Since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, a lot has been said about “fake news.” Lost in the 2016 campaign rhetoric was that somewhere, buried in the terabytes of “news” that ran through the social networks, were some genuine farces. In the years to come we may begin to measure the extent to which false information was disseminated in cyber-media. This research task will not be easy. And what needs to be done about it an unending debate.
But what do I care. I got news for those who were born with Facebook as their primary means of socializing, and to those who somehow cannot comprehend life existing where people left messages on memo pads. “Fake news” IS NOT NEWS!
Gosh — when was it in my life? Yes, it was in high school (before the Pittsburgh Steelers had won a Super Bowl) that our teachers taught us to “check our sources.” We learned this deep secret of intelligence called “looking for both sides of an argument.” This was expanded in college when I was expected to report on recent events using multiple sources, identifying different perspectives. I had to do this not once, but in several classes each semester. You all wouldn’t believe this, but libraries in that day had entire rooms exclusively devoted to newspapers — AND WE HAD TO BROWSE THROUGH THEM! Imagine what that was like before Google?
Another major thing that is not new is that “the news media is biased!” Ever read a newspaper from the 1880’s? I did — on microfilm (who remembers that stuff?). Partisanship and hum-buggery simply oozed from the pages. Somewhere at the turn of the previous century some reporters had this idealistic notion that journalistic standards could be agreed upon and actually taught at universities. While the effort was noble, bias remains a problem because of — pause for a breath — IT IS HUMAN NATURE!
So, another important principle we learned in college was to sniff out bias. It wasn’t to cut down the reporter, but to simply see it for what it was. Newspapers were known for their political leanings. Over time, journalists were increasingly liberal because they were, of all things, educated in liberal universities. So it is no surprise that the worldview of journalists would be somewhat liberal. But we know that, right?
Rather than go on a crusade and blame the monopolist-for-the-day (Google, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, etc.), we need to take responsibility for how we read the news. If you are a person who gets their news from only one source — you are vulnerable. You can read the New York Times, and only NYT. It’s a great newspaper with a lot of stuff in it. But in the end, your world is no bigger than the world established by the editors of the paper. If you are in a panic because Google or Pocket produce nothing but what appears to be left-leaning news, pause for a moment, take a breath, and read over the headlines. You might discover something interesting.
This goes both ways. For those who deride Fox News for being conservative, consider why it is the top news broadcaster. Is it because everybody is so stupid? Get real.
So how do you avoid “fake news?”
First rule — DO NOT GET YOUR NEWS FROM FACEBOOK OR TWITTER. These are social networks — not news agencies. They are an open-market effort to get your attention. Ignore it. As they are discovering, they may need to stick to social networking as well.
Rule #2 — Subscribe to at least one printed news source you can trust and find use of it in your daily life. For some, it is the local newspaper. For me, it was The Economist for most of my adult life, but lately I have preferred Bloomberg Businessweek. It is sad that printed media is in dramatic decline. But I can take the magazine anywhere I go, read it anytime I please, and not have to ogle a computer screen.
Rule #3 — Focus on a news portal you can trust. News portals evolved as soon as the Internet took off in the late 1990’s. The most famous is The Drudge Report which first emerged in 1997. I read over the Drudge Report at least twice a day, scanning over the headlines and reading items of interest. It is not my favorite because it is right-leaning. It is my preferred portal because it is efficient and generally good at presenting the relevant news of the day (plus some really crazy stuff).
Rule #4 — Diversify. Not only is that good financial advice, it is good for your mental and political health. There are several portals that I may visit every day, whether I want to or not.
- Bing — default portal presented in Internet Explorer. It is included with the workstation build deployed at my work site.
- Pocket — default portal presented in Firefox. I get this both at work and at home. Also, you can subscribe for a daily e-mail listing topics they determine to be of interest (which I do). In many respects, this helps me keep in touch with the younger generations.
- Google news — default portal presented on Chrome, but available to anyone with a Google account through its news applet. My cheap smartphone only has room for this new service.
- A favorite news service — Note, this is a news service, not a news portal. I currently receive the Bloomberg topics of the day via e-mail. But I hope most of us use at least one source that we can generally trust. I tend to regularly visit Fox News, but my daily circuit may include a visit to any number of sites. I find it useful to check out other sites that present a different “bias”, if you will, like NPR/PBS, BBC, MSNBC or CNN.
Rule #5 — Follow the current events — and look for appropriate related news sources. These are news sources that for the moment affect your life the most. With contacts scattered throughout the planet, I find certain topics of more interest than others and seek out reliable news sources.
It was the general agreement amongst our Founding Fathers that a critical component of the success of democracy was an educated public and a free press. The two go together and it is quite harrowing to read of how bad the press was in the early days of our republic. A better educated public was the best safeguard against irresponsible reporting, and honest reporting was the best way to keep the public informed. That holds true to this day.
Drudge Report — see ol’ Wikepedia
© Copyright 2018 to Eric Niewoehner