This may sound shocking…
… but I actually agreed (at least in part) with an editorial that ran last week in the Wall Street Journal.
Generally I find the Op-Ed page of the Journal to be … well … ridiculously conservative. But on April 21 I laughed while I drank my coffee (which, in and of itself, is highly unusual), because I found myself nodding with agreement and shaking my head in disappointment at the same time.
You’d probably like to know what article, and I’d put a link to it, but that would be wrong for a couple of reasons:
1) This isn’t a blog.
2) The WSJ site is subscription based so you might not be able to get to it anyway.
3) I can’t legally cut and paste the text of the article here without some copyright attorney coming to chew on my ass … or at least skate on my head a bit.
If you’re interested in checking it out yourself, it’s in the April 21, 2006 issue. The “Wonder Land” column written by Daniel Henninger – “When blogs rule we will all talk like –”
For those who haven’t read or won’t bother to seek out the article the gist is this – in spite of the good things that it offers, the Internet has proven to be an infectious breeding ground for bad behavior. That, thanks to blogging and the rise of social networks like MySpace.com, our society is being overtaken by inarticulate crazy people who use the Internet as their personal mental dumping ground. And that several thousand years of socialization that have taught people what is and isn’t appropriate to share is being flushed down the toilet. He goes on to say that this explosion of disinhibited behaviors will only get worse.
About now you may ask: “Cathy, what, precisely did you find funny about this?”
I guess I found it funny that this journalist was bemoaning the fact that the nature of communication has been debased by the Internet when it is, in fact, largely the fault of the media that this has happened in the first place.
When I was in journalism school, I recall a freshman year course quite vividly. Beyond the fact that the professor (a working copyeditor from The Chicago Tribune) seemed to relish in knocking the ever-eager and somewhat arrogant cub reporter wanna-be’s down a peg or two, he also gave us a harsh view into the reality of what would be expected of us.
Which was, not much.
We were told: Don’t expect readers to understand anything above an eighth-grade reading level.
I’ve been told that these days that bar has been lowered even further with journalism students being told to shoot for the ever-so-pathetic goal of writing for elementary school.
One must ask in this scenario who precisely is at fault. Is it the educational system for dropping standards? Is it the parents who don’t spend the time participating in their children’s education? Is it the media for pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Aw hell, let’s blame al-Quaeda since they seem to be the root of everything else these days.
I’m not an idiot, and I realize that it’s a combination of many factors that has led us to this unacceptable media morass. Like most things, there’s no single root but rather a complex system of causes; and like most things, in order to address the problem you need to take on each and every aspect of the genesis. One at a time.
Here’s my challenge, and it goes out to each and every individual who considers themself to be a journalist – whether part of a mainstream media outlet, a fringe organization or an independent blogger or podcaster.
It’s time to quit whining and start turning this ship around to something far more acceptable when it comes to social behavior.
I’m not suggesting that we return to a pre-Victorian era of stagnant and uptight interaction. But I am suggesting that we return to a healthier set of communication values. You know, things like being responsible about how we communicate and taking into consideration the impact of our words.
This doesn’t mean the eradication of edgy content and viewpoints. Nor does it mean that all profanity has to be banished. If you need to use a potty mouth to express yourself, so be it. (I’m not exactly pristine in this category myself.) What it does mean is that people need to start taking responsibility for their behavior and remember that the root of the word civilization is CIVIL.
So let people speak as they like, and let them express their viewpoints, but don’t let that come at the cost of our overall sense of social responsibility.
And as the ones who chronicle the world I challenge the media to step up and do their part not only to continue shedding light on issues and educating the public but also to raise the bar a bit – both for their audience and their own edification.