News media has seamlessly integrated itself into our day-to-day lives — so much so that its scale sometimes goes unnoticed.
Social media is peppered with activists speaking out, 30 second video clips with brightly colored captions grabbing your attention left and right and articles reporting the latest political happenings. In today’s world, any scrap of information is easily accessible and reported on constantly. This puts us in an incredibly powerful and progressive era in history, and it has a number of implications.
First, it makes it easier to hold authority figures accountable and be intensely critical of every move made by public figures. Second, it created a business boom for media organizations. That can be great for companies like CNN, but it also can skew news to boost ratings. Third, it has given a platform to anyone who wants to tell a story, which is an incredible privilege but an even larger responsibility. All these implications puts an onus on the public to be objective when faced with the facts, and more importantly, to be responsible and critical of news sources.
Let’s start with the former. Aligning your media consumption with your own personal opinions is completely understandable. It feels comforting to see your opinions shared on a national stage, even more so when people respond with support, affirming them in your mind.
Too much time in this bubble can be limiting to your own growth. Stepping outside your comfort zone in any facet of life can be rewarding, and it’s the same story when it comes to media consumption. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done, simply because some news organizations lean so far to one side that the presentation of the story is, at times, exaggerated, over-analyzed or sensationalized. This makes it hard to identify when its accuracy is not its calling card, but its attention-grabbing value.
Journalists are supposed to simply pursue the truth and report it, not pursue the truth, editorialize it and spin it for profit. Most folks don’t have the time, or in some cases, the patience, to constantly dig deeper to uncover the simple, unbiased facts of a situation — that’s supposed to be up to the journalists.
Recognizing the shortcomings or biases of particular outlets is a tremendous first step in evaluating your own stance accurately. Additionally, this is by no means a bashing of news outlets — the majority cover news accurately and pay mind to every relevant detail.
Critical consumption should not be confused with cynicism, and we must maintain trust in the media to avoid skepticism to the point of avoidance. But uncovering which sources can be trusted to report objectively is necessary.
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This responsibility has become ever more prevalent with the emergence of social media as a news outlet. The platform, in theory, is almost perfect. A forum of billions of people who can be reached with a click of a button. For reputable news sources, this is the ultimate tool.
But the ease of the medium and its many benefits are not recognized only by established sources. Instead, the media machine turned into a valuable business opportunity for non-journalists. The New York Times reported on this puzzling situation, in which people ranging from former lawyers to families in the Philippines were churning out stories that were often untrue, but made significant cash from advertising. Not only were these stories falsified, but their implications were enormous, seeing that the common theme was politically charged pieces during the election.
The public would snarf up the inaccurate information like it was the last crescent roll at dinner, because it appealed to the polarized American population. This has created a serious problem that should never have existed in the first place. Biased news is nothing new, but fake news is.
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While media organizations turn profits, the distribution of content should never be economically influenced. Furthermore, being cognizant of economic motivations looming beneath the words in an article will make you a more responsible consumer, as you’ll view each story from a factual standpoint and understand there are motivations behind reporting each story apart from its content.
Next time you read an article from an unfamiliar source, do some research afterwards. This doesn’t have to be time consuming — a simple Google search of the author will suffice. Learn from what you find, positive or negative, and become the best consumer you can.
Lucas Johnson ([email protected]) is a freshman and intends to major in journalism.