De Ole Dawg – Part 11: A good newspaper is the people’s college

De Ole Dawg – Part 11: A good newspaper is the people’s college

How can we best educate, inform and mobilise ourselves for sound democratic self-government and nation-building?  (Government by gossip, slander and mele will not work.)

BRADES, Montserrat, July 12, 2018 – As we look at social media, listen to street or workplace talk, or even listen to political, policy and economic commentary not only here but across the Caribbean, too often something just does not seem right. Why? The answer comes back: “government by gossip, slander and mele will not work.” Because, such things are not of the spirit of soundness, truth, justice, respect, civility, wisdom. 

We have to do better, a lot better.

How?

The answer comes back: “a good newspaper is the people’s college for nation-building.”

But, but, but, newspapers are old fashioned, dying or just plain boring and dead. Why should we bother with them?

Not so.

What do you mean?

First, a newspaper has to be carefully edited – and because there is time to edit before publication of text in cold black and white. So, a good newspaper is by its nature far more reliable than most other forms of media.

For one, a clever fast-talker can be very persuasive in person or on radio or video, but once his or her words are reduced to cold print they fall apart. Especially if what is said turns out to be bitter accusation, prejudice (“she navel string don’t bury here – so ignore she”), dragging a smelly red herring across the track of truth to distract attention, or setting up and knocking over straw-man caricatures of people and arguments to claim a cheap but misleading victory.

It is not for nothing that the apostle James warned:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body . . . .

4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. [ESV]

In short, properly reported and edited print in a responsible newspaper – sensationalist tabloids and gossipy scandal sheets need not apply – has built-in quality checks that stop the hellish fires of false accusation, gossip, fakery, misinformation, myths mistaken for facts and slander. The same cannot be said for most social media.

Mix in good editorial fact checking and we soon see why “a good newspaper is a first, rough draft of history.” Sometimes, the newspaper report is a “primary source document” for history, a report at the time by a fact checked trustworthy eyewitness, the reporter or correspondent backed up by good editors.

Speaking of history, that brings up why print on paper is so important for permanent record. Newspapers have morgues and libraries have archives. Sometimes, articles are clipped, compiled and cross-referenced in files that are indexed and cross-indexed. This means that in decades to come, reliable at-the-time information will be accessible for researchers and John or Jane Q Public walking in off the street alike. It’s worth noting that a good proportion of the very first book printed with movable type, the Gutenberg Bible, still exists nearly six hundred years later.

Radio and TV broadcasts, once made are gone out into the air at the speed of light. The actual broadcast is not coming back.  If you were not listening at the time, or were distracted for just a moment, too bad for you. And don’t bet on there being a rebroadcast, or that Radio Echo will always catch it.

Programmes can indeed be stored (and archived in the Station or online), but anyone who has had problems with bad tapes or crashed hard disk drives knows how iffy that is.

As for, oh it’s on the Internet, hackers exist and web sites get re-organised. For example, if you use Wikipedia articles to try to track down sources [one of the few things Wikipedia can be trusted for] you will soon see that after three or four years a lot of articles are simply gone.

(Of course, a modern newspaper will also have a strong web presence: articles, clips, photo galleries, video clips, twitter feeds, Facebook promos, etc. The Montserrat Reporter, for example, has been online since 1996 and so it is no surprise that it has one of Montserrat’s biggest Internet footprints, with about a hundred thousand visits per month.)

As for Web Archive and its three hundred billion pages that can be searched by using the Wayback Machine, too often there are disappointing gaps.

(Suggestion: if you find an important article online, save it for yourself right then and there, with its Internet address. Maybe, as a pdf file – that is an archiving format that will be readable decades from now. Print it off and note not only its address but the date you accessed it. Inkjet printers are prone to water damage, so if you can, use laser print on good quality paper. File it properly and index it by date, theme, key issues, people etc. These days, colour laser printing is more than good enough.)

But what about being a college?

Modern, democratic government through elected representatives only became possible when printing was invented and when more and more people learned to read. Newspapers, bills, tracts and widely circulated books emerged, leading to a responsible, informed public. A public that soon began to understand civics and took a serious interest in issues, news and policy debates. An informed, serious-minded, educated public.

By about 1700, that was in place and that is why the first successful modern democracy emerged in 1776. It is no accident, too, that this was when civil rights movements began to emerge. Starting with, abolition of the slave trade, then of slavery.

Newspapers were crucial to forming, informing, educating and keeping a responsible public up to date as modern democracy emerged. And that’s one reason why a good newspaper will have an emphasis on education, from youth up.

Going forward, it is going to be very important for us, the people of Montserrat and the wider Caribbean to recognise, respect, make good use of and consistently support our newspapers.

