News and the information age

How about those election results, eh? Pretty…surprising…all around? I’m not actually here to talk about that. I’m just exhausted by all of it at this point. I can see how it sucked from both sides of the aisle, I’ve made my peace with those who voted differently than I did. I’m trying to remain optimistic about the future, in spite of the new developments that continue to arise in the wake of November 8th.

And that sort of half-assedly segues into the actual point of this post. I know, because I’m a logical human being, that the violence, the attacks, the hatred being enacted in the name of the new President (or in protest) are not representative of the majority of supporters of either candidate. I know they are being carried out by a tiny subset of our population. I know that. But it’s all I’m seeing. All I’m hearing about. All anyone is talking about. All that’s being reported. So, in spite of my knowledge that it’s not actually everywhere all the time, it sure as hell feels like that’s the only thing going on. That’s our future. These hate-filled people are going to terrorize every last one of us and turn this country into Germany, circa 1933.

So that’s happening. Or, rather, it’s not, but it feels like it is.

Because the media is painting that picture. Mainstream, national media. Liberal media. And it is liberal, it’s biased. I don’t usually mind or complain because that’s the version of the world I prefer to hear about. Liberal media streams paint a different picture of the world than conservative media streams do (and conservative media streams are JUST as guilty about fearmongering, biased garbage, make no mistake), but it doesn’t make either side less wrong for doing so.

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It’s not, actually. It’s media bias in general, when not presented as opinion.

Recently, our attention was shifted slightly – by media outlets – from worrying about the hellhole this country will become, to worrying about “fake news sites” and the impact they had on the outcome of the election. Did anyone else notice how terrifyingly quickly everyone jumped on that bandwagon and started calling for these sites to be shut down?

To be censored?

And the sites are fighting back. Rightly so. Many of them claiming that they were the only ones drawing attention to issues that mainstream media refused to cover. They’re not wrong. USUncut may not be the most reputable source out there, but I learned about a lot of things during this election through them. Things I was not hearing about from “legitimate” news sites. And, by and large, sites like USUncut check out, factually. The problem is that they deliver the “news” with a bias, a spin. And that makes them less a “news” site and more an “opinion” site. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t taken as seriously, regardless of its accuracy. Opinion is, arguably, an integral part of the world of journalism.

And, let’s be clear, I fully believe far too many people were getting their “news” and “opinions” about the candidates from Facebook memes. But we can’t combat laziness with censorship.

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It would be better if most of these sites would be up front about the nature of their news delivery. Call it what it is so that people who read it know that there’s a bias. I would like to hope that most people, knowing there was a bias, would look to other sources to confirm the facts presented.

Because, folks, that’s the real problem.

It’s not “the media’s” fault for disseminating biased information, or even false information. And let’s be clear, I’m using “the media” as a descriptor of every site, station, paper out there that’s been posting stories under the guise of “news” – real or not. They’re not to blame.

We are.

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Will McAvoy is disappointed in you.

As consumers of information, we’ve become staggeringly lazy. A lot of that can, in my opinion, be contributed to social media. We’ve become so accustomed to sharing things quickly, and most of the time people don’t even click the post to read what’s actually being shared. We don’t pay enough attention. We don’t look for secondary sources. We see a headline we like, click “share,” and keep scrolling. How many times have we all seen friends sharing stories from The Onion as though they’re factual? I think we can all say “at least once,” and that’s too many. One false story, or meme with no basis in reality, or out-of-context soundbite can be shared/retweeted/etc to millions like that *snaps fingers.* But how quickly does anyone share the corrected information? *cricket*

Now, I’m going to call this attack on “fake news sites” exactly what I believe it to be: it’s an attack on freedom of speech. You have large swathes of the country now claiming these sites should be shut down – that we take away their voices – simply because we’re too goddamned lazy to research what we’re reading to make sure it’s true? Unacceptable. I’m not

We did this to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the influx of lazy-sharing, inaccuracies in reporting, and an industry that – at least on the national level – appears to be moving away from real, hard-hitting journalism and toward a system of talking heads with no journalistic credibility spouting a company line that’s been paid for by the highest bidder…all of this has compounded into a general distrust of the news. The “liberal” media and “conservative” media have convinced us all that the story they’re telling is the truth, and so we trust only those sources which confirm our own opinions of the world around us.

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even feel like I know what the hell is going on in the world. And I can see the temptation in silencing certain viewpoints in order to maintain the illusion of “truth,” but if we do that, who keeps the mainstream media in check? Because, let’s be clear, someone needs to, and if we disallow opinion-based “news” sites to do so, who will?

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This general distrust is painting a picture of journalism that has trickled down to every level of the system. Even to the point where people distrust their local paper because they fear it has a liberal slant to it. Maybe some do. But I believe, by and large, that most journalists follow the same ethical code. Most journalists want to tell the story – the whole story – and inform the public what’s going on, good or bad. The problem comes in when the story is being shaped by those who have a financial stake in the company.

Perhaps, then, the solution lies somewhere similar to what we’ve been demanding from our politics for years. To get the money OUT. I’m just musing at this point.

Bottom line: Somehow we have to restore trust. But we don’t do it by censoring. We do it by taking on the responsibility of fact-checking for ourselves. By looking for consistent reporting between sources, by looking for police reports ourselves, if that’s what it takes. And we have to hold our most prominent, national media sources to a higher standard. We need them to report both sides of every issue, just the facts, no bias.

I don’t know how we begin to do that, but I know that the state of “news media” in this country is pretty sad right now. And change has to come from those who consume the media, not those who create it.


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