Like many people, I’m finding the increased attacks on the media distressing, and ominous. Reporters are right to feel assaulted, and those who speak out against the attacks, such as Senator John McCain, are right to defend the importance – the obligation – of a free press. Condemnation of the media treads dangerous ground. Our country was founded on the principle of free speech – we’ve never not had it, and perhaps that’s why we’re so indifferent to the attacks. We as a nation don’t know what it’s like to be officially silenced, but just because it’s never happened doesn’t mean it never could. Or can, or is. It’s beginning to happen right now, before our eyes.
However, there is a legitimate reason why people are so confused about what they are taking in, and whom they can trust.
I have a degree in journalism, I was trained to uphold the standards set by three basic principles: Get the facts. Check your sources. Don’t editorialize. When I look for information, I read the news in the same way I was taught to report the news – assessing what are the facts, who are the sources, and whether it is presented in a biased or unbiased way. I read several outlets’ coverage of the same stories, and I’ve amassed a collection of sources that have proven themselves to me to be reliable. My favourites are National Public Radio, PBS News Hour, The New York Times, and BBC World News. I also trust my local newspaper. The local papers are struggling against mass media, but even in desperation to save themselves from extinction, the majority haven’t wandered from their journalistic creed. They’re overall careful and reliable. That’s why the attack Colorado State Senator Ray Scott made on the Grand Junction Sentinel made me so angry. Spewing vitriol against reporting that is not in agreement with an individual’s dogma is a thin-skinned response at best, and menacing at worst.
Before cable news and the Internet, we had limited but thorough news sources – our local newspapers, and the Big Three: CBS, ABC, NBC. Their job was straight up reporting, and the competition was only between the quality of the news, and the skill of its reporters. Now everything has exploded. We have niche news coverage like E! for celebrities and ESPN for sports, and leftist, rightist, quasi-centrist editorializing passed off as unbiased news. Everyone is competing with everyone else for readership/viewership. It’s impossible for the Big Three stations to be everything to everyone – they’ve tried it with snippets of news sandwiched between cooking segments and coverage of some pop star’s latest scandal, and it doesn’t work. They lose credibility with those of us who want the NEWS and only the news, and those of us who can get better niche coverage on specialized networks.
The glut of sources is overwhelming, and I can understand the confusion about who is trustworthy, and on what subjects. There absolutely are “fake” and seriously biased sources out there passing themselves off as legit with a certain “newsy” look or title. We see it all the time, stories picked up from unintentional or intentional sources like The Onion or Breitbart. We need to learn how to properly vet our sources.
But our population isn’t big on educating ourselves. We’re mainly looking for entertainment, and pandering to our own opinions. When we enter a forum which features unpopular opinions, we go on the attack with the zealous righteousness of bible-wielding evangelicals.
“How comforting it is to know we’re RIGHT” – an insightful statement made by a British Nun, an Oxford educated, gnostic, Champion of art, Sister Wendy Beckett. She made that observation in an interview with Bill Moyers about her unbiased, appreciative, and contemplative observations on art of many styles, movements, and purposes. She went on to say it’s only when we allow ourselves to be challenged by those things which raise discomfort in some way—be it offense, confusion, or apathy—only when we open ourselves to truths and statements which may not match up with our own views, do grow in our wisdom, and our respect for others.
I don’t think either side has done this well. I, from my liberal, journalistic point of view, have no respect for made up, unchecked stories and sources. Pandering to the lowest denominator disgusts me. And I see the other side as looking for these very things – rabid, groupthink agreement with a certain set of myopic views, true or not. I don’t get it. I see no value in it. But maybe I should try to understand it in order to promote wider lenses for both sides.
I want purveyors of “news” to get back to reporting the facts, that thing called News. We all need correct, unbiased information on which to base our understanding and come to our individual conclusions. It’s okay if we disagree, as long as we agree on one essential thing – that we know we can trust our main news sources to deliver an unvarnished, starkly factual presentation of current events that we can in turn apply to our own understanding of the world. And we can use these trustworthy sources as a yardstick by which to measure other sources against. With strong foundational material, it will soon be clear to the majority which outlets are promoting fact, and which are doling out fiction.
We’re all responsible for the state of things as they presently are—the news outlets, the dog-and-pony shows, and consumers alike. Together we created this present state of confusion. We have to clean it up together, too.
That means supporting and upholding those that deliver correctly researched and presented information, and turning away from those that want our attention, regardless of fact. Don’t give it to them. We must hold every information outlet to measurable standards already in place: what are the facts, who are the sources, and is it presented in a biased or unbiased way. And we must hold ourselves to the practice of contemplating the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may make us.