What every parent should know about the Internet (8) – News & views
Nearly 100 years ago, on Tuesday 16 April 1912, the London Times reported that ‘the White Star liner Titanic, which left Southampton on Wednesday [10 April] on her maiden voyage to New York, came into collision with an iceberg some distance from Cape Race, Newfoundland, late on Sunday night, and sank yesterday morning. It is feared that only 675 of the passengers and crew, who numbered 2,300, have been saved’.
This was big news, and the information, relayed by telegraph, was printed within a day of the incident taking place. Commenting in the same issue, the editor noted that ‘the disaster … is a forcible reminder of the existence of natural forces which from time to time upset all our calculations and baffle all our precautions’!
Writing some 70 years earlier, on 15 October 1842, the same newspaper carried a report relaying some ‘most disastrous news … from the interior [of India], where the 41st Regiment had been cut to pieces’. The incident took place in August 1842, and the news had taken nearly two months to reach London.
In June 2009, Iranians took to the streets to protest what they saw as rigged elections. News was reported minute by minute, as it unfolded, by protesters sending ‘tweets’.2 People across the world followed these events in real time. Someone calling himself ‘Montris’ sent the following tweet:3 ‘Govt buildings being smashed, police batoning protesters, tear gas, rocks … head wounds all around Tehran’.
Later that day, another protester reported on Twitter: ‘Between 50-100 dead. Police on motorcycles beating people. They drive by attacking women’.
Protesters posted videos on YouTube directly from their videophones. One of the most harrowing of these was that of a girl of 20 dying in the streets after being shot during a demonstration. The video was instantly available across the web and was watched by tens of thousands, as well as being picked up by television stations.
iPad and 24/7
In April of 2010 eBay founder and Hawaii resident Pierre Omidyar started a new kind of newspaper called ‘Civil Break’. John Temple, the editor, explained: ‘We’re going to be sharing with the public what we’re working on as we’re working on it, and the experience of working on it’.
In other words, reporters will keep blogs and send tweets as they pursue stories. They’ll write regular news articles, but they’ll also host online discussions of the beats they cover – like politics or education. And they’ll maintain so-called topic pages, which will act as a constant living story, continually updated.4
In launching its latest product, the iPad, Steve Jobs of Apple demonstrated how news is changing. Both the New York Times and USAtoday (among others) launched iPad apps5 to allow users to subscribe to the latest news stories over the Internet.
Imagine being able to not only read news but also be instantly linked to a video posted by a blogger on the web. Or perhaps ‘customizing’ your newspaper, from all the available news, for those areas that might particularly interest you.
The news is fast becoming a commodity, something to be set up to reflect your tastes and interests, a means not only of receiving stories from around the world, but of instantly being kept up to date. It is becoming a means of being able to interact with people in the news via email, twitter, instant messengers or web discussions. We are no longer just passive recipients of news, but can now provide feedback, opinions and complete instant surveys.
News as entertainment?
So why does this matter? In his well-known book, the late Neil Postman, a professor of education, postulated that television as a medium of communication was so geared towards entertainment, that news lost any kind of seriousness and value.
The focus was on filling a news programme in such a way that the consumer (television viewer) would not switch channels. Postman argued that news had to entertain so that broadcasters could sell enough adverts to continue operating. News became entertainment, just as entertainment became news.
In 1976 Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer produced a video entitled How should we then live? The rise and decline of Western thought and culture. In one fascinating scene, he illustrated how the same news story could be presented to the viewer from two completely different perspectives. Schaeffer was ably illustrating how news can be made to reflect the views of the reporter, selectively presenting ‘facts’ from a perspective that only emphasises certain aspects.
This possibility of news manipulation is particularly concerning because of reports in 2009 from Don Maclean, a former Radio 2 religious programme host, in which he attacked the BBC and accused it of supporting a secularist campaign ‘to get rid of Christianity’.6
What does this all mean for the Christian community? First, let me suggest that we must be wise in what we see or read in the news. Being aware of potential bias may help us analyse and think through issues being presented. Let us never forget that we live in a world of biases and agendas, in which news is seldom, if ever, presented from a Christian viewpoint.
