“Seuny-yoon Lee: Emily Bell, Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, said the following in her recent speech at Oxford: “News spaces are no longer owned by newsmakers. The press is no longer in charge of the free press and has lost control of the main conduits through which stories reach audiences. The public sphere is now operated by a small number of private companies, based in Silicon Valley.” Nearly all content now is published on social platforms, and it’s not Rupert Murdoch but Google’s Larry Page and Sergei Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who have much more say in how news is created and disseminated. Are they “manufacturing consent” like their counterparts in so-called ‘legacy’ media?
Noam Chomsky: Well, first of all, I don’t agree with the general statement. Say, right now, if I want to find out what’s going on in Ukraine or Syria or Washington, I read The New York Times, other national newspapers, I look at the Associated Press wires, I read the British press, and so on. I don’t look at Twitter because it doesn’t tell me anything. It tells me people’s opinions about lots of things, but very briefly and necessarily superficially, and it doesn’t have the core news. And I think it’s the opposite of what you quoted – the sources of news have become narrower. So for example, take where we are now, Boston. Boston used to have a very good newspaper, The Boston Globe. It still exists but it’s a pale shadow of what it was twenty or thirty years ago. It used to have bureaus around the world, fine correspondents, and some of the best journalism on Central America during the Central American wars, and good critical journalism on domestic events and on many other topics. Go to a newsstand and have a look now. What you see is local news, pieces from the wire services, some pieces from The New York Times, and very little else.
Now that’s happened around the country, and in fact, around the world. And it’s a narrowing of these sources of journalism about what’s happening on the ground. That doesn’t mean that reports in the NYT have to be read uncritically, or those in The Guardian or The Independent or anywhere else. Sure, they have to be read critically, but at least they’re there. There are journalists there on the scene where major events are taking place and, now there are fewer of them than before, so that’s a narrowing of the sources of news. On the other hand, there is a compensating factor. It’s easier now to read the press from other countries than it was twenty years ago because of instead having to go to the library or the Harvard Square International Newsstand, I can look it up on the Internet. So you have multiple effects. As far as Silicon Valley is concerned, say Google, I’m sure they’re trying to manufacture consent. If you want to buy something, let’s say, you look it up on Google. We know how it works. The first things on the list are the ones that advertise. That doesn’t mean that they’re the most important ones. But it’s a reflection of their business model, which is of course based on advertising, which is one of the filters [in our model], in fact.
I use Google all the time, I’m happy it’s there. But just as when I read The New York Times or the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal knowing that they have ways of selecting and shaping the material that reaches you, you have to compensate for it. With Google, and others of course, there is an immense amount of surveillance to try to obtain personal data about individuals and their habits and interactions and so on, to shape the way information is presented to them. They do more [surveillance] than the NSA.”