“A newspaper’s value is not just that information is disseminated by it. Most fundamentally, as in the case of all good newspapers, it is because they set a means of, and a standard for, reasoned discourse that becomes the grounding by which all members of a community share in a common lot. It is not because any article or editorial is a be-all or end-all of truth. But they are, to the extent they are couched in reason and careful discourse, the basis by which readers evaluate their own thoughts and come to decisions in interaction with others.”
The quote cited above was the concluding comment in last week’s News-Press editorial that was entitled, “Democracy Depends on Newspapers.” We’ve deemed that it bears repeating here because of its importance to the social discourse on the state of our culture, not solely to newspapers, per se.
Where do we find in our culture today the kind of “reasoned discourse that becomes the grounding by which all members of a community share a common lot?” The Internet, with its incredibly positive attributes for disseminating information and ideas to such a wide array of humanity, has been the particular target of enemies of democracy for good reason. The goal of the Russians, Chinese and other proponents of tyranny is to chop up the virtuous features of this amazing advance for humanity with elements that assail reasoned discourse, topping the list with a relentless onslaught of moral filth, including the ugliest of racial and ethnic slurs. It should come as no surprise that Trump and Trumpism are fully engaged in this same moral degradation, which apparently Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, fully endorses, quite falsely in the name of freedom of speech.
When the News-Press began going online with our product, we quickly found that the most filthy of such interventions, many surely the product of Russian “bots,” were spewing their ugliness all over the comment sections of our pages in the form of wild and angry comments, including outrageous lies and character assassinations. But we were counseled not to stop them because allowing them encouraged readership participation, and of course, the whole name of the game for ostensible success online, so we were told, is “hits,” is the number of eyeballs that will see what you have. It’s supposedly the measure of “success.”
But we decided quickly, in the terms of this filth onslaught, to “f*** that!” Our solution was simple: to require anyone who wants to post a comment on our site to sign up using their real name and email address as the only precondition. Isn’t it fair to ask someone to be minimally accountable for their views in this way? When we initiated this, the filth disappeared literally overnight. Clearly, filth, moral and otherwise, and cowardice are intimate partners.
So it is not just misinformation that challenges us, but it is the mode, the language by which it is disseminated, as well.