Newspapers are great aggregators. There’s something for everyone, at least everyone who reads, a newspaper—news, gossip, sports, recipes, crossword puzzles, sudoku—whatever.
The Internet, however, seems to go in exactly the opposite direction. There’s something for every taste on the Internet, it’s true, and that’s part of the problem. Between cable television and the Internet, you need never be exposed to a viewpoint or to information that conflicts with your personal worldview. We have Fox television for conservatives and MSNBC for liberals and CNN is somewhere in between. But none of them really covers the news, and Fox and MSNBC cherry pick the “facts” they report and then they make sure to present them in a way designed to make you also see things from their point of view.
As for the Internet, you have a million (maybe only hundreds or thousands) of choices, but rare—outside of traditional news sources like the New York Times or the Washington Post, or one that takes its news from them—is a site that’s comprehensive. You can go to a sports site, or a political site, or a crossword site, or an almost anything site, but as newspapers fade away, the opportunity for a broad-based perspective possibly will fade with them.
What’s wrong with that? The political consensus in America is already shredded. If we retreat into our own ideological silos, each of us to the perspective we’re comfortable with while shutting out what we don’t want to hear, the prospects for unity, rather than division, will decline. We will be more divided and not better informed. If we can pursue our particular interests by going to sites that deal only with those, we won’t ever rub shoulders with information that we’re not interested in, however important it may be .
Alternatively, of course, someone—or some corporation—may indeed put together a comprehensive news site—but then we’ll be getting just that—a corporate point of view with all the focus on the bottom line that is doing so much damage to journalism now.
Newspapers are far from perfect, and the idea of objectivity is chimerical. But the prospects offered by the Internet take us down a road that could be dangerous for democracy.
We’ll talk about that next time.