Being A News Junkie Today
We would like to be well informed people. We have read newspapers for as long as we could read. That’s partly how we absorbed major events in our civic lives: the Civil Rights Movement and JFK assassination in high school, the MLK assassination and the Vietnam War protests in college, the Women's Movement and Watergate hearings in law school. But trying to find news we can trust today is different. News and opinion have melded so we can’t immediately tell what we are reading. We don’t want to live in a bubble but we hardly know how to escape.
Where we are today didn't happen overnight. Over the past decade or so, our relationship with the news has been evolving. The overruling in 1987 of the fairness doctrine--allowing unbalanced presentations of controversial issues--had more significance than we realized, sanctioning bias and requiring that we go to multiple outlets if we wanted different views. But the internet is the big difference. Not only has it allowed credible voices to be heard in entirely new ways, but it also allows incredible voices to appear credible.
And the internet as a sales tool has caused “news” sources to become sellers of a product, sellers to whatever audience will pay the most. Bias in reporting is built in, taken for granted, approved—a valuable product. Facts--the foundation of all journalism--are up for grabs now that news is a business of hits. Differences of view do not have any common factual underpinning and cannot really be evaluated.
The internet and the “news” make facts irrelevant in another way. News cycles are so constant, and change so rapidly, that we can’t even remember what we heard about a few hours ago, let alone have a coherent or thoughtful reaction. Everything—and nothing—is “breaking news.” News addicts react to every alert, eager to draw you in: Have you heard? Did you see? Can you believe? And seldom is any of the “breaking news” about anything other than domestic politics. The rest of the world has disappeared.
“News” is now entertainment, enjoyable but treacherous if you really need to know something. We feel the draw, but try to resist. We want to know what we really need to know, but we are tired of the effort involved in separating the wheat from the chaff. We don’t want to be sold a bill of goods by a “news” outlet bent on ratings. Which is to say all such outlets. But we want to be informed citizens One of us still pays close attention all day long. The other reads the papers in the morning, glances at news events during the day, but tries hard not to engage 24/7. We both understand we need to know what we need to know.
Being informed just shouldn't be this hard. But being uninformed is not an option. How are you dealing with the “news”?