In the days before radio and television and the Internet, people learned the news from the morning and evening editions of their newspapers — from what they read in the printed word.
Of course, they also used the telephone and the back fence to pick up the latest items of interest and gossip of a local or personal nature.
Today we live in the era of radio, television and the Internet— with Breaking News of events happening right before our eyes. There has been an explosion of varied sources that we use to learn the latest news as well as opinions and analysis of the news by pundits of all political and social hues. Is it a cornucopia of plenty? How do different people sort out the sources? Where do you get your news?
Local papers, such as The Press of Atlantic City, provide a daily morning edition with reporters’ bylines from the major news services, Associated Press, Reuters, Knight Ridder.
Coverage is national and regional with separate sections for Region, Business, Sports and Lifestyle. The Editorial page and Op Ed page are reserved for analysis and opinion rather than reporting the news. The section one turns to first depends strictly on personal preference. The want ads? The obituaries? The Dow Jones average? Letters to the Editor?
National papers available in our area include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Front page stories in these papers carry the names of reporters on their staffs. On any single day, The Times reporters will be writing their stories in New Delhi, Washington, Ferguson, Baghdad , Sydney and Los Angeles. They are first hand accounts of major events on the national and international scenes. The paper also carries special interest sections; Metro, Business, Sports, The Arts, Science and Food. Again, readers select on a personal basis. Scan the lead stories on the front page? Turn to the Op Ed page to find a favorite columnist. Check the latest corporate scandal? Read the book reviews? Check last night’s ball scores. Do the daily crossword puzzles which progress in difficulty from Monday through Saturday, leading up to the big Sunday puzzle in the Magazine section. (Yes, I do cheat at times with Rex Parker on the Internet.)
For many Americans, newspapers are no longer their primary source of news. Television has become the way many people start their day, turning on the morning news casts on one of the major channels, ABC, NBC and CBS. They pick up the national news as well as the local news and weather forecasts. Three minutes can give a capsule version of a dramatic event with live pictures and reporters on site to convey the latest stories. Earthquake in Indonesia. Insurgent attack in Iraq. Explosion in a coal mine. Vivid pictures. Human interest interviews. Some men and women start their days with Cable TV on MSNBC , CNN or FOX NEWS. FOX appeals to conservative viewers and leads in ratings. MSNBC attracts the liberal viewers coming in next with CNN more straight news in the middle.
Mainstream news wraps up the day for millions of Americans at 6:30 P.M. each evening with the half hours anchored by their three anchors. The rating wars among them are fierce to garner the most viewers and the most dollars from advertising. How much of the half hour is devoted to hard news and how much to human interest segments? Do people watch while eating dinner. PBS public TV stations offer an hour of world news at six p.m. with the current team of two women anchors — a first. Their segments offer a range of speakers and analysis on the major topics of the day. Their hour is not interrupted by ads that appear on cable news shows.
The cable networks unreel round- the- clock programming for anyone who wants to follow stories and talking heads on a 24 hour basis. This is a different playing field from the mainstream channels. It aims at fast moving stories, breaking news, and guests who will offer no-holds barred arguments. Also available are C-Span 1, 2, 3, 4: public service channels that film the Senate and House when they are in session and show programs of public interest throughout the day and weekends. For even handed in-depth analysis, these stations offer a wealth of information and interesting ideas. The added bonus is they do not carry advertising.
Millions of Americans prefer their news from the radio. They listen while they drive or in the kitchen while they work. This ranges from NPR, public radio, to local news stations and national syndicated commentators. The listener can also find the entire range of political and social commentary — from Rush Limbaugh on the far right to Bill Mahr on the liberal left. Limbaugh is by far the most widely syndicated radio pundit reaching millions of dedicated listeners every day.
It is interesting to know how young men and women learn the news. Every four years, The Pew Research Center studies young voters to find out what are their favorite political news sources. What they discovered in 2004 was that voters under 30 were rapidly giving up the traditional news sources — the newspapers and television networks. They were turning to blogs, the Internet and TV comedy shows and satire for their news. They preferred the Jay Leno and David Letterman monologues, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for the news. With about 750,000 viewers Stewart presented a half hour blend of parody and outright fake news on cable. There’s a serious expression on his face, as he shoots down important politicians and popular culture figures alike.
Kathleen Knight, professor of political science at Barnard College, and an expert on political satire, said of Stewart and other young satirists like Andy Borowitz and Ali G. that they do more than inform young people. “They also get inspiration from them. They speak truth to power, and that’s just what young people who are so turned off by the national news media, need to hear.” She is referring to one in five Americans, most of them under 30.
Another fast growing source of news is on the Internet and the Web — the world of the blogs. This phenomenon is exploding on the Internet. One of the first was Wonkette.com written by Marie Cox in Washington about the political world. The Christian Science Monitor described her blog, “Wonkette’s arrival on the steps of the Capitol is a quiet victory for creeping National Enquirer values.” Another critique was from The Nation, “Plying gossip above all, eschewing serious debates about politics and policy.” Yet, her blog and other blogs are popular ways people use to gather news and to write comments themselves. There’s an exchange of ideas and opinion. And there’s no question that the American public loves gossip and clever writing.
We live in a country that treasures freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Those rights were guaranteed in the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights in l791. Little did the authors of that amendment know of the technological advances that would burst forth hundreds of years later. We are surrounded by multiple purveyors of the news with shadings of opinion as well as straight reporting. We read. We listen. We watch. The news is there for the taking. Hopefully, we sort out the facts from the opinions and reach conclusions that make sense to us and our lives.