The Internet has wrought a revolution in communication, information dissemination, publishing, broadcasting, commerce, social interaction, dating services for the lonely, and many other things. Some of the other things include fraud, theft, ransom, malware, hacking, the spread of misinformation, idiocy and the spewing of hate.
On the one hand, a smorgasbord of the world’s collected knowledge is instantly available at one’s fingertips. Trips to the library for research are now rare. (Leaving more room to provide a public day camp for the homeless.) Google and Alexa are on constant call to answer all your questions, engage in conversation or even tell you a joke. (Wait for the response if you ask Google to “pull my finger.” My granddaughter brought that to my attention.)
On the other hand, hits on porn sites no doubt exceed those on the works of Shakespeare or The Great Books. (I’m not being judgmental, here, just noting human nature.) The Internet is a universal exercise in free will. To reiterate, it’s both a treasure and a cesspool.
Forty years ago, I crossed over from my business career into talk radio, public speaking and writing a newspaper column on the side. Those fields have been significantly reshaped by the Internet. Online podcasts have made Everyman (and woman) a broadcaster, without need for a radio signal. The Internet has appropriated younger newspaper readers. Print circulation is way down along with the number of newspapers. Advertising revenues have plunged. (Classified ads have been pushed out by eBay and Craigslist.) Newspapers are going digital, and home delivery is diminishing. (Remember when a kid got his first job delivering papers on his bicycle?)
With that being said, here are a few things I’ve learned as a guy who’s done combat in the war of ideas offering my opinions on life and public policy, in the old and new media, over the air and in print for four decades.
— Set your goals. Mine have always been to inform and influence public policy.
— Disclose your bias. As I’ve often said to radio listeners, “Tell me where you sit before you tell me where you stand.”
I’m a right-center conservative. There’s no singular or all-encompassing definition of conservatism. We come in numerous, mostly compatible flavors, and even overlap with practical libertarians. Having a big tent is essential in electoral politics if you hope to convert your goals and ideas into public policy. And I’m a partisan Republican because I much prefer that party’s philosophy, agenda and coalition to that of the Democrats, given that we’ll be governed by one of those two major parties or the other.
— Identify your audience. My primary audience is people who mostly share my values and viewpoints. I work to reinforce their beliefs and positions with arguments they can use with other audiences. For others who are open-minded and reasonable I try to offer counterpoints that might bring them around.
I don’t speak or write to persuade ideologically unshakeable, radical left-wingers (or radical right-wingers). If we have irreconcilable differences, they’re beyond my reason or reach, as Thomas Sowell has explained in his brilliant book, “A Conflict of Visions.” When I debate with radicals on air, I have no delusion I’ll convert them to my views. They’re useful as a sounding board to challenge their positions for the benefit of other listeners who I can reinforce or persuade with a reasoned argument.
— Don’t be distracted. I’m not perturbed by negative letters to the editor about my newspaper columns. The letters section tends to be dominated by those whose views comport with the editorial and news bias of the paper. That was certainly my experience with the very liberal Denver Post. People who disagree with a column are more likely to write than those who agree. The critics often misrepresent what I’ve actually written and then argue with the straw-man argument they’ve created. Others haven’t even read the column, or didn’t understand it. They just see my byline, assume they’ll disagree and enjoy venting. On occasion, I’ve read some of these letters on air and deconstructed them just for laughs. Which brings to mind the old saying, “Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”
You need a thick skin in this business and, believe me, mine’s like a rhino. I’m actually delighted when my column drives a feverish, hostile reader to write a rabid response that reveals his ignorance and fanaticism. Newspaper editors usually screen out the really wacko letters, but unscreened comments following columns posted on digital editions tend to draw the worst of the cranks and trolls. These are best ignored, along with the crackpots on Twitter.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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