Matt Jones

Feeding the Information Appetite

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It never occurred to me that the World Wide Web was a mere twinkle in Tim Berners Lee's eye during last Gulf war; the Web plays such a huge part in my life that I have trouble remembering how I got my fill of news without it. Being 15 at the time, I could probably think of better things to do than consume the latest on George Bush Snr's campaign against Saddam. I'm certain that there was no blanket coverage of the war on TV (on the four terrestrial channels in the UK anyway); but that's not to say that the 1991 Gulf War wasn't a turning point in the whole War / Media relationship. Shortly after the war ended, Roy Harper wrote a song called ‘The War Came Home Tonight’ in which he addresses the issue of our experience of war via television. Twelve years later, the lyrics of this song seem to be even more relevent; the war comes home when the people who are reporting it to us get attacked; when blood, fresh from the cameraman's wounded face, transgresses the TV medium by dripping onto the lens and seemingly onto the the glass of the screen. I agree with Mal, amid the confusion and the misinformation broadcast on TV, this is an image that will endure.

Unlike the war 12 years ago, we now have the web to aid us in our desire for information. According to this BBC interview with Jakob Nielsen, a result of this is that we are now ‘desk-chair generals’. Nielsen suggests that the web is a better medium for gathering information about the War because the content is more focused and in a form that is easier to digest. I'd take this a step further by suggesting that web based news has to be like this for the simple reason of archiving. If BBC News Online produced breaking news that is speculative and potentially innaccurate, any future search on the site would result in false information. Twenty-four hour news coverage on television seems to be a different matter; while news reports from the front-line can be edited and checked before being broadcast, news readers rely on unsubstantiated information for the purposes of filling air time. I tuned in to BBC News 24 over the weekend and on more than one occassion, news was broken and not followed up; it's like a cat pouncing on its inanimate prey only to sidle off a second later in disinterest. When the US Army entered the outskirts of Baghdad on Saturday, watching News 24 was a frustrating experience; news reports contradicted each other and the lack of solid information about the unfolding events was clearly frustrating for the news readers as well.

I think the web is a place for much more considered news and analysis about the War in Iraq, but I suppose it can only be left up to the reader to filter out the truth from the misinformation.