This past election season I have kept my politics off this site. My intent for this site has always been to focus on the art, craft and business of writing. Having said that, I do have one comment to make on what has transpired but from the perspective of a writer and someone interested in communication and information.
One of my daily tasks at work involves creating a daily email of recent news articles of interest to the state library. In doing this I frequent many news sites both local to Arizona and national. I am dismayed to see the number of headlines that on clicking take me to either an editorial page or a blog post. My expectation of an informative and researched article is now dashed on the rocky shore of personal opinion. I am agree there is a time and place for opinions, but I don’t see opinion as a substitute for a news story. Maybe I am just showing my age, a time when we watched the evening news at six or eleven o’clock and read a daily, usually locally owned, newspaper. A hallmark of the information age is access to twenty-four hour news, Twitter feeds, status updates and the blogosphere; information at the speed of light. Are we better off with quantity?
Naturally we gravitate to facts and opinions that agree with our personal views, but what happens when it becomes difficult to tell facts from opinions? We seem to be entering a period when opinions have become facts. A part of that has to do with recognizing the value we place on the source of the information above and beyond what would normally should be applied to the information itself. Think about this, if our Secretary of State issued the following statement’ “I think (insert spooky country here) may be days away from a nuclear device.” This story would be all over the news networks and fuel endless debates and finger pointing despite the flag that this is an opinion, “I think,” and the ambiguous, “may be days away.” We instantly assign weight to it when it comes from someone we recognize as having inside information or someone who should know. What does it do when it comes from the everyday Joe? What happens when this little tidbit gets echoed in Tweets and posts all around the blogosphere to the point where no one knows where it originally came from so that it then becomes fact? Welcome to the miraculous world of misinformation.
I became a librarian because of my interest in research and finding things out. You may not know this, but the first thing a librarian at the reference desk does after finding an answer to a question is look for another answer. This way the librarian knows if the answer has been refuted or reinforced. Librarians have an inquisitive nature or maybe our bullshit alarms are just that much louder, either way we weigh the information presented to us very carefully before accepting it. What factors into that? Well, where the information comes from, why it is being provided, what it hopes to communicate, and who benefits from it are all starting points.
As Americans it should not matter if any one of us votes for Remington Charles Silverspoon III on the extreme right or Ernesto Chico Rodriguez on the extreme left. What should matter is that we made a sound choice based on an examination of all the information available. I fear that did not happen, for many, in this last election and we only have ourselves to blame.