Media Watch

Force-Fed News

A reader dropped us a note the other day asking--and ranting a little--about why the local dailies and TV stations don't use RSS or ATOM feeds to push stories out to the desktop.

The writer made an interesting argument, suggesting that push technology was obligatory within the news media's duty to inform the public.

It's food for thought, especially against the backdrop of Thomas Jefferson's comment: " If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

But informed about what? That's the fascinating rub with the Internet, that some of its more starry-eyed advocates don't always see. When you listen to some of them talking about "The Daily Me," and other references to personalized information delivery, it's important to remember that these are information-oriented souls who sometimes assume that everybody else in the universe shares their voracious interest in "real news."

Wish that were true, but as the old Crowded House lyric says, "In the paper today, tales of war and of waste. But you turn right over to the TV page."

Being selectively informed has always been a public right. But with processed-tree-carcass publications, there's always a chance that the reader will see an intriguing photo and read the accompanying story.

But with "news presets"--push feeds, the choices we make from content aggregators such as Yahoo! or even StarNet's venerable Custom Clipper--the chances of serendipitous exposure to news are greatly reduced.

And the big loser in all of this personalization is society. In choosing what we want to know from the paper every day, we're easily saying "no" to a lot of stuff we probably should know.

In my early days at StarNet, I saw something rather troubling emerge from some online readers--the attitude that "it's about me, and I don't care what other readers might want." For example, people whose finances allowed them to stay on the cutting edge wanted us to keep up with them, and to heck with the folks who couldn't afford to keep up.

Y'see, the hard reality about journalism in this country is that it tries to operate as an inexpensive mass information machine, trying to feed Jefferson's prescription for democracy.


Michael Marizco has left the Arizona Daily Star to pursue a book.

His series, "Smuggling Children," won an honorable mention in the 2005 Arizona Newspapers Association sustained coverage category, runner-up honors from the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families, and a slew of awards in the Arizona Press Club's annual clambake.

And a lot of anonymous souls may never know his name, but will be grateful for the database he set up at the Star to help determine the fates of loved ones who disappeared trying to cross the Pinacate hoping for something better in the Estados Unidos.

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