Last month, Freedom of Information Day came and went relatively quietly once again on March 16. It was chosen so because it is the birthday of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. Historians tell us that Madison, one of the main authors of our U.S. Constitution, was adamant about having an open government. FOI day happens to be a marker in my world because it is also my birthday. I like to think that being born on that day predestined me to become a journalist.
I was thinking about freedom of information recently because of all the bloggers and “fake” news that spew thoughts and notions across Internet airwaves with nothing more than the click of keyboard keys. So much “thought noise” zooms around over the electronic skyway that it may be difficult to know if what someone is posting is true or if it even constitutes “news.” What is news anymore?
The Merriam Webster online dictionary (in existence in print form since 1828) defines news as: “a report of recent events,” or “previously unknown information,” or “something having a specified influence or effect.” Webster’s second set of definitions for news are: “material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast” (obviously a bit dated), or “matter that is newsworthy.”
When I was in journalism school at the University of Illinois many moons ago, we discussed the main criteria by which something was deemed newsworthy: How many people did the event or information affect; and did people need to know about this event or information to make decisions about their daily lives?