.. Set in the early 1970s, The Post depicts the true story of attempts by journalists at The Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers, classified documents regarding the 30-year involvement of the United States government in the Vietnam War.

What was most striking about the film, besides the intense storytelling and cinematography by Steven Spielberg, was the depiction of news reporting during the early 70’s. Although this movie focussed on the background and moral obligations of reporting top secret government information, the process it took for the story go to print was no different than the story of the results of a city council meeting.

The reporter wrote the story, a copy editor check the story, research folks double checked the details and facts, type setters set the story to font and the printers put ink to paper. Then the paper had to be loaded onto trucks for delivery and then a newsstand or neighborhood paperboy delivered the news. This is not to exclude the numerous editors and publishers and lawyers that may have been involved in the process. By my estimation, it took approximately 50 people to do their jobs to get the news to the people.

This was quite a contrast when we consider the delivery method of today’s top stories. Let’s discount the major news outlets for a moment. Because although they may not have to get the story to print, there still exists some editorial process for the presentation of news stories. The real problem comes from the average Joe or Jane with access to a social media account, can now be the publisher of their own newsmaker breaking news top story. And they can do this without any accountability to truth, facts or human regard.

It happens time after time, a friend puts up a innocuous post about a celebrity who died, only to find out the deceased and this story dies two years ago if longer. We have even seen examples for news information featuring people’s names and even addresses have been published on the Web and social media only to find out the information was incorrect or completely false and demanded a retraction.

Anyone and everyone, will the power of the internet and a smartphone, can become their own field reporter, editor and publisher without the system of checks and balance found in those days of the printing press. The rush to be first has become way more important than the rush to be right. Be the first to post the death of the latest aging rock star or corrupted Hollywood star has become the badge of honor. Getting Likes and Retweets has become the new norm. Accuracy and fairness have been discarded to the trash.

We will never return to the smoke filled editorial room of news companies of the past, that is probably a good thing in several ways. But it would be nice if some folks would take the moment to ask a learned friend or colleague “Hey, take a look at this before I post it”. Its likely a few less sensation stories would be printed. So, although news is now delivered to us at the speed of light, without accountability and humility it appears we now get our news at the speed of blight.

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