How to survive information overload
By guest blogger Richard Engeman
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Richard H. Engeman (Oregon author and new-to-Albany resident) attended a free “History Bites” talk at the Albany Regional Museum. Richard kindly volunteered his time to the Albany Visitors Association as our guest blogger. The following article is his account of History Bite’s latest speaker, Hasso Hering.
“More people don’t know anything about what’s going on.” –Hasso Hering
Two or three decades ago, news came to us in two formats: in print (as a newspaper or magazine), or a broadcast over television or radio. Reporters, correspondents, and journalists worked for agencies that collected, edited, and distributed “The News.” And from what we read, and what we saw and heard, each of us weighed and analyzed the information to merge it into our understanding of the world.
Today, our understanding of the world is mediated by Facebook, which flings billions of bits of information at us. Some of that is news, but much of it is the instantaneous reaction by millions of other viewers to that news. In many instances, these snippets of news and comments correspond to other reactions: to someone’s attitude, syntax, bias, spelling, ethnicity, gender, etiquette, and a multitude of other aspects. The news itself, is drowned out.
Hasso Hering, former longtime editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald newspaper (he retired in 2012), spoke to the changes in news-gathering and news distribution at a recent, well-attended lunchtime talk at the Albany Regional Museum.
Hasso’s involvement with the news goes back a long way, and his lengthy tenure in Albany was preceded by his experience in newsrooms in California and in Ashland, Oregon. He punctuated his talk with photos and anecdotes that illustrated how much the news-reporting industry has changed in a very short period of time. Hering said that in the not-so-distant past, an editor of a small-city newspaper could approach a national figure like Walter Cronkite, and expect and receive, a prompt and cordial acknowledgement.
Hering described and lauded the work of copy editors, a now nearly defunct profession whose practitioners checked a reporter’s facts, smoothed out the phrasing, queried the quotes, and regularized spelling and capitalization. Such slogging and unglamorous work is what made print journalism reasonably accurate and trustworthy, so much so that television and radio broadcasters relied on printed sources for their own news shows (and they still do).
Hering made an excellent point about the fact that each of us, individually, must sift through the news and analyze it to find the kernels of value to us, and to integrate that information into our lives.
Another former journalist, Bob Hicks of the Oregonian, recently pushed the same point in a Facebook essay, concluding that we can’t be spoon-fed news stories, but must be “active, analytical… and honestly skeptical” with our journalistic consumption. And this is a difficult and challenging task, as Hering succinctly notes, since we are faced with a “proliferation” of news sources. We can’t catch up with all of it, we can’t be sure it is accurate, and we can’t correct misinformation. We are bombarded with news bites, and the bombardment overwhelms our ability to analyze, question, and form reasoned opinions about our world. Technology has made our task harder, not easier as we might have expected.
Hasso gave a jaunty, if sobering, lunchtime talk. However, it was a good experience for this new Albany resident, and I came away from his presentation confident that I had moved to a small but sprightly city that takes its history (and its history-makers like Hasso Hering) seriously. And like Hering, we residents do so with a wry smile.
By the way, Hasso too has gone electronic at http://hh-today.com, and he’s on Facebook, too!
Albany author Richard H. Engeman is a public historian and archivist, and the person behind Oregon Rediviva, LLC. The name Oregon Rediviva is connected to the history of the Oregon Country: Captain Robert Gray’s ship Columbia Rediviva entered the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792. In 1805, Capt. Meriwether Lewis described a plant, to which the name Lewisia rediviva has been applied. It is better known as the bitterroot, the state flower of Montana.