We are social beings: we yearn to share our thoughts and resources with other people. The more we shared, the better the odds that our social group would survive with the whole group working to sustain everyone in it. When it comes to social relationships, I always say that communication is the best tool available. It keeps everyone on the same page and prevents anyone from being blindsided by new information that may cause them to react unpredictably.
An openly communicative relationship is a relationship that will survive and thrive throughout difficulty. The same can be said about the relationship between a government and its people. A long lasting and fruitful relationship is one that can communicate effectively. The last thing you want out of a relationship is a bitter break up, especially when that comes in the form of a public uprising.
Governments began communicating with its people in the form of official statements given by heralds at public centers. The heralds would be given news from the government and their job was to make the people aware of that news in whatever region they lived.
You probably know a few examples of these statements including Shakespeare’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” speech or FDR’s Fireside Chats. Some heralds would even run between small settlements surrounding a city to deliver important news like, “The king is dead, long live the [new] king.” Even for a peasant farmer, a change in leadership is an important thing to know.
With the invention of the printing press issuing in the First Information Age, reading and writing became a more prevalent skill known by the people. Heralds could now be supplemented, and eventually replaced, by written copies of the official statements in the form of newspapers or newsletters. These written news sources adapted to not just inform the people of the happenings of the government but also to keep people informed of the other aspects of their society. Just think about all the sections you’d find in a modern newspaper.
You can’t talk about delivering news without mentioning trust and influence, so let’s look through the eyes of a generic herald. Let’s say you have been placed in charge of informing the people living in your region of the news. You do a good job and your people begin to trust the words you speak to be truthful. With each accurate report you give, there is less of a reason for them to question what you say. Eventually, your words and opinions have greater influence than other people in your community.
Now let’s say you are promoted to be herald of your region and several others. Your audience of people who trust your words will grow and your influence will spread. You’ve gotten far in your time as a herald and many people know and trust you, in some cases more than their own friends or families. Let’s say a businessman comes along and offers you some money to piggyback off of your influence to sell his product. You accept the payment and make the people aware of the great product that businessman is selling. You’ve just taken part in the type of corruption that we call advertising.
With the invention and normalization of television, the written news was overtaken by video news broadcasted on a weekly, then daily, basis. The news stations, now competing with other television programs and news broadcasts, had to gain viewers to keep the business alive. The head stories of the day shifted from the important news about the society to stories meant to catch the viewer’s attention. Stories that stimulate the Basic Functions of a viewer like sex or violence would be placed in higher regard than an influential international agreement.
News stories continued to shift to inspire fear in the viewer if the news isn’t watched. Stories like, “Does eating chicken give you cancer? Find out at 6.” The short answer is no, but your fear will make you curious enough to tune in and find out. Luckily they’ll probably leave you with something cute after you find out you’re not going to die quite yet.
With so many different voices of heralds delivering the news, you can bet that some of them will add their own opinion about what is happening. Giving your opinion as a herald can be what separates you from the others and boosts your career, but it also gives rise to a new breed of news broadcasting: opinion pieces.
When the unbiased deliverers of news are free to produce opinion pieces, it means that the news is no longer reporting on the culture. Rather, the news is telling the people how they are behaving, greatly affecting the culture. These false heralds somehow gain an audience of likeminded followers and feel even more supported in sharing their opinion.
You combine false heralds with the monolithic influence held by the major media corporations and you get a population that believes in the opinions that they are told. Each of those corporations will likely find an audience niche and cater their opinions to those people until you’re left with extreme versions of news networks. For example, FOX News and MSNBC cater to viewers who cannot have a rational conversation with a person on the other side. Eventually, the people might even give up on having an opinion and assimilate their beliefs to what they hear on TV. There’s an old saying, “If you say it enough times, people think it’s true.” That basically sums up the modern news media.
The good news in all of this is that there seems to be a new, more powerful voice taking some of the influence away from the corporations. The Internet has presented itself as the imminent winner as the herald for the news. Yes, the corporations can throw their opinions at the Internet but a viewer now has the means to fact check and gain second and third opinions on any issue presented.
The Internet allows us to access our intelligence to find out about what truly matters to us while the corporate news media tries to tell us what matters. Remember to embrace your intelligence and do not let anyone take advantage of your Basic Functions.