Saturday, December 3, 2016

Media Matters

"In the symbolic universe of a community, there dwell multiple narratives - some shining at the forefront, vivid and unmistakable; some in the background, indistinct and half-forgotten; some sleeping, some recently awakened, and many in uneasy contradiction to others. If [one] wishes to [communicate a narrative] ... he is inventing no god, but merely calling upon one to take precedence over another."
The End of Education, 1996, Neil Postman


New Symposium: Rescuing Discourse from the Political Parties

The topic for Tuesday, January 31, 2017 

“The Future of News in the Digital Age”

Legacy media, the old and often reliable newspapers and magazines that informed Americans for many decades, are in the throes of unprofitability and decline (remember the classifieds section?; Google ad revenue was $70 million dollars in 2001; twelve years later, $50.6 billion), due in part to the changing habits of readers. Jeff Bazos of Amazon claims that the average age of readers of news on printed paper goes up about one year every year.

The days of depending (for better or for worse) on Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw are long gone. One might argue that the decline of the mainstream media has been more than coincidental with the decline of the political center. Who would argue that the internet is not promoting fragmentation and the gathering of news readers into like-minded, online communities? Robert G. Kaiser, former Senior Editor at Time declares “the news media are fragmenting just as American society is fragmenting—by class, by region, by religious inclination, by generation, by ethnic identity, by politics and more.”

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, we have had expanded, sadly, our awareness of flawed news, fake news, and confirmation bias. What is to be done?

When and Where

We ought to get together and talk some things through. Let’s plan on gathering
  • on Tuesday, January 31, from 7 until 8:30 p.m 
  • at the offices of Social Networking Technologies, Inc. in the High Touch Building at 110 S Main St #600 (William and Main) in Wichita.

Questions for Consideration

The following questions (each closely related to the others) beg answers as we confront the disruption, even havoc, that the internet and media bias have had on professional journalism, the pursuit of truth, and the political process:
  1. What are the motives and incentives that shape the “news” produced by the different forms of media (some more centralized, traditional, or corporate than others)? What should they be?
  2. Given the internet’s enormous potential for misinformation, how can one find “just the facts”?  When everyman’s a journalist, what happens to accountability for telling the truth?
  3. Has the centralized, legacy media been caught up in the hyper-polarization of American politics?  If so, is there a remedy?  Can we have tough, independent investigative journalism that does not start with presupposition and prejudice?
  4. What is the future of explanatory journalism that emphasizes nuance and context in a digital age in which speed and headlines are prized?  How could Twitter and Snapchat ever properly inform?
  5. Are digital media/communications making us all attention-deficit?  Are we too easily "informed"?
    Should you or someone you recommend desire to be a panelist, a minimum 200-word position statement must be submitted to  If you are selected by the trustees to be a panelist, we will publish a personal bio and your position statement on the blogsite.

    Our Featured Symposiasts [Panelists]

    Please join me in extending a hearty welcome to the featured symposiasts below. They will graciously contribute their viewpoints as starting points in our upcoming dialogue. And although we like to list their association with an important organization in their life, the viewpoints they express are their own which may or may not reflect any official positions of that organization. If they have given us a Bio and/or Position Statement, you can read them by clicking on their name and/or the PS after their introduction.
    • W. Davis (Buzz) Merritt - in absentia - a centralized/legacy media editor or producer of what is “newsworthy” - PS
      We are very grateful to Davis for his pre-dialogue contributions of important, experience-based thoughts to our subject, but we must announce that he will be unable to attend the evening's dialogue. We will miss his sound words and hope to bring him back in the future. In the meantime here are his Comments In Absentia for our consideration.

    • David Allen Seaton - editor/publisher of localized online news who is responsible for determining, editing and producing what is "newsworthy" - The Cowley Courier Traveler [] 
      are very glad to welcome David Seaton. His last minute willingness to present an editor/publisher's point of view will help maintain the important breadth Davis Merritt would have added to our evening's dialogue had he been able to attend as planned.
    • Dave Trabert - a contributor to centralized/legacy media and to decentralized social media - Kansas Policy Institute - PS
    • Mike Marlett - multi-faceted designer, reporter and editor working in online news, local newspapers, centralized/legacy media and organizational websites - PS 
    • Mark McCormick - a writer for centralized/legacy media and for decentralized social media - The Kansas African American Museum
    • Bob Weeks - an avid consumer of centralized and decentralized media - PS

    So, there you have it

    In anticipation of a stimulating evening together, we invite YOU to "warm up" to this topic by reviewing our blogging guidelines on the "Symposiasts" page then  joining the blog. Our moderator will use our collective blog input to help plan and guide the evening's dialogue in order to make it as exciting and as relevant as possible.

    Ready, Set, GO

    After reviewing our initial Questions for Consideration ... our panelists' initial Position Statements ... and the 20+ blog Comments and Replies below ... we have come up with a powerpoint set of Segments & Questions [S&Q] we will use to divide our panelists' dialogue into 4x20-minute periods. Each segment will suggest a potential shift in focus to a different major line of thought with several minor questions.

