Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Self-Righting Principle

First page of Areopagitica, by John Milton
First page of Areopagitica, by John Milton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* I am less happy than I should be about The Bold Italic finding a formula that allows them to survive. Why?

* All news - and newsish - media have credibility problems of some kind based on ownership and editorial thrust.

* Thus, it makes sense that a point exists at which you lose so much credibility so that readers disregard the stories you do that you think matter.

* That, however, does not seem to be the root of my worry, not the primary cause.

* Maybe it's a problem of proportion. Too much TBI content is trivial, designed only to entertain. Moreover, the implications of that trivial content - consumption! hedonism! political and social apathy! - might dilute or smother more serious content.

* Or even if that is not so, my disquiet probably has something to do with the fact The Bold Italic is a kind of Information Silo. Let's assume some of its more serious content has enough weight to stand against the trivial. But perhaps the readers of TBI self select. Any bits of useful provocative fact in the magazine don't push readers toward useful new insights because those readers are there already. They are merely confirming existing convictions. This used to be called "preaching to the choir."

* Well, that could be it, but what gnaws at me is a concern that goes deeper than the growth of the Information Silo, and that is the notion that Milton was wrong.

* Milton? Here's a definition and a quotation.

THE SELF-RIGHTING PRINCIPLE: John Milton's contribution to free speech theory -- more than 300 years ago -- was that information and ideas need to be freely exchanged in order for man to gain knowledge and understanding and to discover truth. For Milton, the liberty of conscience was the fundamental freedom, necessary for all other freedoms to exist. Through the free exchange of ideas, he believed wise men would discover truth. 

Wrote Milton: "Truth is strong next to the Almighty." ... "Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple, whoever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?" 

This became known as the "self-righting principle" -- the notion that, in the end, truth will win out. 

* For years - consciously or not - I have used that idea to justify in part my participation in journalism education, a faith (which sadly may be the correct word) in the value of what I do. (Pause to talk about Potter Box.) But now I have to deal not just with the Information Silo - which suggests "truth" never reaches the ears of those who need it -- but Confirmation Bias.

Klein in Vox

This is a page from the Vox pitch to advertisers.

And here's something from The Federalist saying that Vox Makes Us Stupid, saying Vox is as guilty of just as much Confirmation Bias as those it criticizes.

Bottom line?: Faith in the Self-Righting Principle endures, I guess. USF Politics prof Corey Cook has an interesting take. The best thing so-called liberal news sites can do is to challenge the confirmation bias of their own readers.

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