Journalists' role: Taking the amusement out of news

For anyone who’s been a J201 TA, this comic (thanks to Hans for sending me this link) speaks to what we spend the first few weeks of the course discussing – and what our students write their first paper on (or at least they did when I taught the class). I really enjoyed the distilling of Postman’s work into a dozen comic slides. 🙂

Also, this comic reminds us that while I was as eager as anyone to poke holes in Postman’s argument (and particularly his use of evidence), he made a really interesting point that society should debate. Is the glut of information actually making people less willing or able to act? I think Postman’s concern is amplified with the growth of new sources of information, such as blogs and open-source news. For example, despite the comparison of WikiLeak’s exposure of information on the war in Afghanistan to the Pentagon Papers, the differences trump the similarities: as Slate’s Anne Applebaum points out, what is any untrained eye to do with over 90,000 pages of information?

Postman is right in one point: too much information can be almost as damaging as not enough information, especially when society often has little incentive and no clear pathway to affect change. For all the concerns about journalists’ infusing their reporting with expertise – and don’t get me wrong, this is always a concern – journalists can use their expertise to help distill information and present a clear picture of what’s important (an argument made by Brent Cunningham). This is a role we still need journalists to perform, perhaps even more when information is abundant.


  1. What is equally disturbing to me (and our local news is guilty of this) is that they filter so much of the information and don’t report the entire story that we take everything with a grain of salt. Thsi leads to complacency on our part because we no longer feel that the news reporters have our best interests in mind when they report the news—they now are more concerned with ratings than thoghtful reporting. For this reason, the news is no longer where we turn to as our proimary source for information. There is one station in our area that was heads and shoulders above the rest in integrity but alas, they have fallen into the quest for ratings.

    • Hi Liz!

      That’s a really interesting and provocative point that you make. Journalists cannot focus solely on seeking the truth and distilling the news, as much as we would like. They remain part of a business that requires money to continue.

      I’m curious about your point that “the news is no longer where we turn as our primary source of information.” What do you think is our primary source? And, even with the flaws in journalism, including their quest for ratings, who can do a better job in news production?

  2. I loved Postman… I’ve begun to fall on the side that “us” (the little people) having too much information is as bad (not almost as bad — or maybe worse) than not having enough, since “we” can’t understand it, and can’t tell the right from wrong, and certainly aren’t educated enough about things to see the big picture.

    I think I remember Howard Zinn pointing out (and opening my eyes) that “we” (us end consumers) have actually too much access to what Washington is doing, and get lost in the minutiae and miss the whole point.


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