    The S&Q is not intended to limit the panelists in any way as they work together to give color and shape to their thoughts. The evening is THEIR dialogue ... and we are simply glad they have been gracious enough to let us "think along" with them as it unfolds.

    We hope to see you there ... Tuesday evening at 7:00 pm ... and remember to invite a friend. 

    An Evening to Remember

    Thanks to Paul Soutar at Graphic Lens for the evening's fine photo, audio and video enhancements. If you were unable to attend ... or if you just want to go over some key points again ... click here for Paul's beautifully edited YouTube AV recording of the New Symposium on Media Matters.

    And thanks to our panelists and our audience for an evening of stimulating thought and talk. While the dialogue left most of us with more questions than we had when we came, it also helped us gain a wider and richer contextual appreciation for ... the many and varied issues and forces ... that are continuously at work ... seeking equilibrium through dynamic relationships with each other ... in the fascinating and important world of "news in the digital age".

    In the bonds of civil discourse pursuing truth,
    Mike Witherspoon, a trustee of New Symposium



      Whether you are a FEATURED SYMPOSIAST or a regular symposiast, welcome to the New Symposium's prytaneum! We hope you will enjoy your fill of good ideas and be motivated to take good actions.

      Before you start, please review the blogging guidelines set out in the blog page titled "Symposiasts" which will help us all make the best use of this important e-forum. Try to understand the difference between entering a new COMMENT and entering a REPLY to an existing comment ... then use these two separate blogging forms as set forth in the "Symposiasts" page.

      We are GLAD you are here ... and look forward to using this blog as a springboard to prepare and test various starting points for our coming evening's dialogue.

      Stay tuned to the "Announcements" page for further guidance as we proceed ... to rescue dialogue from the political parties!

      1. Did you know you can "Reply" to a major "Comment" [even your own Comment] and your Reply will be listed in order beneath that Comment?

        Then later if you wish to "hide" your Reply to make it quicker to page down to other major Comments without reading all the Replies to each major Comment, you can simply click on the small triangle by "Replies" to hide all the Replies to any given major Comment.

        If you wish to review the Replies in depth later simply click the triangle again and the Replies will reappear.

        Read the page on the Art of Blogging for more tips on how to succeed in your use of this "news medium".

    2. INDEPENDENT POST by Mike Witherspoon, January 10, 2017

      Yes, “post-truth” has entered the dictionary. The year just past has been named “The Year of the Lie.” Polarization and fragmentation in our political culture and attendant media has arguably grown more deeply rooted. News seekers have dug themselves into personalized, hyper-democratized online communities wherein honest and well-conceived dissent is often not present. Postmodern wisdom deconstructs meta-narratives, making the pursuit of truth nearly solipsistic. “Every man is right in his own eyes.”

      Hasn’t the digital age cheapened commentary by exponentially increasing commentators? Anyone with typing skills can be a journalist, but how many understand the complexity in building both incentive and social justice into an economy, in distinguishing between Allah and Yahweh in the sacred texts, in balancing loving kindness and the rule of law on immigration issues, etc.?

      What has happened to the middle, that ground of compromise whereupon the wisdom in other positions is taken into account? Whatever factors others may offer to explain, I declare these two: 1) Four generations of television consumers have watched how many episodes of dysfunctional conversation, of nasty, dismissive dialogue, of abrupt, even abusive, settling of dispute? 2) How many children and teens and collegians are not being taught at school to think across the political spectrum, to learn that “humility makes room for complexity and honors honest dissent” (Nancy Gibbs).

      If we are to advance news commentators who pursue the nuanced details of the truth and news consumers who look for the complexity with which most any topic is fraught, logical fallacies and Socratic pedagogy leading to dialectical maturity must be taught, modeled, and honored in the home, school, workplace, and especially by those in media, whose best purpose is to honestly inform.

      1. Observations on Symposiasts' Answers to Questions

        1. The "motives" of individual news producers vary across a spectrum from prejudicial manipulation thru profit maximization to charitable clarification. Their "incentives" span an equally broad range that includes the news consumer's individual demands for prejudice, entertainment, convenience and integrity. As such, it is impossible to centralize or reform news [either in terms of content or medium] which has the innate potential to become what Merritt calls a "disruptive, chaotic and as-yet unformed revolution".

        2. One disadvantage of this disorderly proliferation is the high cost to the conscientious consumer of attempting to get "just the facts". The temptation is to believe that by restricting the production of fake news [using the power of the state] this cost can be lowered for everyone. However, any promised agreement on what is "news" is a cruel illusion that leads to arbitrary tyranny [be it by philosopher kings or fascist presidents].

        3. The centralized, legacy media is rightly [Trabert and Weeks] or wrongly [Marlett] perceived to have taken sides [abandoning what Merritt called its "20th century optimistic notion of journalistic objectivity"] in response to [and as a reinforcing the cause of] the hyper-polarization of American citizens. However, more discussion is needed on whether a democracy based on "majority rule" actually encourages polarization and whether one that breaks down polarization must be based on "individual freedom" [similar to what Merritt called "self-governance" ?] with "majority rule" reserved for use only where individual freedom is structurally unable to function.

