First of all, a word about gossip. I checked Wikipedia online: Gossip is idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It forms one of the oldest and most common means of sharing (unproven) facts and views, but also has a reputation for the introduction of errors and other variations into the information transmitted.

Now to today’s topic. We get our information from the media. In order for us to function as responsible citizens of the United States, that information must be accurate and current. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, for a democracy to succeed, its citizens must be educated and informed.

When I was a kid growing up, there were three sources of news: talking with someone, listening to the radio or reading the newspaper. Every night, the news came on the radio at 6 p.m. Lowell Thomas is a name I remember from that era. My sister and I were not supposed to talk (interrupt) if our parents were listening to the news on the radio. At that time, World War II monopolized the news. When I grew a little older, I remember proudly stating a fact to my father that I had read in the newspaper and that I knew contradicted some thoughts of his.

“Where’d you get that idea, Tommy?” he asked.

“I read it in the newspaper, Dad!” I proudly replied.

Then he stunned me with some words that I have always remembered since: “Do you believe everything you read in the newspaper, son?”

Today we receive the news very differently than during my youth. Television has mostly replaced radio as a source unless one is driving a vehicle; and the Internet has crept up on TV. Print media is beginning to dwindle, except for community press, because of television and cyberspace. Newspapers had the advantage of obtaining the news from sources, which they then vetted and edited before it appeared in print. That added to the comfort of veracity for the reader.

Even so, just as in today’s world, each newspaper’s editorial board had an internal political slant that affected the news that they selected for printing. We are also seeing that trait influence the content of many television news programs today. One has to know the political construct of the television channel in order to evaluate the content of what one is watching. The really new medium for the media is cyberspace. In that “ether” a relatively narrow group of people determine the content of the materials presented; and there is relatively little evidence of reliable and appropriate vetting. This, to me, lends credence to those words of wisdom uttered by my dad those many years ago. You have to know the source, the reliability, the wisdom of the group presenting their data before you can assess it and make a judgment. There is a positive aspect to news on the Internet from the viewpoint of one who lives in and loves his democracy: the Internet is more difficult to censor for countries and societies that want to control their populace. We see this today in places like Iran and China.

News, according to Wikipedia, is “the communication of information on current events which is presented by print, broadcast, Internet, or word of mouth (in person or by mobile phone) to a third party or mass audience.”

There are so many media players reporting the news today, and all are vying for the advertising dollar. That and price are the principle sources of income for each of the media products. After all, searchers, reporters and editors must earn their living and raise their families too. In short, news resources must be profitable. To handle their always increasing number of competitors, different news sources structure their news content to appeal to what they perceive to be the interests of their viewers. They report the news and then try to make their version more compelling for viewers to watch. This involves, in addition to reporting new facts, making those facts stunning, naughty, scintillating, scandalous – in other words: shocking! The more shocking, the more frequently the story is reported. They perceive that in today’s world, shocking naughtiness is the power that drives viewers and readership: John Edwards, Tiger Woods, Eric Massa. (Where did the Johnson Commission go? That was the name of the body that regulated what could be shown or heard in the mass media of yesteryear.) Do we demand titillation so much today that we discard civilized decency?

When you turn on the tube today to a cable channel, and it is a slow news day; you hear the same thing over and over again. The more salacious the better, and the more it is repeated on the same station throughout the day or wherever else you dial. To escape, you turn hopefully to the radio. Alas, the same thing. Could this be because there are too many media sources facing relentless competition? Do we get what we deserve? Think about it: Communication is a two-way street.

Now go back to the first paragraph in this article. What has that to do with the news today?

You make your own decision!