I speak to a lot of civic groups, and sooner or later, some old man in the back of the room will mumble something about the liberal media.

"The press is so liberal" he'll grumble.

"Do you think I'm liberal?" I respond.

"Well, maybe not," he says, looking down at his dessert dish. "But I'm talking about the national, left-wing media."

That's when I smile and give my sermonette on the changes occurring in the news business and what we might expect in the future when it comes to the distribution of information.

The world is always changing, sometimes faster than we like. But quality information will always have value.

The question is where people will get their news in the future. And how credible it will be.

"The reason you think the media is liberal," I say, "is because we actually talk to the other side."

Blurred lines

That's when a hush usually falls over the room and people chew on that thought before swallowing another bite of pecan pie.

Journalism 101 teaches us there are always two sides to every story. Journalism 102 teaches us to talk to both sides and let the reader decide which one to believe.

That bedrock of news gathering has served our society and democracy quite well for a couple of centuries. We even created the op-ed page where people have the opportunity to be exposed to opposing views and letters to the editor to express their own ideas.

It all worked pretty well when people actually read newspapers, knew what they were reading and where it came from.

People understood the difference between a news story and an editorial. They were labeled, displayed and neatly packaged as one or the other.

The Internet, however, changed everything. The lines between news and views have since become irrevocably blurred.

Silo effect

While the world wide web connects us to many things, it also muddies historical boundaries that once differentiated fact from fiction.

When articles from mainstream media and backroom blogs are bunched and batched and given equal treatment in electronic outlets, it becomes difficult to distinguish what is real and what to believe.

So some people quit trying.

The explosion of cable news prophets, Internet idiots, radio gurus, targeted blogs, e-mail blasts, twits and tweets have narrowed rather than expanded our horizons.

It's all too easy to tune in to what makes us comfortable and tune out what causes us to reconsider. It's called the silo effect.

If you exist in one extreme or the other, liberal or conservative, you will be spoon fed partisan pabulum until you no longer hear or care to discuss the other side's argument.

Thus we live in a country where we're guaranteed a free lawyer, but not a doctor. How did we get it so wrong? And why can't we fix it?

Answer? Try listening to the other side, and relearn the lessons of civics and civility.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598.