T (my husband) is back with another guest post. Today he’s sharing his thoughts on the challenge of sorting through media content in the age of the Internet. He’s worked as a journalist for more than 20 years and is a big believer that we as consumers play a huge role in “policing” the media with our critical thinking skills.
“Who wrote it? Who benefits?”
In my four years of college, I believe that phrase was the most important one I heard. Or rather, the most important question I learned to always ask. I majored in journalism, but that phrase wasn’t presented to me in a journalism class (even though it has a lot to do with journalism). It was presented in a philosophy (my minor) class that focused on logic and critical thinking.
That phrase is becoming even more important as time passes and the Internet has become the primary source of information for nearly all of us. We are inundated with things to read, view and listen to today. It’s accessible whenever we want it, right there on the phones that we have on us 24/7.
This is both extremely useful and quite dangerous all at the same time. It’s useful in that we have the opportunity to educate ourselves essentially for free whenever we want on whatever topic we choose. It’s dangerous because we have to sort through a bunch of garbage to do so.
That brings me back to the phrase: “Who wrote it? Who benefits?”
If someone writes something and puts it out for others to read, they do it for a reason, right? Considering what that reason might be is crucial to figuring out how accurate and credible the information is that’s being presented.
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So who can you trust?
As much as “the media” is lambasted these days, the best source to go to in order to get an accurate view of an event or happening is a credible reporter who is employed by a reputable organization. Some believe these things don’t exist anymore, but they absolutely do, particularly at the local level. We, as consumers of news/media, just need to pay close enough attention to recognize them.
By the very nature of his/her profession, a reporter is only as good as the accuracy of his/her reporting. If the facts in the story are untrue, the reporter will face consequences and the organization could face a lawsuit. That reporter actually benefits by putting out accurate information every day because that is his/her job. They do it by following the principles of good journalism, which include attributing all information to a credible source and giving all relevant viewpoints an opportunity to be included.
It’s also very important to always recognize the difference between reporting and commentary. Opinion writers/commentators are trying to convince you of something. A good reporter will never do that. For me, this is the biggest problem with 24 hour cable news. There is very little reporting throughout the day. It’s mostly commentary. I personally don’t believe it offers us much value at all.
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If a news story leaves you with more questions than answers then it’s a bad piece of reporting. Unfortunately, as the Internet has become more and more pervasive, there seems to be a rise in opportunists disguised as journalists. They know what a certain segment of the population wants to hear or read and they give it to them in order to build a following and, ultimately, to cash in monetarily. It’s sort of like a new industry that you could call “bias confirming content.” There’s plenty of demand for it and lots of it out there, and it’s extremely unfortunate how many people fall for it.
My personal rule is that I don’t accept anything I read/view/hear as 100 percent factual. Instead, I weigh the credibility on a scale based on the reliability of the source it’s coming from. The more I see something presented from various credible sources, the more I believe it to be true. In addition, before or after reading anything, I take a look at who wrote it, and if I am not familiar with them, I do a little research. It’s surprising how little you sometimes need to learn about an author to get a decent idea as to how they might benefit from what they’re putting out there.
Harper Lee has a quote: “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” It’s true. If you want your bias’ confirmed there are a whole lot of pieces that will oblige that. If you want to truly educate yourself and get as close to the truth as possible, you’ll have to dig a little deeper into the source of the information.
*Click HERE to read more of T’s Guest Posts.