        The only remedy suggested or implied by the symposiasts was that news consumers impartially demand [and are willing to pay for] "the journey of discovery" that is inherent in "good journalism" [Marlett]. This would seem to require the abandonment of special interest "lobbies" and a renewed respect for individual freedom.

        More discussion is needed concerning the "high social cost" [in the form of bad government] to citizens from "bad journalism". Perhaps, a "free press" is not sufficient to reverse the trends in a democracy suffering from an advanced degree of central-bank-crony-capitalist-corruption at all levels of government and business. If "news" is a pedagogical function [see below] similar to "schools", perhaps the republic should view and treat these two public institutions similarly: free them from any form of government control over content or medium while enabling every citizen to access them at a fundamental level of their choosing via an "informational voucher".

        4 & 5. Explanatory journalism with nuance and context is always headline-able but never speedy... regardless of the media in which it is presented. The problem is that a large segment of current news consumers are "cognitively poor" [ie incapable of exchanging information in ways that require even slight intellectual investment beyond the headline].

        Discussion is needed as to HOW we came to the point in America [a land admired in 1830 by de Tocqueville for its sophisticated and freedom-nuanced "manners"] where the divide between the "cognitively rich and poor" has reached extremes not seen in our entire history. I would propose that the failure of public education lies somewhere amidst wreckage.

      2. Putting "News" In Context
        "News" and "Education"

        In his book "To Know as We are Known: a Spiritual of Education", Parker Palmer identifies an existential pathway which all men walk ... from ontology [what IS] through epistemology [how we KNOW] to pedagogy [how we LEARN] ending with morality [what we DO]. It would appear that "news" fits in this spectrum as a form of more or less impersonal pedagogy where reporter merely replaces treacher. Indeed, many modern school classrooms [especially online] resemble digital news encounters.

        The point is that all the dialectical challenges we face and fail in school may simply return to haunt us as "lost" news opportunities once we are out-of-school. In other words, if our adolescent education fails to awaken and strengthen the full range of our human cognitive abilities, we become "cognitive invalids" who spend our life in "managed care" ... which is definitely not a robust foundation for democracy.

        Wikipedia reports that “[In his acclaimed book "Amusing Ourselves to Death", noted educator Neil] Postman said that the contemporary world was better reflected by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement, than by Orwell's work, where they were oppressed by state control.” This would seem to confirm the diagnosis that our problems with "news" are not with "news" per se but rather with all endeavors which require us to "learn".

      3. Some Characteristics of Media

        Questions of content aside, we need more discussion on the broad question of the sometimes conflicting characteristics of media. Taking some cues from "money" which is one of the oldest media employed by men to exchange information and which is also facing massive pressures in the digital age, I would posit a few categories of media characteristics [and proverbs] that come to mind for consideration.

        Media must be:

        commonly accepted
        “Doveryai no proveryai” (Trust but verify)
        ― Russian proverb used by Ronald Reagan

        “talk is cheap … put your money where your mouth is … take it with a grain of salt”
        ― American proverbs

        “that doesn’t add up … he swallowed it hook, line and sinker” ― Fisherman’s proverbs

        “He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets — most likely his father's. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth.”
        ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

      4. Money as a Medium of Information Exchange

        All the featured symposiasts mentioned "money" as having an important impact on the exchange of information ... but they did not examine it in much detail ... probably because we have been taught to consider the "pursuit of money" crass when compared to "the pursuit of truth". But money is actually mankind's most powerful medium for exchanging information ... let me explain.

        All of us [including the traditional news media] think alot about money and how to get more of it. But few of us understand the vital role money [along with just weights and measures] plays as the historical social medium which facilitates the vital and continuous exchange [by people around the globe] of information [about their abilities, needs and hopes relative to one another, natural resources and time]. In this sense, money is, perhaps, the oldest, the most sophisticated and [the internet notwithstanding] the most important “news medium” in human history.

        In the flyleaf to George Gilder’s new book “The Scandal of Money”, it is more than obvious that the traditional news media are not the only information exchanges that have been corrupted and warped by government as the purveyor-in-chief of “fake news” [aka propaganda] and which, as such need to be rescued from the political parties. Our money … the most important social medium we have … has been criminally and chronically manipulated in ways that can accurately be characterized as the equivalent of “fascist propaganda”. Gilder says:

        “[Because of the weak economy] the Democrats [were] sitting ducks in 2016 … [but] the Republicans are just as clueless as their opponents. … Worn-out doctrines of monetary manipulation are smothering innovation, bloating the financial sector, and crushing the middle class [while the poor are ground into the pavement]. [And all this is happening because we do not understand that] the economy is an information [exchange] system driven by human creativity. [But] that system depends on a reliable measuring stick of value which we call money. If that measuring stick becomes [unreliable and subject to manipulation by those with the political power to produce fake news] then [accurate] information does not flow efficiently and creativity withers [and massive gaps in wealth develop between banksters and crony-capitalists with inside access to accurate information and the general public].”

