The Ecphorizer

The End Flap Issue 02 [Selling Information]
George Towner

Issue #02 (October 1981)

Editing The Ecphorizer has apparently made me a de facto member of the working press. The principle effect I notice now is that informationwhich I used to treat simply as the raw stuff of communication now carries something called journalistic value. Some of it sells, some doesnt. A successful magazine must seek out the information that sells and avoid that which is not salable.

But salable information is related to raw information as a peach in a can is related to a peach on a tree. It is information that has been selected, scrubbed, peeled, and packed in syrup. It entertains while it informs, and stimulates with a hint of spice. Often it is purchased and consumed not to gain knowledge, but because it reinforces a prejudice we already hold or allows us to dismiss an idea we find uncomfortable. It seems that neither this publication nor any other can survive without processing information in this way.

The selling of information is a big business; TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and books comprise an enormous and expensive traffic in data. As the media merchants compete, moreover, other legitimate social interests are sometimes crowded to the wall.

An example of unprincipled information selling, I believe, occurred recently [1981] in the crisis over fighting the Mediterranean fruit fly in the Bay Area. There is no question that every person subject to having malathion-impregnated bait dropped on his dwelling had a right to know what he was getting into, and complain to his government if he didnt like it. A fully responsible press would have helped him to understand the facts. What actually happened was that the media, egged on by the pronouncements of ignorant politicians, whipped up a panicand sold a lot of its product in the process. Information about the possible dangers of malathion turned out to be very salable; information about its safe use elsewhere was not. By the time of the first spraying in Sunnyvale [where George lives], the population was so alarmed that the fallout shelters had to be opened and staffed by Red Cross volunteers, armed with blankets and hot soup, to receive refugees from what the San Francisco Chronicle headlined as the Deadly Onslaught.

After the event, of course, people hereabouts discovered theyd been had. Nobody broke out in melanomas; no squirrels were found twitching in their death agonies in the streets. Most people couldnt even find the droplets of bait when they looked for them. In fact, the media did another brisk business in discovering how inconsequential it had all turned out to be.

Fortunately The Ecphorizer will never be faced with a news-selling temptation such as the foregoing. Still, there will always be times when this editor is forced to select salable articles and throw out the rest. I may even refrain in the future from criticisms such as this one on the press. After all, how could you respect a journalist who attacks his own industry? 

The End Flap was where George really held forth, making this page his "editorial" page, where he could devote some space to another short essay on topics that interested him. It will be the function of this column , always located on the inside back cover of The Ecphorizer, to stimulate (ecphorize) discussion among our readers. Not artificially, by picking fights, but constructively, by exposing the genuine differences of opinion among thinking people. You can read about George's latest book here!

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