“The stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and it is broader, but it seems to run less deep.” Robert Pirsig wrote these words in 1974. They still ring true thirty-seven years later. Everything—including the way information is transmitted and received—is moving faster, and is “broader.”
The news media began its transformation from being “deep” to becoming “broad” after the end of the Cold War, with the perceived end of the foreign threat against Western nations. In his book, Junk News, American journalist Tom Fenton points out that corporate media owners believed it had become safe to ignore the world, and began shutting down foreign bureaus, laying off foreign correspondents, cutting news-gathering budgets, and “progressively feeding the public a diet that contained more infotainment and lifestyle items and less of what is commonly called hard news” (7). Real news fell by the wayside as news outlets began to seek profits by attracting audiences through entertainment, rather than fulfilling their civic duty to provide the sort of information that informs citizens, generates public debate, and holds governments to account.
News gathering began to die and newspapers were hard hit as the majority of people began to get their news from television networks that offered little substance but loads of images and excitement. Then came the internet, where one could find an unlimited amount of “news” at any time of the day or night. But it’s not the sort of news that existed in the days of Edward R. Murrow, John Hersey, or Walter Cronkite. It’s not the stuff that journalism classes will be reading and studying six decades from now. Unfortunately, the internet has followed in television’s footsteps to be, as Pirsig writes, “an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.”
Several years ago I gave up reading my local newspaper. Stories of feline rescues by firemen served only to aggravate me, when I knew there was a world of information more worthy of the printed page. I tried reading the Globe and Mail for a while, but basically, I’ve been wandering in the wilderness for some time, without a reliable source of informational news. I watch BBC World News on cable television when I can, but it doesn’t seem like enough. I scan the BBC online, but I’m not especially comfortable with the brief stories provided. I prefer journalism that brings understanding, not just superficial awareness. It seems to be a time-consuming task to search for those stories on a day-to-day basis—time that I don’t have at this phase in my life. So, I attempt to keep myself informed on a few key issues that are important to me, through online searches for information and by reading articles in academic journals. In the 21st century, with all of the technology available, it should be easier to stay informed. But I find that because of the technology—which causes media to “move faster” and become “broader” (more shallow)—it’s more difficult to understand the world, the nation, and my own community.