        Perhaps, central banks have become the greatest and most destructive purveyors of “fake news” in history by disrupting/corrupting the ability/capacity of money to permit people around the world to accurately, reliably and FAIRLY exchange information [through free trade] about their abilities, needs and available resources. And the results of this disruption/corruption have been nothing less than catastrophic including destroying the middle class which forms the foundation for national democracies, fomenting currency wars which are precursors to military conflicts, concentrating control of and benefits from natural resources in the hands of the few, permitting capital to enslave labor … and [to use a Donald-phrase which truly applies in this case] much, much more”.

      5. "Monetizing online labor to increase competition" by Mike Witherspoon

        Today I googled the question, How do I convert a Microsoft word document into a photo that I might upload the photo onto Facebook? (I had spent an hour wrestling with software, etc. to figure this out on my own—to no avail.) After googling instructions from a source who was not paid for their expertise (relative to my understanding), I completed the task in two minutes.

        My point: so much expertise is being offered without compensation/remuneration. In the “old days,” I frequently paid someone to help me with my lack of skill/knowledge.

        We must monetize the exchange of information on the internet. Given more and more people spending valuable time online, we must create a more extensive online marketplace -- so that time and labor are rewarded.

        By requiring everyone who visits your site to receive data from you or listen to a song you wrote, etc. to pay you a fee (and the fee need not be prohibitive – competition brings down cost), the internet becomes more expensive and competitive. Most people will admit that competition improves product and rewards the “smart shopper.” Relatedly – and I’ve not thought this through well – to require online shoppers to pay a small fee before accessing an online store might help restore local brick-and-mortar distributors.

        If online access to others’ opinion, product, photos, etc. comes at a cost, then the fitter (more truthful, more clever, more humorous, more informed, yes, even the more popular) thrive. (I could name more than a few posters of online opinion who are currently receiving no monetary reward for their considerable and thoughtful time spent online. They have many visitors to their site – and, yes, Facebook is their forum.)

        Purveyors of opinion and product that prove untrustworthy or not helpful or uninteresting might lose their ability to pay access fees or pay for their own visiting/trolling the internet– and will then have to change their own content/product/method or be offline. (Some people will be only consumers of online information, and use money from their offline labor to pay for online time.)

        Yes, a fee schedule could be complicated (socio-economic status of site creators and visitors might be taken into account, much like the tax code), but writing regulatory code is not a skill that eludes American know-how. (I can hear the barking over the suggestion in this paragraph.)

        In the bonds of reducing the casual mediocrity fostered by hyper-democratization and the de-monetized labor of so many who are online for not insignificant time,

    3. FEATURED COMMENT by Davis Merritt

      The Orwell vs. Huxley alternatives based on Neil Postman's great book can only help us go so far toward our goal. One must wonder what Postman, who died much too young, would make of today's media and public life environments. Setting up his analogy in "Amusing...," he wrote, "there is nothing Orwellian about" the society he was addressing. "The President does not have the press under his thumb. The New York Times and the Washington Post are not Pravda; the Associated Press is not Tass.And there is no Newspeak here. Lies have not been defined as truth nor truth as lies. All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference." Alas for us (though probably just as well for his peace of mind) he did not live to experience today's atmosphere which could not support his words from the 1980s. While the New York Times is not Pravda, etc, most of the other Orwellian horrors are upon us and a substantial portion of our population thinks and acts without reliable references to truth vs. falsity and in languages very close to Newspeak. The incoherence they have descended into is not the creation of either the government or traditional news media, but of politicians and public manipulators of all sorts. And is it not an incoherence of indifference but of irrational advocacy. I knew Neil a bit and am certain that he would quickly rewrite those sentences to adjust for today's atmospherics and help us reach the goal of our discussion. While he won't be there, it would be useful for all of us to read or re-read, as the case may be, "Amusing Ourselves to Death" to aid in our search. His insightful analysis of public incoherence was before the deep ideological divide that animates our discussion, so it could be of help in discussing how we proceed as a society from this point on.--Davis Merritt

      1. Davis, THANKS so much for your thoughtful contribution ... and please [as time permits] consider this.

        For most people [other than hardened cultists] irrationality is exhausting and soon leads to indifference [that helpless feeling of a person who simply cannot understand or make a difference] ... and indifference often drifts into one of the things that is left for the irrational ... AMUSEMENT ... followed by death. Thus, for people who cannot think rationally, there is only depression or amusement. Take look at Sunday afternoon TV ... football ... anywhere ... then tell me our obsession with amusement [in the face of catastrophic world events] is not a prevalent symptom of something amiss. Is it mere coincidence that the final stage of Greek philosophy was hedonism ... or that the Roman civilization ended as a circus?

        So, before we conclude that America is not in the terminal phase of amusement, perhaps, we should look even further back for the cause of the "irrationality" which [although still persistent as you observed] set indifference and then amusement into motion for most people.

        You seem content to scapegoat the public's irrationality on "politicians and public manipulators", but I think you give "politicians and manipulators" [many of whom are witless themselves] too much credit and that you give the public too little responsibility for their condition ... indeed you seem to border on patronizing them. Yes, ruthless pushers prey on helpless addicts ... but in AA we are taught that each of us IS RESPONSIBLE [and solely to blame] for our own actions.

