Okay, we know that “journalists” have stopped serving any function. That’s tired territory. Batya is covering it thoroughly and usefully.
Purpose-based question: If reporters DO have a real function, the function should be definable in a basic biological way. It should be the same for a beehive or a tribe or a city or a nation.
I answered this question in 2018.
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Every living thing, and every organized colony of living things, has ‘media’.
Why does an individual organism need senses? To answer seven important questions. The first six are universal from bacteria to humans. The seventh is not quite universal.
1. What time is it? Day or night? Winter or summer? Full moon or new? Time to fuck? Time to swarm? Time to die?
2. Where am I? Which way am I going? Up or down? Toward the light? Toward food? Toward enemies? With the magnetic field or against?
3. Where is food?
4. Where is poison?
5. Where are my friends, and what are they doing?
6. Where are my enemies, and what are they doing?
7. The non-universal non-question: Entertainment. This applies for sure to all the ‘intelligent’ critters from octopuses to mammals. When we’re not in immediate survival mode, we love to watch stuff happening. Entertainment merges smoothly into education. Watching somebody else catch a caterpillar or hammer a nail isn’t especially interesting; but when the catch misses or the hammer hits a thumb, it becomes entertainment AND education. Smart design, connecting pleasure to learning.
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Communities or colonies have mechanisms or workers to accomplish the last five purposes on behalf of the whole community. Bees have honey scouts and enemy scouts. Mammals generally send out disposable males to locate food and enemies. Plants and bacteria and modern humans use electrical networks to observe the activities of friends and enemies.
Professional reporters have been around for 5000 years. Most of the sagas and testaments of religions are newspaper archives with the original bylines replaced by God, who is the biggest copyright troll in history. Greece and Rome elevated the role of scout to high literature. Troubadours and town criers continued the mix of art and observation until 1500 AD, when Gutenberg made it possible to shout on paper.
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Circling back to the original question: How do modern paid reporters fulfill the basic purposes of community sensing? (Again the first two purposes are only for individuals.)
3. Where is food? Newspapers and TV carry useful ads for grocery stores, but the reporters aren’t involved.
4. Where is poison? Reporters have specifically inverted this purpose. They warn us LOUDLY of fake poisons [2020: AND FAKE DISEASES] to stir up a war, or to squash one industry and boost another. They never warn us of real toxins, because the reporters are the real toxins.
5. Where are my friends, and what are they doing? TV offers us a complex and addictive array of fictional friends, ruining our expectations for real friends.
6. Where are my enemies? Reporters have specifically inverted this purpose. They warn us LOUDLY of fake enemies to stir up a war, or to squash one tribe and enrich another. They never warn us of real enemies, because the reporters are the real enemies.
7. Entertainment: We get to see plenty of failures, but we’re NOT ALLOWED to learn from them. Any attempt to draw ACCURATE conclusions from stories about crime is forbidden. Sports give us plenty of crashes and failures and injuries, but the whole process is carefully scripted to avoid any useful lessons. When we see a Tesla crash, we’re not allowed to conclude that Teslas are bad. Instead we are required to BUY THE DIP.
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Concluding: In earlier eras the press occasionally performed the DUTY of community senses, but not now. There is no excuse and no defense for the “right” of “press freedom”.
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There is another traditional role for ‘media’ or community sensing mechanisms, which I didn’t think about in 2018. This role has become the ONLY purpose, replacing all others.
8. Carrying COMMANDS from the queen.
In a beehive the commands are carried by pheromones. In traditional cultures, soldiers are often sent to read out dictates from the government. In modern cultures, newspapers and electronic media carry commands. Hitler and Stalin established closed-circuit radio systems which were REQUIRED LISTENING. The web now serves the same purpose. Everyone is carrying a closed-circuit speaker that carries nothing but commands. Some of the commands are disguised as news or science or entertainment.