I have been reading the local paper since about 1950. Not this local paper, but the one in my hometown.
As with most, I started with the funnies, added the sports page at about age 10 and the news section when I was a little older. I finally graduated to the editorial page in my late 20s. Now that is my favorite part of the paper. And that is the part you are reading now, and I hope you stay with this.
We are in an unusual time around the way people get information and ideas. When I read The Republic, I mostly focus on the local news and, of course, the editorial page. There are too many other sources of national and international news available, so most of that is pretty redundant. But that does not mean that The Republic is not important. Actually, it makes it more important than ever.
We live in a world of endless sources of news, and I am not sure that is a good thing. I think the paper has a unifying effect on a community. We share the local news, and that makes us community, just as when I was growing up.
I get concerned that we are on the brink of a generation that no longer reads the local news. Yes, there will always be the sports section and the obits that attract people. But I wonder how many read
this section and how many understand the difference between opinion and the news. This line is being blurred in ways never imagined by the folks who set this country up in the first place.
Ever since this medium was invented, the leaders of various countries of the world have always tried to control it. They knew that information is a kind of power. Our founders wanted freedom of the press to enable an informed electorate. What they could not imagine was not a controlled press,
but a press that was uncontrolled and unfettered to the point that news and opinion became indistinguishable.
The proliferation of information in the name of news is at a new level. We have always had competing newspapers and biased news. But today, everyone has a source, and most of that has become a source that agrees with their bias in a very private way. We do not share a public source.
We live in a world where verification of facts seems to be less important than whether the facts agree with my view of things. We scan the editorial page, and within a few lines of the columns we figure out whether we agree or disagree. Far too often we stop reading when it is apparent that we disagree.
One of my favorite responses to my letters has always been a comment of “I read your letter all the way through and still cannot figure out if I agree or disagree with you.” The editorial section, in my view, should get people to think more deeply about what is going on in our world, not just a reflexive “agree or disagree” response. Too often, it becomes a side-taking exercise to further the huge gap we have in our political and, sadly, in our personal relations.
We live in a unique time. Life is becoming sound bites and texts and tweets. Information becomes more positional and less unifying. At one time, a common source of information brought people together, got a dialogue going about what was going on and created some common understanding. Now, everyone has their own source, their own “facts,” and the idea of common knowledge may be disappearing.
Without common knowledge, we have no connection, no community, no reason to sit down and try to understand what is happening in our world. We become individuals, alone in our own world, each of us defending a personal position and losing that element that holds us together.
We need a local source of common understanding.
Columbus retiree Tom Lane is the latest addition to our contributors for the weekly Community Column. He served as a consultant to a number of companies in his career. In recent years his has been a familiar name to readers of The Republic’s letters to the editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.