        If the public is irrational, it is because the public cannot think rationally ... they never LEARNED to do so ... adult bodies [aka of voting age] but adolescent minds ... and so they quickly lose interest [aka indifference] ... and [if they do not succumb to depression] ultimately seek the only thing they can understand ... amusement.

        And since we have gone this far, perhaps, we should go even further and ask WHY DID THE PUBLIC NEVER LEARN to think rationally ... to see that the king obviously has no clothes ... and [as Jefferson admonished all freemen] to step up and exercise their right and do their duty to throw off the tyrants who abuse them ... what happened to this "public"?

        Here, perhaps, we should turn to Postman's last book [I think] before his death ... "The End of Education" ... and consider [as Postman argues] that "public" education has miserably failed to bring forth a "public" at all ... a group of men and women who can collectively AND rationally interpret their world and then purposefully and morally act in it. For without such a "public" in this "republic", "news" [or anything else except amusement] is little more than "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

        Is it any wonder, then, that the "public" has [in a final act of Macbethian hedonism] concluded that the only thing left to do is "eat, drink and be merry ... for tomorrow we die"?

      2. A PostScript to our dialogue on "amusement" versus "news".

        I awoke in the dark with an etymological ache in my head [too much tea from the previous evening?] ... the word "amuse". As my head throbbed, it suddenly came to me that "amuse" is really two words ... "a" meaning "without" ... and "muse" meaning "god" ... so that "amuse" means literally "without god".

        Then I recalled that Postman in his book "The End of Education" said “For school to make sense, the young, their parents, and their teachers must have a god to serve, or, even better, several gods. If they have none, school is pointless.” then Postman went on to discuss what happens to children as adults once they become persuaded that "school is pointless".

        Then without a pause my mind recalled observations raised by various symposiasts that [when I first read them] left me with the aftertaste of "futility". Merritt spoke of the need for "shared values even if only the notion of democracy" ... Witherspoon and others of "accountability for telling the truth".

        And a question arose in my mind. Is it possible that "schools" and "news" ... indeed, all pedagogical endeavors ... all "learning" ... all attempts at what Merritt called "rational coherence" ... require a "muse" ... a "god" ... or [as Postman suggests] "several gods" ... and that "without gods" we are quite literally "amused to death"?

        Then I thought that, perhaps, this was just another of those pesky normative thoughts that invariably disturb our sleep and would vanish in the light of day. So I wrote this out [is blogging therapy?] ... took some aspirin ... and am returning to my bed. Good night all.

    4. I have to disagree with Mike Witherspoon's proposal to require fees be paid to online information providers and to require online shoppers to pay a fee to to 'level the playiing field' with brick-and-mortar sellers. While perhaps well-intended, both proposals amount to government interference in markets.

      A mandatory fee for reading information would likely make some information less available, as some people would resist paying the fee and not have benefit of information to make informed decisions. Kansas Policy Institute is a non-profit organization and we make our research and writings available for free to ensure universal access, but we accept voluntary donations from those who find it valuable and can afford to help underwrite our work.

      Charging a fee for online purchases would raise prices for consumers, discourage innovation and is the type of government intervention that ultimately can lead to less options for consumers.

      1. Money, Government & Information

        Lest we forget: internet "service" [the medium as opposed to the content] is already a heavily regulated industry controlled by government.

        "Net neutrality" [US federal law] prevents internet service providers [private and public] from discriminating [in services offered or prices charged] by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. This practice subsidizes malicious/mediocre news/info producers and idle/wasteful consumers. [Did you every runs a video stream from YouTube just to hear the music?]. This doctrine also subsidizes charitable producers and poor consumers.

        NN proponents argue that "digital equal rights" to the internet are inherent in free speech. Opponents argue that NN prevents "market price discovery" of what is really wanted/needed and the result is inefficiency/waste. Wikipedia has a balanced discussion of this issue. But just use common sense ... anything the government makes "free" [including credit ala the Federal Reserve] is abused by some and a seeming "god-send" to others.

        The problem is that NOTHING IS FREE. Furthermore, it has been convincingly argued by FA Hayek in "The Road to Serfdom" that when "central planning" replaces "decentralized decision making" the allocation of scarce resources paradoxically but inevitably becomes wasteful and tyrannical so as to destroy both the freedom and the equality it was intended to promote. [To read more about how this happens just browse for the "federalreserveontrialhere" blogsite and read about central planning].

        Witherspoon is right ... free market price discovery improves the quality and reduces the cost of every good and service men produce and consume. But he is wrong to think that government central planning can promote "marketplace price discovery" [Obamacare has show us that is a cruel delusion].

        Trabert is also right ... more government central planning of the internet [in the form of more "regulatory code" which Witherspoon mistakenly thinks will improve things] will paradoxically but inevitably make the internet the dwelling place of those favored by tyrants [like our present day crony-capitalists] while widening the divide between the digitally rich and poor ... creating digital masters and slaves ... Hayek's road to serfdom. But Trabert is wrong to conclude that "charging a fee" discourages innovation ... indeed it is what motivates innovation IF the market is free to innovate.

        We could use more discussion on this topic. NN has arguably caused an explosion in fake news and simultaneously stunted the cognitive development of several generations ... literally destroying the very foundation for the logically informed and rationally coherent "public" which Merritt correctly notes is essential for democracy.


