Opinion

Real Journalism Keeps Us Properly Informed During These Troubling Times

To many of you, Robert Fisk is an unknown. To anyone who has had anything to do with the Middle East beyond the headlines, however, he is a familiar and highly respected journalist.

Fisk opened his recent commentary in the Independent by writing, “We do not live in a ‘post-truth’ world, neither in the Middle East nor in the West — nor in Russia, for that matter. We live in a world of lies. And we always have lived in a world of lies.”

Then he elaborated: “We handed journalism to social media.”

Lots of things scare me about the world we live in. The climate crisis is at the top. This is quickly followed by the collapse of the Western Alliance — thanks to the shortsightedness (or is it simply stupidity?) of the current administration, which is also at least partly to blame for the exacerbation of income inequality in the United States, and probably elsewhere as well.

Undergirding all my worries, however, is the fact that was so clearly articulated by the nicely dressed 40-something woman’s neck tattoo. She was sitting next to me, reading a gossip magazine in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room.

Her tattoo read, “I don’t trust anyone.”

She is, of course, not alone. Many Americans have lost faith in many institutions, most specifically government and the media. Recent Gallup polls show only about 40 percent trusting the media in general or the federal government’s ability to handle domestic problems.

Frankly, it’s the lack of trust in the media that worries me the most.

Almost everybody (our fearless leader notwithstanding) pays lip service to the importance of America’s constitutionally protected free press. Even Mark Zuckerberg chimed in a few weeks ago, with a New York Times op-ed piece that argued that Facebook could “help the news business.”

Zuckerberg acknowledged that the internet had “disrupted the business model for much of the news industry,” but went on to describe all the good things that Facebook has done recently to get the news to people.

Ironically, just about the time that Zuckerberg was putting the finishing touches on his pablum, Agence France Presse revealed that “an analysis by the NGO [Avaaz] of the top 100 bogus news stories about US politics that went viral on Facebook in the 10 months ending October 31 showed that politically tinged false news got more than 158 million views.”

Think about what “free press” actually means. If there were not insightful editors and aggressive, informed journalists willing to nose around into what the Trump administration is doing, or the Raimondo, or Baker administration, or Invenergy, ExxonMobil, National Grid or, for that matter, JUMP Bikes, we wouldn’t know anything.

Well, that’s not quite true.

We would know only what the people who were doing the things we needed to know about wanted us to know.

Whether it’s the Providence Journal, which just ran a story about how Rhode Island’s Central Collections Unit was falling far short of the anticipated $1.3 million in outstanding debts it was hoping to collect; The Washington Post revelation that green groups aren’t supportive of the Saudi Aramco IPO; The Atlantic running a series of articles on “How to stop a civil war” — we desperately need the free press.

Take ecoRI News as an example. Spend a few minutes going through the archives. See how many stories you find that you literally didn’t see anything about anywhere else.

If we don’t keep the good guys alive, all we’ll have is press releases, blogs, and conspiracy theories that Facebook and its ilk either can’t or won’t spend the time and money to control.

So, what can you do? Subscribe to news sources that offer subscriptions. Donate to those that ask for help. Do everything you can to keep journalists working, to give the editors the leeway to say, “Sure, follow that lead.”

If you don’t — if we all don’t — we’re toast. Ignorant toast.

Nicholas Boke is an international educational consultant and freelance writer. He lives in Providence.

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