The public Internet now houses over 630 million sites, a number that is growing each month. And each of those sites can have thousands or millions of individual pages (CNN.com, for example, has over 47 million pages indexed on Google, and adds thousands each day).In the vast haze of information that exists out there in the digital landscape we stumble on often on exhausted feet looking for what we need or want (does anyone ever bother to go to the second page of results?). And it's not always easy to find, say teachers in the US surveyed recently. The story these quotes come from is on Mashable, a US website that focuses on the digital world.
According to a recent Pew study, 83% of teachers feel that the amount of available information is overwhelming to students, and 60% think that finding credible sources among that flood is difficult. That's why it isn't surprising that over 90% of teachers surveyed agreed that some form of media literacy education should be included in every school's curriculum.I agree, and there's room for more subjects in that teaching curriculum as well. Because it's not just as consumers that we use the internet nowadays, by any means. We are all publishers now whether we like it or not (we obviously like it; there are 2 million Twitter users in Australia alone).
On the production side (since each tweet is a publication, for instance) there are laws that everyone should be more knowledgeable about in order to avoid difficulties down the track. Political speech is free in Australia (under a clever bit of High Court reasoning) but there are laws against things like defamation that are easy to break in the heat of the moment. Then there's libel, too. You get taught these things at university if you do a media degree there but the number of people who do so is tiny compared to the number of people publishing things every minute of every day.
And what about the ethics of the media these days? How would people feel if they knew, for example, that the Huffington Post - a popular website that operates on two continents today - does not pay contributors for the stories they publish? How does a big media company such as News Ltd really work? What kind of influence does a proprietor have on the content of the stories published by the company he or she owns? Does it matter? What about the different ways that large entities like government departments filter the information that journalists are given access to? How does that fit in with the public's right to know?
And, further, what does the process of news-making really look like? What is a deadline and how does that affect the quality of stories published each day? Who works in a normal newsroom? How do journalists develop story ideas? What is a freelance journalist and - a big question, I think - are they necessary? How does a journalist conduct a telephone interview? Are there laws for that? How can it affect a story if a journalist lets an interview subject vet quotes before the story is published? What are the laws regarding freedom of information and do they work? What kinds of information is the government allowed under statute to stop the public seeing? What does "on the record" mean? What is an unattributed quote?
The media is something that we are in daily contact with. We make comments on websites. We tweet our indignation at stories we consumed a few seconds previously. It would make the whole business more meaningful if both journalists and editors and consumers were reading from the same scoresheet, or if they had a common set of cognates to deploy in their numerous online communications. At the moment the production of news media is a bit like the production of sausages: invisible (and, according to many, no doubt, better left that way).
It's all so confusing but also liberating at the same time. The media revolution that began in 1969 with the launch of the internet is fiercely underway. But we can see how it can be a problem for people in the community under special circumstances, for example the case of the young man who was arrested in a violent manner by police at last Saturday's Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. We see the policeman in the YouTube video the ambling cameraman was shooting tell him to stop filming, and the cameraman - a man trained in how the media operates - refusing. A few days later we hear a senior police officer tell assembled reporters that it is not NSW Police policy to stop people taking vision in public places. (In fact it is lawful to do so in Australia.) The officer in this case was "naive".
Well, maybe. But the bigger point is that, as the senior cop said on Wednesday morning, everyone these days has a mobile phone that can take vision. "And they will." The next day a special video put together by Fairfax journalists about the public's rights in this regard made it to the top of the most-viewed list on the Sydney Morning Herald website. So we do want to know. And we need to be informed about how the media operates. Best to start early.