Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
For the past few days, I have been obsessively following the news from Iran – a stolen election, revolution in the streets, thuggish police, bloodshed, death.
In a powerful demonstration of both the curse and the blessings of the modern age, I can follow much of the news with a vital immediacy unimaginable even a few years ago.
I read a flood of postings on Twitter. I scan cell phone photos and videos direct from Tehran. I read blogs from all corners of the political spectrum and from news organizations of all sorts.
Sadly, it has not occurred to me to pick up an actual newspaper. Ink smeared on dead trees just isn’t going to get the job done right now.
Later, yes, there will be time for what ink on newsprint has to offer, but for now, I just can’t wait that long.
Is this story really that important? It certainly feels like it, although that feeling too can be the result of the immediacy of the information flood in the Internet.
Still, this is a popular revolution against an oppressive theocratic government in a nation that is one of the most troubling and dangerous in the world.
Given that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad – the beneficiary of the obviously fraudulent election results – is clearly a bad guy, that Iran is clearly hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, that the previous U.S. administration seemed on the verge of taking military action and that all of this is happening in the midst of the most volatile region on the planet … yes, I think it’s well worth following obsessively.
And yet, as things began breaking loose in Tehran over the past weekend, hard news from “traditional” sources was impossible to find.
The “24-hour” cable news networks – All News All the Time supposedly – acted as if nothing at all was happening. They continued to run their usual canned weekend programming, ignoring the actual news.
Revolution in the streets! Celebrity scandal on TV.
And, even now, on Tuesday, cable news still hasn’t caught up.
I just checked my television: CNN was focused on a wind storm in Missouri; Headline News was talking about a professional football player who was arrested; MSNBC had a Republican congressman attacking the president’s stimulus plan. The only mention of Iran was on Fox News, where they were discussing why Obama’s reaction to the Iran situation was so, so very wrong.
Meanwhile, on Twitter I can follow dozens of threads from Iran. For days now I have been reading posts by people who have taken part in vast demonstrations, witnessed brutal assaults, fled clouds of tear gas, seen friends beaten.
At least, I think I have.
And that, of course, is the flip side of the immediacy and vitality of the Internet: the almost total lack of reliability.
The main “Iran election” thread on Twitter is a roaring echo chamber, thousands of posts an hour. Every rumor is repeated over and over. It becomes almost impossible to find new information and truly impossible to know whether to believe what you do find.
One already-famous video of a young man being beaten nearly to death by paramilitary religious police turns out to be two years old.
One posting offers a link to “photo from demonstration today” that takes me directly to a porn site. (Not a very good one, either, in case you’re interested.)
Meanwhile, in the middle of all the chaos, there are a few sites that are rising above the noise, filtering that flood of information, seeking reliable sources, evaluating what they find before they pass it on.
That, of course, is the traditional function of the news media.
Sadly, as we all know too well, the traditional media are in disarray these days.
Even as crises of all sorts spread throughout the world, news budgets are shrinking. International bureaus have been shut down. Staffs have been slashed.
“Doing more with less” is the motto of the day. But what it really means is this: Doing less.
Certainly, we’ve seen that here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The Aspen Times is sadly less than it once was: fewer reporters, fewer pages, fewer copies printed. (And the same thing seems to be the case at the competition across town.)
I remain hopeful – foolishly, perhaps – about the future.
I believe that local news in small-town newspapers like this one will survive. In fact, I believe these papers will thrive yet again.
Local people care about local news and, frankly, so much of that news (even here in Aspen) is somewhat dreary, nitty-gritty stuff – vitally important, but still nothing that you’re going to get except from someone who’s paid to be there.
If there isn’t a local newspaper to cover the school board and the planning and zoning commission and the rest, you’re just not going to get that news.
And you need it.
So local papers will recover, I do believe – despite, I hope, whatever clumsy mistakes are being made during the current economic crisis.
But on the national and international level, I am not quite so hopeful.
That news is much more expensive to cover. And that arena is flooded with new forms of competition – immediate, vital, exciting, deeply muddled, hopelessly confusing, sometimes intentionally dishonest and occasionally leading to hard-core pornography.
And yet, the need for traditional journalism remains.
“Ink smeared on dead trees” may or may not be the ultimate medium in this fast-paced – ever-faster – world. But we still need the traditional journalism that takes time to stop and think, to sort out truth from lies and find meaning in the midst of confusion.
Even as I follow events in Iran, I realize that I understand so very little.
How will it end? What will it mean? Will it just be religious fascism with a new face or will the younger generation of Iran – Persians with a proud history – take a step into the modern era of civilization?
We need to know. But who is still out there to tell us?
Hello? Hello? Is anybody there?
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