      2. PostScript to my reply on central planning:

        I hate to sound petulant but EVERYTHING we just said about a centrally planned internet applies to centrally planned public education.

        If you want "price discovery" [with all its many benefits] AND "availability to the poor" ... use income based "vouchers" [the information equivalent of "food stamps"] ... and let the free individual consumers determine who is worthy to be paid ... and who is not.


      3. Direct, pure democracy becomes impractical when systems/populations grow to a certain size. Too many voices prevent the conversation from being focused. The American constitutional system is a republic with representatives who focus the conversation for their constituents.

        Direct, pure democracy (which news reporting is moving towards) will not work because too many voices prevent the focused conversation that the public needs to identify and hold accountable news reporters and commentators.

        Price discovery through consumer use of income-based vouchers is not so different from a fee schedule for internet access or "site shopping" based on socio-economic status. Some type of regulatory code (whoever writes it) will determine how much of a voucher at what particular level of need.

        We must limit the news reporting/commenting entities in the same way that we limit radio and television stations. Do we want everyman to have his own radio or television station? Imagine that for a moment. Who is to say that technology is not around the corner?

        If access and reporting and site shopping are more expensive, online communities of the like-minded will pool their resources to support their news reporting "representatives," -- much the same as voluntary donations support Dave Trabert's KPI.

        The cacophony that the internet has become is so shrill and disharmonious. Is this the manner by which we want to ensure the informed electorate that American democracy requires?

      4. Net Neutrality under attack ?

        As Trump takes office, the FCC's policy of NN is going to be questioned as "government interference" in "private enterprise". A rollback of NN would provide a relatively few [now two?] huge internet service providers [ISPs] with near-term "duopoly" powers over the internet as a social/public medium for exchanging information.

        In effect, this ISP duopoly would resemble what the traditional news media might look like if there were ONLY 2x large "publishers". According to Marlett [and common sense] these media moguls would be more inclined [and now free] to maximize profits without regard per se for other concerns like internet user privacy or assurance of equal public access levels [ala free speech]. In other words, the "level playing field" the internet has thus far brought to news producers and consumers would be gone ... and "digital inequality" of some sort would begin to arise and persist.

        How different is this from other prevalent trends that are now forcing the privatization of previously public functions ... such as private companies taking over water utilities or even roads and highways?

        Serious economic questions must be asked.

        What is fueling this massive "merger/consolidation" of private companies and public utilities into fewer and fewer massive private conglomerates? It is simply the result of the fact that a few very smart "entrepreneurs" know how to "manage" ANY business or government function [regardless of the specific disciplines it entails] better than all the others ... a natural aristocracy?

        Or is it because a relatively few well connect insiders have now gained historically unparalleled "financial leverage" over the "real resources" of the entire world via their access to unlimited amounts of cheap credit with which central banks are literally flooding the globe? The Bank of Japan now owns more than 50% of the corporate stocks in Japan. Europe is close behind. The US Federal Reserve has led the way by boldly demolishing all political inhibitions.

        What is the answer ... and does this have anything to do with the disappearance of the middle class? We simply MUST investigate this more closely ... it may be the lynch pin to a whole host of disasterous trends that all have one symptom in common ... the centralization of wealth and thus of power.

        Again, for those inclined to learn more, browse for federalreserveontrailhere and read about "Central Banking IS Central Planning". It is quite arguable that central banking IS the new global slave trade.

    5. FEATURED COMMENT by Mike Marlett

      Question 1
      What are the motives and incentives that shape the “news” produced by the different forms of media (some more centralized, traditional, or corporate than others)? What should they be?

      Answer 1
      It is, and always has been, a matter of finance. One has to be able to be paid enough to make a living to spend one’s time doing journalism (or anything else). I could write a lot of words about this, but it would probably be easiest to quote a satire penned in 2013 by The Onion claiming to be by the managing editor of CNN:

      Over the years, has become a news website that many people turn to for top-notch reporting. Every day it is visited by millions of people, all of whom rely on “The Worldwide Leader in News”—that’s our slogan—for the most crucial, up-to-date information on current events. So, you may ask, why was this morning’s top story, a spot usually given to the most important foreign or domestic news of the day, headlined “Miley Cyrus Did What???” and accompanied by the subhead “Twerks, stuns at VMAs”?

      It’s a good question. And the answer is pretty simple. It was an attempt to get you to click on so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.

      This isn’t a new stance, mind you. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a saying as old as … well, probably just as old as me. But combine that with “sex sells” and you pretty much have your bases covered. Now, keep in mind that this is an attitude of publishers, not reporters. Reporters tend to get into journalism for purely altruistic reasons. They see something that they think people should know about. Editors try to balance the needs of the publisher with the work of the reporter. And protect brand identity, such as being the home of “all the news that’s fit to print."

      [Due to a 4,096 character limit on blog comments, this is only an excerpt from Mike's full Position Statement which you can read by clicking on the PS link after Mike's name on the Media Matters post above. By entering your "Reply" to this FEATURE COMMENT you can help us extend the part of our dialogue which Mike has helped us to begin.]


