April 08, 2009
|What you should know about this website|
why we exist and how we see our role
Recently we've had several Feedback comments and a couple of Rant & Rave postings that indicate to us that some of our readers do not correctly understand how the Beaufort Observer website works. We thought we should explain once again.
We view this website as a community resource that has as its mission the offering of a forum for the community. We envision it as a cyber "town square" where people are afforded a place to express their views and to offer information for others to read and view. Our "staff" participates but we do not pretend to be traditional journalists in the classical sense. Let us explain how we see the difference between modern web publishing and classical journalism, exhibited predominately by newspapers and network television, both the broadcast and cable networks.
Traditionally, in this county and in much of the western world, classical media viewed themselves as the collector and disseminator of the news/information that the editors felt the readers should receive and would want to see (they had to sell ads and ads are based on circulation). But the crucial aspect of classical journalism was that the paid professionals of the media both did the work and made the decisions. And indeed, they controlled the media and the medium, and thus ultimately the message.
The readers, on the other hand, typically read the newspaper(s) of choice and for the most part assumed they were getting an unbiased rendition of the news. This pretense was pushed by media; for example, in the way newspapers organized their material. They contended that the "news" pages were objective and balanced. They contended that the editorial section was opinion oriented.
It is our contention, supported by abundant research and a broadly held assumption outside the classical newspaper and broadcast network editorial rooms, that it has been many years since newspapers were objective and balanced, if they ever were. Certainly in recent years they have not been. If there were any doubt simply taking an objective look at the 2008 presidential campaign should disabuse anyone of the notion that the major print and network journalists were neutral and simply "reported" the news. And we beleive that continues into this Administration even though the "campaign" is over.
The profound success of Fox News is but another example. While Fox News claims it is "fair and balanced" it has a decidedly rightward slant just as CNN has a leftward slant. (We wonder why they make the pretense of being "fair and balanced.")
We think all this is a good thing. But we think it even better that rather than for Americans to rely on limited sources to tell them what they should know (news) and how they should think (editorial), the shift that we have seen from limited sources to a multiplicity of sources brought on by the internet is one of the most liberating and democratizing events in human history, even in totalitarian countries.
So we here at the Observer do not see it as our role to decide what you should know and what you should think about what you know. We do not feel a need to pretend that we could do that, even if we wanted to; which we don't. Rather, we view our mission as providing a "place", a vehicle for you to express yourself and to hear other people--your neighbors in our community--express themselves.
We have no paid staff, either as writers or editors. Everyone who participates as a part of the Observer Team does so simply because they want to contribute to the community conversation. We are not so arrogant as to assume we can or should decide what you will read and what you will think. You can read whatever you want to take the time to search for on your screen. We not only recognize that, we value it.
You may wonder why not all of our pieces are signed/identified by author. The reason for that is that many (most) of our in-house generated pieces are done via the "wiki" process. That is, one author will post an article. Other members of our staff have equal rights to edit that article by adding to, changing or even deleting portions of any article. Thus the piece becomes "community property" and thus inappropriate to attribute to any one person.
We do take it as a part of our mission to make it easy for you to sort through a lot of information in a very efficient manner. That is the premise of our State News page. It is a place you can go to, scan many subjects and then go to the original sources of many other state-based information outlets. It is our second most popular feature. So we know it works for our readers.
Likewise, you will find our National, World and Entertainment sections offered as timesavers to access other sources of information. And we offer a list of static links on our "LINKS" page that provide another resource for readers to quickly access community resources.
And many of the articles we post on our Home page are simply intended to allow readers to offer Feedback to current topics in the news. We know we have a large segment of our readers who come here to read what other readers post more than they do for what "professionals" write. We think that is good. Actually, we think that is a great thing.
Much of the material we post is not original. We aggregate information from a multiplicity of sources. We try to identify those sources, usually with links to the original. We cannot vouch for the validity of the original sources. We trust our readers to assess the veracity of those materials. "Let the reader beware" is the standard that should be applied to those sources.
This requires our readers to have a different mindset from the way most of us with gray hair were taught to get our news. Our parents and teachers told us to "read the newspaper" or watch "the news" every day. And likely as not it did not occur to us to ask: "what news?" We were told Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. We, our parents and our teachers thought us "informed" if we read "the" paper and watched CBS Evening News. No more.
In today's world the way to be informed is to sample a wide variety of information, some good, some bad, some true and some not ture and then draw your own conclusions, not just accept what some arrogant editor thinks you should know about and what you should think. (That's why we didn't offer a list of "endorsements" the last election).
And we would suggest the best way to form your opinions is to express them to others and see what reaction you get.
So to the reader who complained that we did not do our "homework" and discover all the facts (about the recent controversy about the deer problem in Cypress Landing) we would say: No we didn't. Never intended to and don't intend to do so in the future. What we did was post the issue and allow our readers of all persuasions and interests to offer their comments. If there was "another side" or if the homeowners association wanted certain information known, all they had to do was post it for all to see. (And we would suggest that those concerned about the overpopulation of deer could learn much from listening to others who have already dealt with the problem). That's the way the Observer is intended to work. We don't pretend we have the "correct answer" to everything and certainly not all the answers. We only contend that within our community is the most important resource available. It is the synergy that comes from interaction among people with a common connection--that is our community, regardless of where they live.
And finally a word about how we view our competition...we love them. We do not seek to be an exclusive voice and we will regret the day if that ever comes. We want alternatives. The more the merrier as far as we're concerned. We view ourselves as being an alternative to the conventional media and that is liberating for us. We do not feel a need to "present all sides" because we believe alternative views exist in multiple venues and we cherish that diversity of perspective.
That is the value of the Observer. It is a community resource. But to get the full value of that resource you have to participate. We hope you will do so. That is why we exist.