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From the editor's desk: Block the black heart of web
September 5, 2019 | 6:45 AM
by Charles Lavery
 
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On December 21, 1998, PanAm flight 103 exploded over the skies of Lockerbie, a small town near Scotland’s border with England.

Some 270 people died, including many on the ground hit by falling debris. On that night, I was working as a copy boy at Scotland’s oldest newspaper, the Glasgow Herald.

The newsroom was packed, as it was the annual Christmas party. The lone staffer who had drawn the short straw to work that evening walked into the editor’s office, where most of his colleagues were gathered, and announced that a jumbo had come down over Lockerbie.

Immediately, it was all-hands-on-deck as staff hit the phones and jumped in cars to cover what we now know was a huge global story.There was no such thing as a world wide web or mobile phone to reach for. We did, however, have an industrial scale and expertly managed library, run by a team of librarians who cut stories from newspapers every day, cross-referenced them and stuck them inside folders labelled ‘ Crime: Murder’ and such like.



That night I found, inside that cavernous archive, a story of what appeared to be an earlier tragedy to befall the town of Lockerbie, a train crash during the Great War that claimed the lives of many soldiers before they had even crossed the sea to fight. That small story ran in the next day’s edition, thanks to a long-forgotten librarian who, decades earlier, had taken the time to place it in a folder in an easy to find file.

If we consider how the world wide web works, it’s not so far removed from that ancient system. Everything is indexed, labelled, arranged via URL so that it can be accessed easily. That’s a great thing. What’s not so great is how we have used this valuable resource.



Anti-vaxxers have contributed to a spike in measles, news is being deliberately fabricated and managed to someone’s benefit, and recently I was greatly entertained by a tweet that recorded that the Flat Earth Society’s annual general meeting was to be held in a restaurant called The Globe...

Netiquette, or how we behave and, more importantly, misbehave online, is often discarded when we meet opposing views, or simply do not care for some other viewpoint. It constantly vexes me that people actually take the time to write a moan, rather than “jogging on” to something they may enjoy.

It also saddens me to see the lowest common denominator being aired for all the world to see, via a global network that really speaks about what the absolute best among us are capable of creating.

And it makes me wish for a return of the libraries and librarians; those professional harvesters and custodians of properly researched and written work.

The basic technique remains the same: if you know where to look, the world wide web has content that can enchant, enthral and educate. And when you see the black heart of the web, unfollow, block and ban. That way you’ll always have a good read.

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