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Gossip goes a long way back; even the Bible warns against it.

For good reason. Gossip can be mean-spirited, destructive, and full of lies. Today’s anonymous message boards make the back fence even more widespread, and they make the work of objective, professional journalists (defined here as ethical, educated communicators who verify before they publish) even more important.

Yet before professional journalism, gossip served an important societal function. Before the printing press, it was the means of communication. Aristocrats need more information than the handful of letters they received from their rulers and their friends. They needed to know who was feuding with whom–gossip, often brought in the form a visitor such as a merchant.

A recent NPR story suggests evolutionary reasons for gossip, especially our fascination with it. When early human lived in small groups, knowing that someone was untrustworthy or a rival for mate could be a means of survival.

We have better options today. I refuse to read anonymous message boards because any old piece of garbage can and does get posted. Despite what the extreme right and left will tell you, the work of the mainstream media is the most reliable because most of the people who there will take great pains to publish only what they know to be accurate.