        How would the hardened "president-turned-pearcher" in Ecclesiastes describe the unvarnished reality of the 21st century news media? Perhaps, he would look at the actions of each person who makes it up and hold each one responsible for his contribution [or lack thereof].

        > To the romantic reporter - "I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens ... and all of it is meaningless ... the more knowledge, the more grief."

        > To the earnest editor - "I undertook great projects ...yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless."

        > To the prehensile publisher - "If you see the poor oppressed and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised. For one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase is taken by all ... until the king himself profits. Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless."

        > To the regaled reader - "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good. But that also proved to be meaningless. Laughter is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?"

        And so, like a cold shower, Marlett challenges us to wake up: the news media is as varied ... as corrupted ... as noble ... as WE make it when WE participate in it ... nothing more and nothing less.

        Marlett's bottom line seems to be:

        * Don't expect underpaid, overworked or lazy reporters to report ... they can/will only regurgitate.
        * Don't expect enterprising editors to make silk purses from sows' ears.
        * Don't expect greedy publishers to do anything but pander to money.
        * And don't expect the common man to have alot in common with you.
        * If YOU love to read ... if YOU are a tireless, critical reader ... then PROTECT YOURSELF. Seek out and be prepared to pay for long form [not lazy] journalism. Don’t worry about the people who won't pay ... and don’t accept anything that isn’t actually news.

        With bracing candor and frank admonition from a voice with some experience, Marlett calls simply for individual responsibility [a novel concept in our day?] and appears quite content that this is all he [or any of us] can be expected to do ... in any age.

        So, perhaps, all that is left is to ask and say ... what are you waiting for ??? ... JUST DO IT.

      2. A New Reformation?

        In her essay "Reformation", Marilynne Robinson movingly recounts how the reverent, undaunted and selfless Reformation writers used [and in so doing honored with no hint of condescension] the vulgar tongues of ploughmen to open western civilization's window to renaissance, science, romanticism ... and every sort of previously unimaginable thought dwelling in "the universal and defining mysteries of human consciousness ... which are certain proofs of the divinity on man." She posits that their "motives" were more than "altruistic" ... a sort of divinely inspired struggle to put "the ploughman on equal terms with anyone".

        The result, she claims, was that "we are moved to respond to the fact of human brillance, human depth, in all its variety" as "the most wonderful thing in the world ... very probably in the universe".

        But ... she continues ... "Now we are more inclinded to speak of information than of learning, and to think of the means by which information is transmitted rather than of how learning might transform, and be transformed by, the atmospheres of a given mind. We talk about the elegance of an equation, but we forget to find value in the beauty of a thought. ... we live in a second universe ... of mass publishing ... an inexhaustible reservoir of new thought ... whose best moments pass unobserved."

        Nonetheless, she admonishes against "the rise of cultural pessimism, whose major passion is bitter hostility toward many or most of the people within the very culture the pessimists always feel they are intent on rescuing". She insists we must never forget "that we still have every potential for good ... the same presumptive claim to respect [that the vulgar ploughman had]". And she concludes that "to value one another is our greatest safety".

        Robinson leaves me with questions.

        What distinguishes learning from information ... education from news? Should our only concern be with the validity of the message regardless of the motives of the messenger ... "But what does it matter? The important thing is that Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."? Can anything ugly also be true? How should/do we grasp/respond to the beauty of a single snowflake in a blizzard ... to the truth of one post on a remote blog in the internet?

        Is it, as Robinson suggests, only by "a generous and even a costly readiness to show our respect for all minds and spirits, especially those whose place in life might cheat them of respect" ... the deplorables in our midst? And, if so, how does one go about this?

    6. FEATURE COMMENT by Bob Weeks

      When I read in the Christian Science Monitor that "post-truth" was named Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, it confirmed what I sensed for a long time: Facts don't matter.

      Oxford defines "post-truth" as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." The recent political campaign for U.S. President is the most striking example.

      I find that no matter how well-sourced an article of mine may be, many people will not believe the facts. Then, others concede the facts but decide to believe something else.

      Regarding motives and incentives: I believe it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to be free of these, so I make mine clear. The motto of my blog is "Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas." These are the things I believe, and naturally I gravitate towards stories that show how these principles work, or how the opposite of these doesn't work.

      On a personal level, it isn't easy to do this. Reporting on these principles leads me to write many articles critical of state and local government, including actions taken by Republicans. As a libertarian Republican, this often places me at odds with my own political party.

      I am very tired of journalistic organizations that claim not to have a viewpoint, but act otherwise. Even worse, I am sickened by governments that lie to us, and this happens. Often.

      Explanatory journalism with nuance and context, I think, is not compatible with "everyman's a journalist" and speedy headlines. It takes time and effort, as well as experience. Plus, despite laws that portend to guarantee access to government records, it can be difficult to obtain information from government. This is especially true when it is suspected you will be holding government accountable.

      [This is a copy of Bob's initial Position Statement. Our THANKS to Bob for helping us begin to shape this important dialogue. Your Reply to Bob will help us dig deeper into the key issues which he has raised and which we want to discuss during the evening in our upcoming symposium ... so join in the discussion now.]

