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Editor's Note: Remember when news was news?

Sometimes, all you have to do is log on to the Internet for instant inspiration.

A “home page” always pops up first, and most varieties are designed to give you a quick survey of current information — news, sports, entertainment, a weather forecast, etc. Mine happens to be at charter.net, where the top headline is usually something like, “Jay Leno says he hasn’t spoken to Conan O’Brien.”

Like I said, instant inspiration, in this case to ponder the question: Where is America headed when it comes to getting its news?

Newspapers across the country have downsized if they haven’t shut down altogether. What used to be the “big 3” TV networks still air their half-hour nightly news shows, but they’ve mostly ceded the field of broadcast “journalism” to 24-hour cable news providers that substitute talking heads for actual reporting.

Two of the cable conglomerates have taken to presenting the news as if it’s pro wrestling, full of easily identifiable good guys and bad guys. Fox started this with its eternally ironic “fair and balanced” shtick that should actually be called something like GOP-TV. MSNBC now clearly fancies itself the liberal alternative, with a nightly assist from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

And speaking of advocacy disguised as actual news reporting and analysis, how about that new talk show lineup on the local radio station of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity?

Fair and balanced.

If it’s preaching to the choir you’re looking for, there are plenty more subtle ways these days to get your “news” seasoned to your taste. Log on to that aforementioned Internet, fire up the keyword searches and let your browser carry you away to the safe haven of information sites and blogs that slice and dice the facts just to your liking.

It’s not so much that we have too many choices as that so many of those choices are flawed by a predilection to persuade as well as inform. Heck, most of them don’t even have the resources to do their own reporting — the enterprises doing that are the ones struggling to survive.

Say what you will about the good old days of the monopolistic mass media. At least when we were all reading the same papers and watching the same TV news programs we had a common agenda of public issues to be dealt with.

Information is more accessible than ever. That’s great if you think of life as a game of Trivial Pursuit with all the answers at your fingertips. Or if you just want to immerse yourself in the opinions of like-minded people. Or if you actually want to know why “Jay Leno says he hasn’t spoken to Conan O’Brien.”

Of course you can also use your Web browser to access legitimate news sources of organizations that are still striving to report stories and present all sides of an issue in an unbiased manner — at least for now. Most of them are free on-line, which is why they’re having a hard time staying in business.

Where is America headed when it comes to getting its news? That depends on what you consider “news.” The definition seems to evolve daily.

 

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