“Let’s talk about the weather.”
That phrase used to be a polite way to steer a conversation from any controversial topic. Not anymore. Today, even a conversation about the weather can turn into a political discussion about climate change.
It seems that any issue today is cause for division and acrimony. These days, the amount of information available to the public is overwhelming. Since the advent of cable TV news channels, and
especially since the internet became part of our daily lives, everyone has the ability to consume and share information like never before.
You would think that abundant information would create a consensus in public opinion about the issues of the day. But it turns out that we have divided into different groups that access information through newspapers, TV shows, or websites that reaffirm what we think.
Each subset of the population now lives in a sort of informational bubble that never challenges what we think but confirms each of our ingrained ideas. Even in reputable newspapers and websites, it has become harder and harder to differentiate straight news from opinion. The editorializing of the
news has reached pandemic levels, to use a word sadly popular these days.
On the other hand, we have noticed another surprising trend. Social media allows each one of us to share information, points of view, and opinions.
Three decades ago, a letter to the editor was probably the only hope a reader had to share his or her opinions with the general public.
Social media democratized the public forum. We apparently have more freedom and capacity than ever before to share our ideas. At the same time, we have seen people lose their reputations and jobs because of the social media reactions to their opinions or editorial decisions.
Of course, the Constitution guarantees our right to express opinions, but it doesn’t guarantee they are going to be popular. You should expect others to also express their opinions about what you say.
But when social media becomes a tribunal that can condemn you to lose your job or your voice because of the opinions you express, we could be going down a dangerous path.
Social media could function now as an instrument of censorship, too. Voices that don’t fit the ideas deemed enlightened by the opinion-makers could be quickly silenced. We, as a society, mostly agree that there are ideas that shouldn’t be given a pulpit — racist theories or Holocaust denial, for example. But once a group can basically decide for the whole of society which ideas should be excluded
from public discourse — and penalize its proponents as they see fit — we could find ourselves living in a different kind of world.
The media and society are extremely polarized. Since so many media outlets editorialize the news, many people have come to think that behind any news you share there is a partisan agenda or that reporting the news is a way to promote a particular political view.
We at The Tablet strive in a different direction. Our Code of Ethics (which you can read in its entirety on the back page of this edition) states:
- “We will clearly distinguish between news material, opinion, and analysis.”
- “We will provide forums to express varying opinions and analysis in the form of columns, letters, and comments.”
- “We will make every effort to set a higher standard for Catholic journalism by covering underreported issues.”
- We strive “to give a voice to the people and to the Word of Jesus Christ so that it may inspire, inform, provoke, empower, and entertain our audience.”
Reporting the news is sometimes a heart-wrenching affair and sometimes a reason for hope. These principles guide our efforts each week.