The Electronic Grapevine: Rumor, Reputation and Reporting in the New Online Environment

Article excerpt

The Electronic Grapevine: Rumor, Reputation and Reporting in the New OnLine Environment. Diane L. Borden and Kerric Harvey, eds. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998. 199 pp. $49.95 hbk. $29.95 pbk.

The evaluation of a challenging situation often comes down to attitude: Is the glass half empty, or is the glass half full? Or, with this book, are new developments in on-line communication frought with danger, or do they offer new opportunities for a revitalization of the American polity?

Editors Diane L. Borden and Kerric Harvey supply readers with an abundance of both outlooks, and therein lies one of the principal strengths of The Electronic Grapevine. It offers plenty of material for classroom (or seminar) debates over how journalists, information consumers, and scholars ought to use the emerging on-line media.

The book offers a potpourri of musings about Internet communication, ranging from critiques of traditional First Amendment theory and libel doctrine, to effects of on-line technology on news production and interpersonal communication, to challenges to communication theorists and researchers.

While these twelve chapters differ in perspective and focus, a consensus does emerge as to how mass communication is changing with the advent of on-line technology. The volume of news and information has multiplied; this information is more fragmented, and it originates from a wider diversity of sources than in traditional models of mass communication. It is more immediately available. It is less bound by spatial constraints. It can combine various media (video, sound, graphics, photos, printed words) in the same message. It is interactive, and its messages travel complex, nonlinear paths. It also tends to blur distinctions between news and opinion and, quite possibly, between news and advertising.

So what does it all mean? That depends on whose chapter one examines. Wendy S. Williams sees the distinctions between news and promotional information becoming so blurred that she suggests the licensing of journalists, to help on-line users recognize reliable journalism when they click it. L. Carol Christopher worries that the entry of computers into newsrooms is replacing most of the intellectually challenging tasks of news production with mindless "technojournalism. …

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