The endless analysis and commentary in the aftermath of last week's events had me thinking about the challenges of getting accurate information to people, and convincing them that information is, in fact, accurate. A lot of fingers are being pointed--at social media, at specific platforms, at individuals--but after a while, finger-pointing by anyone who writes, blogs, broadcasts, vlogs, tweets, or otherwise addresses a larger audience than their personal friends, starts to feel a bit like a circular firing squad. If people believe falsehoods, is the believer or the liar more at fault?

"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," goes the old saying. People are attracted to what they want to believe, this is axiomatic. But slapping the label-du-jour on this ("confirmation bias" is the favorite buzzword term at the moment) does absolutely nothing to explain why people would ever want to believe anything false. What is the benefit? What is the payoff? Obviously, given how far people will go to defend their beliefs against all possible challenges, it must be enormous.

People are very complicated, and the reasons for their behavior are even more so. I hate reductionist thinking and have no patience with it, period. Any statement that can fit in a meme or on a sign is one hundred percent crap, as far as I'm concerned, because by definition it's over-simplified, one-sided, and jingoistic. You'll never see bumper stickers on my car, or memes on my social media pages. Nor do I jump on bandwagons or mindlessly support any particular point of view, because I always see several sides to every issue. This exasperates those who love to think of issues in pure binary terms: good/evil, right/wrong, life/death, dark/light, male/female. But the world isn't like that. Real life isn't like that.

It's popular now to say that we have a problem with too much information, that people are overwhelmed with news and opinion drowning them from screens, radio, TV and their phones every minute. But I think our real problem isn't too much information, it's too much noise. We're barraged with noise non-stop, but valuable information, things we really need to know, things that affect our actual daily lives...that kind of information is hard to come by.

I certainly run into that with the Courier. Getting information out of the School Department is almost impossible. I can't get any details about an accident or incident from the Police or Fire departments. Especially with COVID, no one answers their phones. I leave messages at the Winchendon P.D. but they're not returned. I get the police logs every now and then. I often see "the death of local news" bewailed by pundits, as local newspapers disappear or are bought up by conglomerates (and then disappear). I expect the Gardner News to go dark any day now. But local government and local schools don't seem too fussed. They don't want to talk to local news.

It's all about confidentiality now--no one wants to get sued. Of course, you can get all the rumor, innuendo, ranting and self-disclosure of problems on Facebook in most towns, Winchendon being no exception. Just don't ask for any details or clarification.

People learn to trust local news as they see it report on their personal lives. It's easy to look at news sources in New York or Los Angeles, owned by some multi-billionaire heading a global media empire, and suspect that it's all "fake news," manufactured to trick people into clicking on ads or subscribing to paywalls. When you've watched a local paper cover your kids' sports games and scout troop events, town weddings and births, town politics, fires, accidents and weather events, for years, you know whether it's true or not because you were there. If people now are grasping at fantastic conspiracy theories or rejecting any source of information except some obscure social media channel that somehow resonates for them, we have the death of local news to thank. Forty years ago, every town had its own small paper. I know, I worked for them. Now, very few towns have an independent news source focused on the community.

There's a saying: "How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a big fortune." You don't make money publishing, whether it's books or newspapers, print or digital. Some small local papers have become non-profits so they can apply for grants. You do it because you have a passion for it. That's what we're losing now--that passion for publishing, for reaching out to people, for informing them, for communicating.

They say that people will realize what they've lost only when all the local news sources are gone. I'm not so sure that people will miss local news. They've always got Facebook.

But the world will be the worse for it--infinitely the worse. We're seeing that right now.

Inanna Arthen