COMMENTARY: News Flow

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Dr. Larry Burris, MTSU Professor of Journalism, gives his take on how news WAS delivered and IS delivered now:

Back in the "good ol' days" beat reporters, who were generally experts in their particular areas, usually wrote specialized, detailed and nuanced news stories. Education reporters, sports reporters, police reporters, all brought their expertise to bear on the news of the day. Staff reporters covered non-specialized areas.

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At the national and international levels were reporters who spent perhaps years covering the White House, United Nations, the Pentagon and the State Department. In many instances they were often as knowledgeable as the officials they were covering.

Stories were then checked and rechecked by editors who appeared to know every seemingly trivial detail about scientific esoterica, religious arcana and monetary minutia.

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The result was comprehensive news and analysis that presented multiple sides and viewpoints, backed up by commentators who had spent years in the field interviewing representatives of multiple sides and viewpoints.

It was also easy to tell the difference between reporters and commentators.

And today? Anyone with a computer and Internet connection seems to think they are qualified to speak and write on any subject imaginable, no matter how obscure, no matter how complex, no matter how bewildering even to the experts themselves.

But more dangerous to the democracy is the multiplicity of single channels that allow unchallenged assertions, distorted facts and unchecked details spun like so much cotton candy, and just as empty of any real value. These multiple single channels allow little disagreement, and what opposition is allowed is shouted down with insults, invectives and innuendo.

True, the Internet has allowed anyone with something to say their opportunity to be heard. And in many ways it has broken the sometimes monopolistic grip the major news outlets held on news and distribution. But the resulting cacophony does nothing to assure calm, reasoned debate. Democracy is not served by shouting down your opponent. It is best served by common decency, reasoned debate and mutual discussion.

I'm Larry Burriss.

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