03 April 2018

Who makes up your mind? A lesson in curating

I used to watch this man, Walter Cronkite most evenings at 5:30 in my Kansas City home. Then, Friday, March 6, 1981, he ended his nightly presenting of the news for me. Dan Rather took over after that. Here's his famous ending and sign-off in this short video.  

What made those 30 minutes so informative, what made it so nightly for us, what made Cronkite so trustworthy was that he and his team of journalists roamed the world, investigated the happenings and curated the information for us. It was not 'fake news.' It was simply 'the news.'


Curating is the job of the folks on television news stations, at the museum, or at the universities, galleries and high school classes. Curating has to do with choosing, both selecting and deselecting, bringing information or beauty, news and life to others. It's about making sense or bringing the best to others. Walter Cronkite curated the news for us. And we learned and we had confidence in what he reported.


'Fake news' is a term used often in the last couple years, although it was coined years earlier. Media Watch here in Australia reported, "A well-known case of fabricated news in Australia happened in 2009 when a report Deception Detection Across Australian Populations of a "Levitt Institute" was widely cited on the news websites all over the country, claiming that Sydney was the most naive city, despite the fact that the report itself contained a cue: amidst the mathematical gibberish, there was a statement: "These results were completely made up to be fictitious material through a process of modified truth and credibility nodes"


Made up, that's the key phrase in the issue of 'fake news.' Wiki opens their definition with "Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media."


One of the most famous fake 'news' was a radio drama with Orson Welles. "The War of the Worlds" was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. Directed and narrated by actor and filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds (1898), presented as a series of simulated news bulletins. Although preceded by a clear introduction that the show was a drama, it became famous for allegedly causing mass panic, although the reality of the panic is disputed as the program had relatively few listeners.


Remember the movie, "Wag the Dog?"  1997, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro. Woody Harrelson and Anne Heche. Even Andrea Martin. Directed by Barry Levinson. The story was about a president in the US who is caught in a sex scandal and his advisors concoct a war to distract the American public. They succeed in this distraction with the help of De Niro who plays a 'spin doctor' which is what they called these fake-news-sources 20 years ago, and Hoffman, who plays a Hollywood producer who gets the job of creating the war in California, although it is supposed to play out for real in Albania. 


What was 'spin doctoring' in 1997 is 'fake news' today. In 1800 it was yellow journalism. In Russia it's still called 'propaganda.' 


With all this doctoring and curating of information, where is the Truth? And maybe more important for us, who is making up our mind for us? Is it (CNN/ Fox/ MSNBC) or your local newspapers (NY Times/ Sydney Morning Herald/ London TImes). Who is telling me the pure curated truth?

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