My dad’s dad, Warren Lehman, retired from the girdle and bra manufacturing business that he started, the business my dad came to run, when Grandpa couldn’t find his way home from the train station.  He lived four blocks away.  It was a commute he’d been walking for over 50 years.  At home most of those years since the television had been invented, Grandpa watched TV.  He stopped reading.  He stopped socializing.  He just watched the tube.  Retired, he watched the tube all the time.  Warren’s stuffed chair was stationed in front of the TV.  My sisters and I saw mostly the top of the back of Grandpa’s head.

Larry Rothermel’s family got the first color TV in Glencoe, Illinois, where I lived in the 1950s and 60s.  I walked into Larry’s living room to look and was astonished.  In today’s money it was several thousand dollars, an amount my family could not afford.  Black and white was OK.  Even when we got a color TV years later, that TV stayed in my parents’ bedroom.  Watching Saturday morning cartoons in the den, I was still looking at a black and white screen, though for me the experience was rich in depth and tone.

Television has had a long, rich career in the American psyche.  We each have stories revolving around the tales television has disseminated and its appearance in our lives.  TV has influenced relationships and created opportunities for connection.  Newton Minow, the man that said television was a vast wasteland, lived two doors down from my family while I was growing up.  At about the time we got our first color TV, he moved his family to DC to work for Kennedy.  If TV in the 1960s was a vast wasteland, what would he call it now?

TV is dying, like my grandfather in his stuffed chair, unable to find his way home.  Not yet dead.  Back turned to the world.  TV is mere years away from passing.

The great horizontalization that we are in the middle of is paradoxical in that government, a hierarchical organization by definition, is also the center of a giant network of relationships with access to taxed income for redistribution.  The decisions that government makes on how to distribute that income influence not only quality of life and security but the flexibility with which a society can transform.  Right now, one-to-many communications are controlled by corporations, which are regulated by government agencies deeply influenced by those corporations.  But these people are losing control of content.  Newspapers are disappearing.  Ad revenues are destroying news collection capabilities.  The dumbing down of news into entertainment, and now the deterioration of the news gathering infrastructure, is creating an information vacuum quickly being filled with content gathered and disseminated off the web.

The writing is on the wall.  The words are on the screen.  If we want high quality information, sources of that information need to be rewarded.  The consumer/capitalist system for high quality information reward is breaking down.  What can we do to encourage new institutions consonant with current surges in horizontal communication, transparency and diversity?  How can we use the Internet to do what the Internet does best, empower individuals with high quality information at extremely low costs?

The government, as part of its broad-band infrastructure expansion, can become the broker reimbursing news sources with micropayments based upon the time spent by individuals on a site.  Based upon the number of visitors and number of seconds spent on a location, payments to a website can be received from the government from a start-up fund created for this purpose.  Whether a website qualifies as a news site or not is decided by visitors to the site.  High-rated sites receive relatively more funds per visitor than a low-rated news site.  Entertainment gets no funds.

Government becomes integral to the news business, not unlike the BBC in the UK, except the government has nothing to do with content, distribution, marketing or prioritization.  All government does is maintain a system that makes sure it is news that is rewarded, and it makes sure that rewards are based upon user participation.

Payments would go to any new content provider in the world.  Reciprocal agreements with countries across the world can create the opportunity for the reverse.  Governments across the world would encourage and reimburse new sources anywhere and everywhere they appear.

People make news.  Let people report the news.  Let there be a proliferation of news sources with experts creating content in their fields.  Amateur news does not mean poor quality news.  Amateur news will become the primary source for content as local individuals find they can make small amounts of money covering a story and making it available.  Websites will emerge specializing in the aggregation of this content, sorting stories by as many criteria as users seeking content.  Content there will be.  With the government rewarding those individuals that provide the information that educates, jobs are created and rewarded that serve the community.

New news businesses will emerge, businesses with creativity, industry and a message.  When they achieve a threshold where they can advertise on their website, government subsidy diminishes.

Our administration is looking for opportunities to seed money into the economy in ways that institutions are strengthened and people’s lives are improved.  It can be useful to envision institutions where those institutions do not yet exist.  Imagining the Internet as a thriving news source offering unique content from across the world requires understanding that a government can behave in ways that encourages a horizontal distribution of wealth and information.  Take away from a central authority the decision about who gets paid how much for a service.  Give that authority to the individual user.  Let the government reward that individual’s decision.

Newton Minow’s “great wasteland” can become fertile with the contributions of millions of visitors and the spontaneous offerings of a myriad of content creators.

The transition from color TV to black and white required hefty money contributions from the consumer.  Nurturing a transition from TV to the Internet for news would require nothing from the user, except his or her opinion.

With amateurs across the planet being rewarded for describing what they know best, or what they happen to observe, maybe we as individuals soaking up this service would feel compelled to interact with this new world of noncorporate content.  Perhaps we’d be seeing a lot less of the back of one another’s heads.

If we find ourselves not only viewers, but creators, of the news, maybe we’d be seeing the world through one another’s eyes.


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