We should also find encouragement in the way that the Internet has changed how news can be gathered – something different from the bleak picture that Neil Postman presented. In contrast with only a few years ago, we now have the opportunity to uncover information directly from its source, rather than simply relying on a filtered view being presented by a news agency that may have its own agenda.
With the Internet, we can blog, check twitter feeds, or quickly go to another news report. This kind of access has never been possible before! It is almost as if we are now able to ‘cut the middleman’ out of the news story.
This direct access creates opportunities for churches and Christians. You may have seen the moniker WWJD on badges, bracelets and posters. This stands for ‘What would Jesus do?’
But let us rather ask the question ‘What would Paul have done?’ The great apostle to the Gentiles did not set off on his missionary journeys without having a clear strategy. He would generally travel to key cities and locations (Corinth, Ephesus, etc.), then search out people who already had an interest in Yahweh (in synagogues or prayer meetings, as in the case of Lydia).
Finally, after preaching to these people he would usually branch out to others in the area – even though this would often happen when he was thrown out of the synagogue! He had a clear strategy for disseminating the gospel and so must we.
So WWPHD? While we may have an interest in news from around the world, very little of it has a direct bearing on us, and we have influence over even less. However, as churches and individuals we support missionaries across the world. We are also involved in local activities. We must focus our attention and time on those areas of direct interest.
For example, if we support missionaries in the Philippines or Africa, we now have a wealth of resources at our fingertips. There is no reason why we should not find out about issues that may be important to the missionaries we support.
We can be informed of their local conditions, local politics, and pressures that may affect their work in these areas. We can pray or correspond better with those we support. We can also sit together with our children and make this a family event. Why not spend a little time with your children, on a regular basis, exploring news and views from the mission field?
I grew up as a Missionary kid (MK for short!) and had little contact with my parents’ sending church. Now imagine if a child in a local church, after meeting MKs during their last furlough, was able to contact them once in a while and simply ask about how a local event (monsoon or recent elections, etc.) has affected them?
Perhaps they can talk about what they are learning at school, or even use Skype to talk face-to-face and look at books and magazines together! We have opportunity to create bonds of support that were impossible just a few years ago.
Not only can we be news consumers, we have opportunity to be news creators. We can use the Internet to publicise our local events, organise petitions and circulars, and canvas support against anti-Christian positions.
We can post sermons and evangelistic messages online, and make these available to our local community. WWPHD? He would have assessed opportunities open to him to use the Internet. Nothing is a substitute for the preaching of the Word, or the Christian witness of a neighbour or family member. But the Internet is a tool that can be used to reach people who increasingly are found ‘surfing’ on their computers.
Meeting people in the time of the apostles may have meant going to the marketplace or Acropolis. Increasingly today’s communities can be found meeting on the Internet, debating ideas, getting their news and information.
If Paul used the resources at his disposal, so should we. Think of the Roman road system creating an unparalleled opportunity to carry the gospel to the whole known world. We not only have access to news from around the world, we have been entrusted with the very best news of all – the good news of the gospel.
We need to focus on what is achievable and develop a clear strategy for making best use of the opportunities that the world wide web creates. We must be proactive, not reactive. After all, WWPHD?
© David Clark
1. From http://archive.timesonline.co.uk
2. A tweet is a post or status update on Twitter, a microblogging service that allows messages of 140 characters or less to be shared with others.
5. Software programs targeted specifically for the iPad.
6. For a full report see Christian Institute web page: www.christian.org.uk/news/bbc-is-anti-christian-and-pro-muslim-says-ex-host
Comments of ET readers on this series can be posted on David Clark’s blog (http://parentsandtheinternet.blogspot.com) or sent via email: [email protected] Where possible, posted contributions and emails will be answered anonymously in the final article on this series.