The rear view mirror makes things look better than they probably were. But as I look back to the early 1960s when I was a young reporter at the Star-Telegram, how we got the news seemed a lot less complicated.
Like most towns, back then we got our news from a good hometown newspaper (we actually had two papers), three network television stations and we read magazines like Time and Newsweek.
We didn’t always agree with their editorials but we took for granted that what was printed or broadcast had been checked out and was true.
That was then, and this is now.
A revolution in communications technology and the coming of the internet has given us 700 channels on our televisions and thousands more places to get information on our computers and phones.
Today we have access to more information than any people in history. But are we wiser or simply overwhelmed with so much information we can’t process it?
After more than a year of research and interviews with news executives for my book “Overload: Finding Truth in the Deluge of News,” my answer is that we are overwhelmed.
The web is having an impact on our culture as profound as the invention of the printing press had on the Europe of that day. No two institutions have been more directly affected than the news industry and politics.
Overwhelmed with so much information, some right, some wrong and some in between, those who go to one source wind up with one set of “facts” and those who go to another source get something entirely different. We’re no longer basing our opinions on common data, as we did in simpler times when we got our information from the local paper and the networks. It is one of the reasons our political divide continues to grow wider.
Journalism has been turned upside down. The bad news is that the internet has drawn advertising away from both newspapers and television and the situation has thrown local newspapers into a crisis.
Over the last 12 years, 126 local newspapers have shut down. Big papers like the Washington Post have reinvented themselves — they’re no longer just newspapers, but media companies able to reach millions of new readers through a variety of digital platforms. Yes, the Post even has a video department these days.
The real crisis is at the local level. There is no entity to do what local papers do — keep an eye on local officials. If they can’t figure out how to overcome financial difficulties, we’ll have corruption at levels we’ve never imagined.
The decline of local papers is one reason that 67 percent of us now get some of our news from social media, which can be helpful but we must remember: Just because it’s on the web doesn’t mean it’s true. And sometimes it is deliberately wrong.
Propagandists foreign and domestic have learned to game the system to their own advantage.
That’s why those of us in mainstream journalism take it seriously when politicians and propagandists attack our credibility because we report something they don’t wish to hear.
That’s the job the founders assigned us. The politician delivers a message, we provide citizens with independently gathered information they can compare to the government’s version of events. That’s as crucial to democracy as the right to vote.
As it was with the coming of the printing press, our culture will eventually come out of the turmoil wrought by the communications revolution and we’ll be strengthened by it.
In the meantime, those of us in politics and journalism need to remember what our jobs are — and do them.
Bob Schieffer is known for his longtime tenure as moderator on Face the Nation. He is now a CBS News Political Contributor. The former Star-Telegram reporter and graduate of TCU has published a new book called Overload, which can be found on Amazon.com.