Sunday, April 16, 2006

Information Highway?

Americans are notoriously unaware of the rest of the world. Especially if one lives away from the coastline, news about anything outside of the country's borders seem unimportant. Yes, we talk about Iraq, Afganistan and now Iran, and we know that just about everything in a Wal-Mart comes from China. Our electronics are from Japan which also designs our favorite automobiles. Yet put Joe Shmo in front of a globe or a standard map and he will have difficulties in identifying these places without studying names of countries and cities carefully.

Time has come for this nation to take responsibility for the global mess we have helped to create. The warming climate is affecting us as well as others; the bird flu will reach us in no time. Gasoline is climbing in price but do we even know where the crude oil is coming from? That geography, ecology and world affairs are not taught in schools early on is inexcusable. Most of the news we read or watch seem centered in the U.S., and often only serve the interest of our government and politicians, plus, of course, big business.

Since the school system will not be changed overnight, what can we do to educate ourselves? By carefully selecting our sources of information is a good start. You cannot expect to learn the truth by watching
Fox News, and even CNN no longer offers an unbiased view. Personally I turn to the internet and read what people in different countries think. We do get the New York Times, which is a pretty good newspaper, even if its tainted articles helped us to get into the frenzy of invading Iraq. Actually, I prefer that paper's and other publications' joint production the International Herald Tribune, which thankfully is available on the web. I used to get the print edition of the Christian Science Monitor but now subscribe to their online PDF version. This publication is probably the most neutral and best informed paper available in this country. It is rather small in size, so obviously it cannot cover many topics. They put out a marvelous email newsletter in which one can read opinions from leading papers of the world. The Los Angeles Times is also on my list: it has come a long way from the provincial paper it was when I first started reading it in the late sixties. The Guardian's newsletter gets read every day and I also try to read the Times from London. Perhaps my favorite news source is the BBC which has numerous sites serving different populations, such as Mundo for the Latin world (great for brushing up your Spanish!). Obviously I also carefully read Finland's leading daily, Helsingin Sanomat, for which I pay an online subscription. They also present news in English, although those understandably are centered around Finnish events.

For many years I was a loyal reader of the
Economist which produces some wonderful and insightful articles. However, during Bill Clinton's troubled times, the magazine openly stated that he should resign. Since I felt it wasn't the publication's business to try to decide who would be in charge in the White House, I canceled my subscription. Too many other leaders, whether politicians or in other civic positions, not to mention in the business world, have had their own Monicas, and yet their authority hasn't been questioned, even if it should have. The Clintons were subjected to a witch hunt from the very beginning, something the Republican party should not be proud of. The Economist should have had the integrity to stay out of it all.

Journalism is close to my heart because so many relatives have been involved in it: my father, brother and eldest daughter in the immediate family. Each one of them have obeyed the highest principals and never written or broadcast propaganda to serve as mouthpieces of a few. Silja, my daughter, just won her second national
PASS award in the magazine category. Last year she shared it with The New York and Los Angeles Times Magazines; this year she didn't have to.

Of course, every journalist has an editor whose duties are to check the facts and truthfulness of content before the story goes to print. This is to protect both the publication and the people the paper is writing about, and also the reader by providing the most reliable information possible. It is obvious that some publications want to have a slant to a story and some editors simply don't always do their job. Just
re-read a case (scroll down to June 22, 2005) involving yours truly from a year ago. Some star journalists in even the top papers have been fabricating stories, such as was the case in the scandal with Jayson Blair and the New York Times. As Slate put it: "What can you say about a trusted professional who makes stuff up and publishes it as fact?" As readers, we have a right to expect to see the truth on the printed page of a paper we pay for. It is a sad fact that public's trust in the media has diminished year after year. Reader's Digest shouldn't have become Reader's Indigestion.

Long live hyperlinks! ¡Vivan los enlaces!