Sunday, July 10, 2011
The newswires of the world have been electric over the past week as News of the World readies to publish its last paper on July 10th/2011, ending the life of one of the UK's best known tabloids that took its first breath in 1843. Over 200 staff members, all who will be unemployed on Monday morning, are hard at work in the newsroom clicking out stories and soundbytes for the last time, tears running down the faces of some of the staff members as they soak up all that has happened to their newspaper - why they have become the news...and why their story is coming to such a tragic end.
The events leading up to this media headline have raised a number of critical issues. The spark was set within the newspaper environment. How could a tabloid cross such a line in search of a scoop? Yes, NotW had built a reputation for dirty tricks to get the dirt. But this?
Soon the fire spread to 'the media' at large. Public opinion turned to openly damning 'the media'. Opinion increased in aggression and accusation.
What has been interesting to see is how open public opinion about private information became. Sweeping statements about 'the media' put all journalists across all media types and all media brands into the same dustbin. What happened at NotW has been deemed a just action for 'the media' acting so irresponsibly.
This matter is not about newspapers. It is not about 'the media'. It is about ethics - the ethics held by each and every individual with a story to tell or an opinion to express. It is about each and every one of us. Within the professional media world are there people willing to cross the line? Absolutely. But there are others who also stand firmly in respect for the line, proud of their ability to know where the line is...and that they refuse to put a foot wrong. It is individual. It always is.
In today's day and age, where for some citizen journalism has gained as must weight as official news gathering, we have become 'the media'. The information, suspicions, opinions, hunches and stories we have are able to be spread across the world in a matter of seconds. All it takes is the click of a SEND key. Suddenly, instantly, widely and often with fire and fury, the story is out there. True or false. Just or unjust. Private or public.
As a result, the old adage where there's smoke there's fire no longer holds true. Now where there's smoke there may just be smoke. But the impact can start a fire. The fire, spreading through opinion, can cause significant damage to reputations, relationships, lives and legacies. Without enough information, or invitation, public opinion fuels the fire.
Is the case against DSK credible? Will it last?
Is the marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene for love? Will it last?
Is Southern Sudan going to make it as an independent nation? Will it last?
We are so busy commenting outwards, creating community of commentary and criticism, that we lose sight of our individual responsibility of having an opinion in the first place. To create opinions is natural - we take in, process and restructure information based on our world view and our inner code. It is natural. What is unnatural is how our e-connected world inspires us to share that opinion to the world - our 'friends', 'followers' and other members of our e-audiences.
But does that mean we should be expressing our opinion? Is the subject at hand really any of our business? What good can come from it, aside from the elevation of ego for expressing an opinion about everything sexy and sensationalist? And if the people at the heart of the story were present, would we be so quick to hit the SEND button?
The issue sparked by NotW was not a debate about the right to information vs. the right to privacy. It was about right and wrong. Simple.
Hopefully, hopefully, NotW will stand as not just an example, but as a mirror, reminding us all to stop and look closely at the consequences of our opinions. Our connected world was created to bring us closer together. How we use it defines whether we achieve that idealistic goal, or we actually end up pushing each other apart.
Whether 'the media' or the individual, now is the opportunity to pause, and before hitting the SEND button, hitting REFRESH.
But that is just my opinion.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2011