Too Many Choices for News: Who to Trust, Who to Believe

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 28, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Remember local radio? It offered many features that collectively performed an important public service – connecting listeners to their community, their neighbors and the changing world.

The local radio station I remember was in a rural community in the Pacific Northwest. Farms, orchards, feedlots, dairies and high school sports teams surrounded it.

The red brick radio station, for me, was a magical place. Next to it was its giant steel tower, anchored by thick cables and topped by blinking lights. It was the tallest structure for miles.

Community keystone

Our community radio station, like the local newspapers of the day, was a community keystone. It was dependable. Always there, at the flick of a button. Just as we relied on churches for guidance, we turned to the radio for local news.

We turned on our radio before dawn each day to learn what had happened around the world while we slept. We learned whether our politicians were doing their jobs. We heard about the latest meat and crop prices. Those daily updates helped us determine whether our local economy’s compass was spinning or pointed in the right direction.

We listened for weather reports to decide whether to light smudge pots and reduce the chance of frostbitten fruit.

The radio station encouraged first loves to dedicate rock ‘n’ roll songs to each other on Friday nights. Songs by Eddie Cochran, the Righteous Brothers, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, among others, became favorites.

You might have carried a radio while you fed livestock before dawn on cold winter mornings, watching their breath rise like thick fog.

If you scored the tie-breaking point while playing for your high school sports team, or if you won in the local livestock competition, your name would be on the news.

Battlefield news, victims

The radio kept us updated on a place called Vietnam. That’s when we started hearing from our local military recruiters. We were in high school when we were contacted. After graduation, many of us enlisted. Several received orders to Vietnam. A few never returned. Their names became a line or two in the news updates on our local radio station.

We grew up in the ‘60s, a decade marked with several bloody milestones. There was the war in Vietnam and the 55,000 Americans who died there. Then there were the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963; Attorney General Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968, who was campaigning for the presidency; and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis in 1968.

The 1960s included riots and fires in the Watts area of Los Angeles in 1965, and riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Over time, those national events healed. But scars are forever.

Years ago, local radio faded into obscurity. It was replaced by something I don’t recognize, which is why my radios at home and in my car are tuned to National Public Radio. I enjoy most of NPR’s lineup, which doesn’t include happy talk and junk news. When I want music, I pop in CDs I created from iTunes downloads.

Ongoing information revolution

In rereading my thoughts to this point, I can see where you might think I’m suffering from selective memory.

You are wrong if that is your thought. What I remember is an era in which there were fewer news sources. That made it much easier to hear and read the news.

We are in an ongoing information revolution. Seven days a week,  24 hours a day, we have access to an overwhelming number of news sources. Which ones are interesting? Are they trustworthy? Are they fueled by paranoia? Will they exist tomorrow? Newspapers are struggling or dying. A few downsized reporters are reborn as news bloggers.

Advertisers are equally frustrated. Like consumers, they are overwhelmed and confused by the growing information tsunami. On which sites should I buy space? Are the ad rates reasonable?

Politicians launch their own blogs. Disenfranchised voters become fans of self-annointed media personalities who create their versions of facts and truth. Candidates attack each other with distortions of reality.

Snarky comments

I don’t know if it’s related, but the time I remember also was a time in which people exhibited more compassion and respect for others. Today, if you have the time to read the “comments” sections of Web sites, it’s disheartening to see the insulting comments people (often hiding behind nicknames) hurl at each other.

What I miss are the strong connections individuals and families had with each other and with important issues. Their personal stories and challenges are genuine, unlike the yarns spun today by politicians and lobbyists.

That’s why I miss local radio. It reminds me of people and their local communities. Which is why I enjoy reading and writing about ordinary people. Some of today’s most interesting literary journalism focuses on everyday people and their extraordinary challenges.

I’m talking about people who, without any fanfare, achieve personal greatness. They don’t seek publicity about their work.

Stories about everyday people often are the most interesting news of any day.

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Jan 28th, 2011

One Comment to 'Too Many Choices for News: Who to Trust, Who to Believe'

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  1. Mike — an example of when less is more. You are right, gone are the days of pure local radio. Corporate-owned stations, syndicated programming – very little local news.

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