I have spent most of my life locked in the embrace of two of the most sanctimonious institutions in America—the church and the press. They each bow down before their self-created holy creeds, never tire of trumpeting their supposed virtues, which they hold up as the highest good, and are blind to their glaring inadequacies and mounting irrelevance. They are also, in a time of seismic cultural change, dying.
Alex S. Jones, in his new book “Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy,” is a believer. Jones, a former reporter for The New York Times and the author, along with Susan E. Tifft, of “The Trust: The Powerful and Private Family Behind The New York Times,” defends the traditional press and castigates those who fail to acknowledge its contribution to our open society, its high ethical standards and the work and skill that go into producing the news. Jones believes that newspapers are the best guardians of what he calls the “news of verification” as opposed to what he calls the “news of assertion.” The “news of assertion,” he writes, “is mostly on display these days in prime time on cable news channels and in blogs.”
The technology of the Internet, like the earlier technologies of radio and television, is a phantom. It is a convenient and simplistic way to explain a cultural shift. To limit a discussion of news to technology, as Jones often does, means we simply have to find a way to plug the old bolt of newsprint and traditional reporting into the new machine of the Internet. But what is happening is far more revolutionary. We are entering an age in which the electronic image, endowed with the ability to manufacture its own reality, has thrust us into a state of collective self-delusion. We are embarking on a frightening, post-literate world where we confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge. The death of newsprint is intimately tied to this shifting landscape, including the parallel decline of the publishing industry. And the solution is not to cling to the outdated ethic of newspaper reporting but to adjust this ethic to confront a new cultural landscape.
Copyright © 2009 Truthdig
Chris Hedges is the author of the new book “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”