How did the world know what happened in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963? Or in Berlin in 1989? Or in New York on Sept. 11, 2001? They saw it on television, through Walter Cronkite’s tears, CNN’s 24-hour coverage and Rudy Giuliani press conferences.

“But how did the world find out what happened in Pakistan on May 2nd, 2011?” Nicco Mele asked a captive Island audience at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center on Thursday night. The answer: a viral tweet.

“If Osama Bin Laden’s assassination had occurred two decades ago, we would have heard about it through the press,” Mr. Mele continued. “The very institutions that built the 20th century are fragile, and may disappear entirely.”

The former deputy publisher of the Los Angeles Times and current director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School launched the Summer Institute speaker series with a riveting talk that focused on the role technology has played in ushering power away from the gatekeeping institutions of the past century — and into the hands of anyone with access to a smartphone.

“Forty years ago,” he said, holding up his own mobile device, “this took millions of dollars and a national security clearance.”

Although the comment elicited laughs from the Hebrew Center crowd, it did not belie the lasting consequences that the transformation has had on the world. Through humor and some striking statistics, Mr. Mele described the newspaper industry’s bleak fall in the past decade to the steel industry which has been in decline since 1980 — both industries have seen their work forces cut by approximately 60 per cent.

“Twenty-three states no longer send a reporter to Washington,” Mr. Mele said.

The effect of this change became all too apparent in the last election. “Local reporting has been decimated in the United States, and that gap, that void has been filled with what the President calls fake news, and I what like to call information pollution,” Mr. Mele said.

He also outlined reasons for hope. At the Shorenstein Center, Mr. Mele and his army of graduate students worked with dozens of French media outlets during their election, using an algorithm to spot viral stories and filter out the false ones. “We were a clearing house for newsrooms,” Mr. Mele said. He plans do to the same thing for the upcoming 2018 midterms with most major American media companies.

He stressed the importance of combating falsities with a different style of reporting. He used the swirling rumors about Mr. Obama’s religion as an example. “Instead of saying Obama is a Muslim is false . . . we need to write stories about the church where Obama was baptized.”

The sentiment struck a chord with the Island audience. “I thought it was really good,” said Chilmark resident Stephen Shapse afterward. “The biggest takeaway was that you have to change the narrative.”

Mr. Mele has made a career and a home life out of changing the narrative. He helped usher the Los Angeles Times into the digital age, 3D prints toys for his children and loves Victorian poetry.

He ended his talk by reciting from memory Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush, a bold evocation of hope in seemingly grim times.

“I don’t mind looking at the past,” he said, “but we’ve got to make some room for the future.”