      1. Manners and News

        Merritt's position statement spoke of "self-governance" ... "shared values, if nothing else belief in democracy itself" ... "public cohesion" ... "news v. opinion".

        Witherspoon's replies lament "hyper [pure] democracy" ... the "deconstruction of meta-narratives making the pursuit of truth nearly solipsistic" ... "too many voices" ... "The cacophony that the internet has become is so shrill and disharmonious. Is this the manner by which we want to ensure the informed electorate that American democracy requires?".

        From these two sumposiasts let's distill one word [which Witherspoon actually used] ... "manners". What prevailed and assured order at your grandparents' dinner table? The same thing that makes "democracy" possible ... "manners".

        De Tocqueville said: "“[Their] habits, opinions, customs, and convictions are precisely the constituent elements of that which I have denominated manners. … The manners of the Americans of the United States are ... the real cause which renders that people the only one of the American nations that is able to support a democratic government. … Too much importance is attributed to legislation, too little to manners ... the laws [are] very subordinate to the manners of the people."

        De Tocqueville also said: "I will seek democracy where I have seen it, living, active, triumphant, in the only country on earth where it exists, where it has been able to establish something great and lasting here in the modern world, in America ... where each individual enjoys a more complete independence and a greater freedom than at any other time or in any other country in the world ... And in these republics you will search in vain for socialism ... No, gentlemen, democracy and socialism are not linked to each other. They are not only different but contradictory things. What if by chance, democracy were to consist of a government more interfering, more detailed, more restrictive than all others, the only difference being that it would be elected by the people and would act in the name of the people? In that case, what would you have done, if not have given to tyranny an aura of legitimacy that it did not previously possess and to have secured for it the strength and omnipotence that it lacked?"

        Hayek said: "“Our generation talks and thinks too much of democracy and too little of the values which it serves ...[Liberty] is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.... Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom. As such it is by no means infallible or certain. … In so far as democracy ceases to be a guaranty of individual freedom, it may persist in some form under a totalitarian regime. ... The fashionable concentration on democracy as the main value threatened is not without danger. It is largely responsible for the misleading and unfounded belief that, so long as the ultimate source of power is the will of the majority, the power cannot be arbitrary. [However], it is not the source but the limitation of power which prevents it from being arbitrary. ... If democracy [is permitted to resolve] on a task which necessarily involves the use of power which cannot be guided by fixed rules [of law], it must become arbitrary power."

        Of all the symposiasts, Weeks as a news consumer [who is apparently not confused by the news] unabashedly proclaims "values" which [according to DT and Hayek] are consistent with "democracy". Short of rediscovering Weeks' "manners", can American democracy avoid its splintered descent into tyranny?

      2. PostScript: Jefferson on a well-mannered democracy

        In a letter to Joseph Cabell, Thomas Jefferson identifies the relatively few concepts essential to understand why higher levels of government [he calls them “orders of functionaries”] in a democracy arise and how they should be limited to preserve individual freedom.

        “[If a man would be free], the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical.”

        Jefferson does not say that individual sloth, unwillingness or inconvenience in the exercise of the power of self-government is a sufficient condition for delegating that power away from the individual [or a lower level of government] to a higher level of government. There must be a structural incompetence which implies that no individual [or lower level of government] could reasonably be considered capable of exercising the power in question due to the inherently collective nature of the task to be accomplished via the exercise of the power.

        And there is a corollary to Jefferson's logic. When a delegation of power is no longer needed, it should be dissolved and power returned to lower "orders of functionaries" ... ultimately to the individual? Is that what Trump promised to do and why he got elected? Is 1/2 of the "public" more attuned to good manners than their rulers?

        Whether Trump [or anyone else] CAN do this ... or lied about his intentions TO do it ... or will be WILLING to do it once he has power is an open question. Acton said, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

      3. Individual liberty to largely self-govern is a grand concept supported by American success stories and Biblical tags. Protected Constitutional rights are highly valued by all of us. Yet, individual liberty and rights are not absolute. Law reigns in cigarette smokers as well as murderers. Individuals can be given too much freedom if we communally desire healthy air and safe parks, etc.

        The idea that the individual best knows how to spend his time, his money, and his talents sounds right and good, but examples of individuals' squandering all three could be offered ad infinitum. How much time is being squandered online?

        A heightened libertarian spirit -- I think fueled by exaggerated postmodern notions of "equality" -- including the call for greater laissez-faire economics, is creating a culture wherein most current street drugs will be legal, wherein the less-able will be on the sidelines replaced by robots (AI), and wherein the masses will be increasingly online accessing and sharing information.

        I am not being supercilious; however, Americans have a significant say in who will rule. This past year has given us a strong lesson in the "power of the people."

        Let me cut to the chase: At what point will the natural aristocracy, the intelligentsia, the economic globalists not tolerate the perils of democracy? Don't the herd need to be managed? Don't sheep need shepherding?

        Being in our cities' schools often, I am not encouraged. If everyman is going to be a journalist, given the shallowness, impatience, and credulity of the new readership -- how will most sort truth from half-truth and find the former in its details and complexities?