Blog: Too Many Voices

Everyone comments on everything ... but is anything heard?

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.

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AR February 13, 2012 at 05:59 PM
you're forgetting how information barons like hearst peddled influence and controlled the national agenda via their control of the editorial page. good riddance to centralized, hierarchical control of the media. the tv has an off switch, so does the ipad
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz February 13, 2012 at 06:59 PM
There so many ways now to communicate in our day! We are no longer limited to a Newspaper, T V, or Radio! It's a New Age with all the Gadgets we now have! This is GREAT!
Steve Pogue February 13, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Commenting on this almost seems counter-intuitive, since it highlights how pointless such comments are. ; ). But I think that the saddest part of it all is that instant news stories are often semi-accurate pieces of shallow journalism with a catchy, often completely misleading, headline, followed by pages of racist rants, political hyperbole and comments about how if you go to a certain web site you can meet a much younger woman and find love.
Bonnie Westman February 14, 2012 at 12:21 AM
I say more voices are better. I love it when someone is interested enough about a subject that they take the time to think about it, write out an opinion and then share it with others. I love the "ever-present comment" section you write about especially as compared to the days when Walter Cronkite and his singular opinion ruled. Life is just so much more interesting when people are engaged and communicating even if you have to do a little bit of filtering!
Vena Renee Cundy February 23, 2012 at 04:56 AM
The only thing I'd request in this instant information response age is to please remember your manners when in the presence of others. Turn your phone volume off, check your texts when you are alone, not at lunch, in mid sentence, and know this, when you do move your attention from your companion to your cell phone, twitter, text, or email, you are basically sending a silent message about yourself and the importance of whomever you are with. Now if I could just master this myself : )


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