Recent news stories have covered the passing of some of the “old-timers” in the television news business, including clips from bygone days when people followed the news on the Big Three television networks ... plus, of course, the daily newspapers.
It is difficult now to remember that there were hours each day when we had to wait for “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” or the afternoon delivery of the “San Jose News,” to find out the latest developments in the nation and the world.
Today, of course, access to every event of even trivial significance is ubiquitous, 24 hours a day. I chuckle when I watch the TV commercial of office workers trying to share office gossip only to be told “That is so 17 seconds ago!” Even with my wife it is almost impossible for me to break a news-flash that she has not already heard about.
But the companion to “all the news all the time” is the ever-present invitation to comment and opine on those very same news topics. Every online news story is now followed by a “Comment” window, sometimes generating hundreds or thousands of witty, sarcastic, vicious, strident, or (occasionally) intelligent responses.
Even the television news programs now feature a segment where the anchor person reads emails, Facebook or Twitter comments on the story just presented. The result is a deafening cacophony of voices on every side of every issue, all of which often leaves the reader or listener with nothing more useful than a giant headache.
And this brings me back to the “bygone era” thoughts with which I started. When I was growing up, the only vehicle for the vox populi was the editorial page of the local newspaper, which published “letters to the editor” from the readership. That was it! No blogs, no comments read on television, no Facebook posting or tweets.
My dad was an inveterate writer of letters to the editor of the Oregon Journal, the afternoon daily in Portland. Once in a great while he would proudly share that day’s editorial page, featuring one of his letters. He would receive calls from his buddies, congratulating him on his temporary fame. He felt his expression of opinion made a difference. Whether it did or not is debatable.
But does anyone today have even the illusion of influence, as one more voice joins the roar of the crowd? The irony of today’s easy access to the soapbox is that the top of the soapbox is now lowered to floor-level, with no voice able to distinguish itself from all the others. I know my dad would be very, very frustrated.