Be your own news credibility filter

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Six years ago, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen published, “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Businesses.” They describe their book as “about technology…and how humans interact with, implement, adapt to and exploit technologies..now and in the future….”

In digital technology six years is a lifetime. Still, while reading “The New Digital Age” this week, I find it loaded with curious and hopeful predictions, except for the authors’ vision for news reporting and the mainstream media. “Where we get our information and what sources we trust will have a profound impact,” write Schmidt and Cohen. “[H]ow will the media landscape as we know it [in 2016] change?” they ask.

I have a longstanding interest in digital technology’s impact on news reporting. For 16 years, starting in 1998, I founded and owned Maine’s premier political web forum, As Maine Goes. What immediately attracted me to what was cutting edge digital tech — email, the internet — was the unique opportunities the tech offered for establishing and maintaining communication networks.

Originally I was thinking of political communication networks, and started AMG as an online forum, a place for Maine conservatives to meet. AMG’s online forum was called “The Public Square,” a virtual gathering place for people to meet, to discuss and debate politics.

What surprised me most at AMG’s launch was the number of users who told me they were glad to have a public place for letters to editors and op-ed pieces Maine newspapers wouldn’t publish. There were many reasons for newspapers — and local radio and tv — limits on public opinion, including space limitations. Everyone can’t have their letter-to-the-editor published in a print newspaper whenever they want. There’s not enough room.

AMG’s digital online forum, on the other hand, offered registered users opportunity to communicate 24/7/365. Plus, the immediacy of digital technology meant people could post about news as it happened.

In the late ‘90s, most internet users had the capacity to post digital photos and text instantly. Today, 21 years later, anyone with a smart phone can video broadcast to the world in real time.

Which brings us around to authors Schmidt/Cohen’s “The New Digital Age” vision for news reporting. “[M]ainstream media outlets will increasingly find themselves a step behind in [reporting news]. Instead, the world’s breaking news will continually come from platforms like Twitter: open networks that facilitate information-sharing instantly, widely and in accessible packages,” the authors predicted.

With so many entities offering so much news around the clock, Schmidt/Cohen predicted, “[News] readers and viewers [will] seek more immediate methods of information delivery [from] outlets” they trust.

No surprise there. People have been getting news from sources they trust forever. But Schmidt/Cohen say this digital news flood will change “the role of the mainstream media” to one of “primarily…an aggregator, custodian and verifier, a credibility filter that sifts through all this data and highlights what is and is not worth reading, understanding and trusting.”

And right there is where Schmidt/Cohen’s prediction comes tumbling down.

I can’t imagine any of the world’s major news outlets qualified to serve as the world’s news “credibility filter.” The whole idea is too Big Brother for my liking.

In 2008, when so many news outlets tossed aside any pretense of reporting on the Bush/Obama presidential campaign, choosing instead to serve as de facto communications directors for Obama/Biden — that was the death of national objective political reporting.

What America really needs now, and where digital technology can be a great help, is an educated citizenry where each of us is qualified to be our own news credibility filter.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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