As humans seek the middle of what Ralph Waldo Emerson described as the polar states of "insanity or fat dullness," citizens search for the most effective news. Just as no student could pass a test without access to the materials that will be covered on the test, citizens need to be exposed to adequate information to formulate ideas and opinions in their democracy.
On the al-Jazeera English show Empire, in an episode entitled "Information Wars," host and moderator Marwan Bishara stated, "Today, the free flow of information is overturning autocrats across the Arab World. Who knows where the next domino will fall?"
"Governments that thrive in darkness, when sunlight is shed on them, they can't stand up." - Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Carl Bernstein stated at the conclusion of the show, "What has occurred that is so threatening to despots is the availability to reach so many people so quickly and to permeate borders, to permeate physical things that were previously impenetrable."
One of the other members of the panel discussion on this show, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, noted that "people make revolutions, not technology, but technology facilitates it. ... It sure puts it on steroids, and it transmits it in ways we have never seen before, and now national newspapers are also challenged in extremely important ways because they have been the gatekeepers, deciding whether information gets out. Now they've got to (report) it because it's going to come out anyway."
Goodman continued with her analysis, saying, "Governments that thrive in darkness, when sunlight is shed on them, they can't stand up. ... In Tunisia, it was because of the incredible resilience of the people but also because of the documents released by Wikileaks, and then that spread to Egypt."
Noting that the global satellite news organization al-Jazeera English cannot be accessed on American television, Goodman stated, "This type of censorship, we have to look at it at every level and challenge it."
Goodman noted that "Wikileaks has profoundly changed the way we get information," and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has stated, "The media has a right, and an obligation, to the public to get out information that the public needs to know."
"Blogging is playing an increasingly significant role in media coverage. ... This reflects long-term trends in the Internet that are profoundly affecting the way news is created and consumed." - Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, IU doctoral student
Preferring to describe Wikileaks as "evolutionary, not revolutionary," Bernstein noted that Wikileaks "involves the dissemination of raw information by an organization determined to simply disseminate that information, basically without commenting upon it, without putting it into context."
On the panel, Columbia School of Journalism Professor Emily Bell noted, "The role of corporate media, mainstream media, if it's going to remain true to the mission of Journalism -- which is holding power to account -- is to concentrate efforts ... to put a shoulder to it" and take the massive amounts of unfiltered data provided by news gathering of all sources and put it into a form that can be digested and useful to society.
Individuals are also using the Internet to create and comment on information. Social media content on Twitter, FaceBook and YouTube are regularly used by major news outlets. Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, a double-doctoral student at IU who recently published an article in The Bloomington Alternative titled "Reflections on the Egyptian Revolution," has this statement on his blog:
"Blogging is playing an increasingly significant role in media coverage. ... This reflects long-term trends in the Internet that are profoundly affecting the way news is created and consumed. Traditional media has evolved from transferring content online to experimenting with ways of embracing the Internet."
Citizen reporters who write for local media outlets such as The Bloomington Alternative and who speak on local radio outlets such as WFHB in Bloomington (98.1 and 91.3 FM), are an important component in the sharing of information, or news.
"Today, the free flow of information is overturning autocrats across the Arab World. Who knows where the next domino will fall?" - Marwan Bishar, al-Jazeera English
Interchange, broadcast each Tuesday evening from 6 to 7 p.m., is the longest-running news and public affairs show on local radio station WFHB.
Interchange has aired several shows that deal with "information sharing." On Feb. 1, 2011, Interchange's guest was IU Professor of English Linda Charnes on the topic of Shakespeare, and Charnes explained that, 400 years ago, the theater was a medium for the dissemination of information to a population that was in large part illiterate.
On Feb. 15, Interchange's guest was Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, who is originally from Egypt, and he began the discussion by noting that during the recent extraordinary occurrences in Egypt and continuing into the present, he was able, through the use of Twitter, to interact with people in Tahrir Square as events unfolded.
Replying to the question of the potential downside of using Twitter to stay abreast of news (because of the lack of the legitimacy that established news sources enjoy), Abdul-Mageed stated, "Every news outlet has a bias, in a sense. And of course I followed events on CNN and other places. However, when you have known someone for a long time (e.g., as someone who you follow and is followed by you on Twitter), you can trust that they are not likely to lie to you."
Dave Stewart can be reached at email@example.com.