Knowledge is a powerful tool

Published 8:17 pm Thursday, July 2, 2009

I have a friend, a youth minister in North Alabama.

I’ve known him since we were small, but we never see eye to eye on anything.

Living so far apart, we correspond mostly on Facebook, a social networking Web site.

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Most of our exchanges are civil, but my friend – a self-described “news junky” – opened a can of worms in a simple posting Tuesday night.

It read, “A lot of fear is being generated by the media.”

Those of you who know me are fully aware that I hate that term; “the media.” It’s an over-generalized term used to describe an entire industry that doesn’t accurately describe anyone.

Our debate lasted several hundred words and about an hour before I gave up. You just can’t make some people understand some things some times.

In my experience, the media doesn’t generate fear. It reports on frightening events.

North Korea’s nuclear aspirations are a good example. The revelation that such a volatile country possesses these capabilities is frightening. You can’t pin that fear on “the media.”

We are simply the messenger.

Like it or not, media reporting on such events keeps the world in check.

The presence of reporters lurking in every hallway in Washington DC are one of the factors that keep honest politicians honest. And those dishonest politicians; how do you think most of those are exposed?

The media’s presence and existence is a powerful tool and these tools and their effectiveness will continue to evolve with technology.

Sites like Twitter have taken citizen journalism to new heights. Twenty years ago, citizen journalists were limited to independent newsletters and editorial space in local newspapers. The advent of the blog gave this group a wider, more diverse and larger audience.

The recent popularity of Twitter affords the same opportunities as a blog but since Twitter can be updated remotely, it offers “breaking news” and on-site reporting capabilities.

I have a quote in my office from Herbert Bayard Swope, the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Reporting. It reads, “The secret of a successful newspaper is to take one story each day and bang the hell out of it. Give the public what it wants to have and part of what it ought to have whether it wants it or not.”

That’s not promoting fear.

It’s keeping the public informed on subject matters ranging from the deposition of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya to the search for a new principal for Demopolis High School and subsequent hire of Walter Davie and subsequent-subsequent hire of Leon Clark.

An informed public is a powerful public and information is the most powerful tool in the battle against fear.

Jason Cannon is editor and publisher of the Demopolis Times.