Where else can we all get a good college-level, sound education in democratic self-government and in leadership so cheaply? 

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How can we best educate, inform and mobilise ourselves for sound democratic self-government and nation-building?  (Government by gossip, slander and mele will not work.)

BRADES, Montserrat, July 12, 2018 – As we look at social media, listen to street or workplace talk, or even listen to political, policy and economic commentary not only here but across the Caribbean, too often something just does not seem right. Why? The answer comes back: “government by gossip, slander and mele will not work.” Because, such things are not of the spirit of soundness, truth, justice, respect, civility, wisdom. 

We have to do better, a lot better.

Insert Ads Here

How?

The answer comes back: “a good newspaper is the people’s college for nation-building.”

But, but, but, newspapers are old fashioned, dying or just plain boring and dead. Why should we bother with them?

Not so.

What do you mean?

First, a newspaper has to be carefully edited – and because there is time to edit before publication of text in cold black and white. So, a good newspaper is by its nature far more reliable than most other forms of media.

For one, a clever fast-talker can be very persuasive in person or on radio or video, but once his or her words are reduced to cold print they fall apart. Especially if what is said turns out to be bitter accusation, prejudice (“she navel string don’t bury here – so ignore she”), dragging a smelly red herring across the track of truth to distract attention, or setting up and knocking over straw-man caricatures of people and arguments to claim a cheap but misleading victory.

It is not for nothing that the apostle James warned:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body . . . .

4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. [ESV]

In short, properly reported and edited print in a responsible newspaper – sensationalist tabloids and gossipy scandal sheets need not apply – has built-in quality checks that stop the hellish fires of false accusation, gossip, fakery, misinformation, myths mistaken for facts and slander. The same cannot be said for most social media.

Mix in good editorial fact checking and we soon see why “a good newspaper is a first, rough draft of history.” Sometimes, the newspaper report is a “primary source document” for history, a report at the time by a fact checked trustworthy eyewitness, the reporter or correspondent backed up by good editors.

Speaking of history, that brings up why print on paper is so important for permanent record. Newspapers have morgues and libraries have archives. Sometimes, articles are clipped, compiled and cross-referenced in files that are indexed and cross-indexed. This means that in decades to come, reliable at-the-time information will be accessible for researchers and John or Jane Q Public walking in off the street alike. It’s worth noting that a good proportion of the very first book printed with movable type, the Gutenberg Bible, still exists nearly six hundred years later.

Radio and TV broadcasts, once made are gone out into the air at the speed of light. The actual broadcast is not coming back.  If you were not listening at the time, or were distracted for just a moment, too bad for you. And don’t bet on there being a rebroadcast, or that Radio Echo will always catch it.

Programmes can indeed be stored (and archived in the Station or online), but anyone who has had problems with bad tapes or crashed hard disk drives knows how iffy that is.

As for, oh it’s on the Internet, hackers exist and web sites get re-organised. For example, if you use Wikipedia articles to try to track down sources [one of the few things Wikipedia can be trusted for] you will soon see that after three or four years a lot of articles are simply gone.

(Of course, a modern newspaper will also have a strong web presence: articles, clips, photo galleries, video clips, twitter feeds, Facebook promos, etc. The Montserrat Reporter, for example, has been online since 1996 and so it is no surprise that it has one of Montserrat’s biggest Internet footprints, with about a hundred thousand visits per month.)

As for Web Archive and its three hundred billion pages that can be searched by using the Wayback Machine, too often there are disappointing gaps.

(Suggestion: if you find an important article online, save it for yourself right then and there, with its Internet address. Maybe, as a pdf file – that is an archiving format that will be readable decades from now. Print it off and note not only its address but the date you accessed it. Inkjet printers are prone to water damage, so if you can, use laser print on good quality paper. File it properly and index it by date, theme, key issues, people etc. These days, colour laser printing is more than good enough.)

But what about being a college?

Modern, democratic government through elected representatives only became possible when printing was invented and when more and more people learned to read. Newspapers, bills, tracts and widely circulated books emerged, leading to a responsible, informed public. A public that soon began to understand civics and took a serious interest in issues, news and policy debates. An informed, serious-minded, educated public.

By about 1700, that was in place and that is why the first successful modern democracy emerged in 1776. It is no accident, too, that this was when civil rights movements began to emerge. Starting with, abolition of the slave trade, then of slavery.

Newspapers were crucial to forming, informing, educating and keeping a responsible public up to date as modern democracy emerged. And that’s one reason why a good newspaper will have an emphasis on education, from youth up.

Going forward, it is going to be very important for us, the people of Montserrat and the wider Caribbean to recognise, respect, make good use of and consistently support our newspapers.

Where else can we all get a good college-level, sound education in democratic self-government and in leadership so cheaply?