Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Facts Matter

So after my last couple posts at the end of last year, I’ve been gathering my thoughts and trying to make sense of President Trump’s presidency and his ignoring or denying of facts. I’ve also been deciding how I want to move forward from here. I’ve decided to start simple, with a reminder that facts matter, facts are real, and denying facts, even if you’re the president, doesn’t make them any less real.

More important than this, though, is the idea that we all need to educate ourselves beyond sources that reinforce our beliefs. Now, I’m not suggesting liberals read Breitbart or conservatives check out Truthdig; in fact, I encourage you not to and won’t dignify either site with a link. But it’s important to find reliable sources of news that present viewpoints that don’t mirror your own for many reasons. I suspect most reasonable people will get this already, or at least consider this once it’s laid out.

First, exposure to differing viewpoints will force you to reconsider your own views. Either your views will withstand the arguments of others, or they won’t and you’ll either need a better argument, or it may be time to consider refining your point of view.

Second, if your view does withstand the arguments of others, you’ll be able to gain an understanding of why people who think differently than you think the way they do. Maybe it’s different priorities, different moral beliefs, interpreting the facts differently (this is different from ignoring the facts), or a host of other reasons. But understanding this will better enable you to see them as people with a wide range of views instead of reducing them to the craziest people on the other side.

Third, when it comes time to debate or discuss politics with people you disagree with, you can demonstrate that you have some understanding of where they’re coming from and build some goodwill with them. Also, because you have a better understanding of their view, you can empathize with them even if you don’t agree with them. By discussing politics in this manner, you have a better chance of swaying someone to your side, and you become more open to changing your own mind when presented with a good argument and solid evidence.

Finally, reading high quality news from sources with differing points of view helps you see where the common ground is, where everyone basically agrees on things, and this can help you sort out facts, opinions, and complete fictions when consuming news from other sources. And this is important because, as noted in the title of this post, facts matter. This assumes, of course, that you’re already reading the news. If you aren’t, then also consider being informed about politics and world events another benefit of this.

There’s another reason it’s important to get news from high quality news sources, and it’s a little less obvious than the ones above. The reason is to support the people and organizations that do quality reporting and produce high quality news. If they don’t get support, in the form of page views and ad revenue or in straight up purchases, donations, and cash, then they lose the ability to do what they are doing, and we lose an important part of the media that does everything they can to keep us informed. And it’s worth noting that there is no “free news.” Good reporting costs money, and someone has to pay for it somehow.

News aggregators don’t do original reporting, nor do many opinion sites who report on other people’s reporting while providing their opinion on it. This very site is not news, as when I ramp up, I’ll mostly be writing opinion pieces based on news I’ve learned from other sources and my own personal beliefs and moral compass. While I think it’s valuable to express opinions on and debate the news, this value is different from the value of news itself. And without quality news reporting, these kinds of opinion pieces wouldn’t be possible.

So, this means if you know an organization doing quality reporting, including investigative journalism, interviews, research, and other forms of reporting that require digging up information from original sources to bring new information to light, you should support them however you can. Buy a subscription, click an ad, make a donation, read their stories and spread the word, whatever you can do. Because the media needs this support to survive.

Why should you care about this, you may ask? Because we need the media. The media gives us information so we know what our government is doing, what is happening in the world, and often through the opinion pieces they also help provide us with a solid base to build further viewpoints on, or to understand other viewpoints (see, there I go talking about understanding again). Without the media, we wouldn’t know about illegal government surveillance, abuses in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Watergate, and a whole host of other problems. It also required sacrifice from others, but without the media to report on the information these others provided, this information simply wouldn’t have made it all that far. The media also provides important day to day information, so we know what people in positions of authority are telling us meshes with the facts. Importantly, this also tells us when those same people are giving us false information, and helps us gauge how much, if at all, we should trust them.

Now above, I’ve also emphasized the importance of getting news from quality news sources. Aside from wanting good information, supporting quality news sources does something else important; it shows the demand for quality news is higher than the demand for dumbed down, heavily biased, sensationalist, or even completely fake news. Higher demand for quality news will translate into more outlets providing quality news.

I’m beginning by making a concerted effort to get more news from a larger variety of good sources. I don’t yet know the best way to vet news sources, so I’m currently relying on other people along with some intuition to get me there based on what I already know. As time goes on, I hope to get better at this and be able to do better vetting on my own, but I have to get started somehow, and this is how I’m doing it. I’ve also included links to sources that so far seem to provide quality sources of news on my sidebar in the links section. I encourage you to dive into their news and politics sections. Check out a few, even those who don’t mesh with your current viewpoints. As I read more, I expect to grow the list of news sources I’m linking to, and hopefully refine it as well.

Also, because I believe in sources, I think it’s only fair to point out that I started this list of links after talking with friends and acquaintances about where they get news and using this InfoGraphic:

Because I care about methodology and accuracy, here is an explanation from the creator of her methodology for putting it together:

Her view on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, BBC, and NPR is pretty well calibrated with my own, and so I decided to start there. This doesn’t mean she’s accurate. But it at least seemed like an ok place to start for me, until I learn and understand more.

So, that’s where I’m at now. I think it’s time for me, and for many others, to expand our consumption of news and aim for the best quality news we can find expressing a variety of viewpoints so we can become as well-informed as possible. I hope you’ll join me in this, whether you’re starting out in the same place I am, or from a level of more or less experience.

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Tune in Now for the News That Could Save Your Life

How often does the news use this tactic to get you to watch whatever news program they’re pushing? Even better, how often does the news tell you to tune in at 11 for the news that could save your life? While you’re watching the five o’clock news and they could just tell you then?

Now, I’m no genius marketer, but it sounds to me like one of two things are happening when they do this. One is that they’re holding vital information hostage so you’re forced to tune in and see what you need to do in order to survive. The other is that they’re exaggerating the danger so it seems like they have information you must have in order to survive. Either way, they’re hoping your fear of death or desire to live will keep you glued to the TV to find out what new survival tricks they’re peddling.

Generally speaking, the second alternative, that the news exaggerates the danger, seems more likely to me. If something were truly dangerous and in need of immediate attention, the emergency broadcast system would kick in. That’s what it’s for, real emergency situations. Otherwise, it’s almost always the case there is no imminent danger, and you can read all about whatever you need in the paper or online tomorrow with no real concern. Or check out the relevant news site for clips from the news. It’s not urgent, or they’d tell you now, so they just make it seem urgent so you think you need to tune in, and they can get more viewers.

On a related note, it’s the current crisis du jour that has me irritated by this. Swine flu, H1N1, whatever you want to call it has people panicking because it’s been hugely played up by the media. “It’s spreading like wildfire.” “It could wipe out tens of millions of people if it isn’t stopped.”

As Jon Stewart puts it at 2:37 in this Snoutbreak ’09 clip, “I like a good scare as much as the next guy, but for six mild cases of the flu you’re going to turn four million square miles bright red?” The four million square miles refers to Canada, for those not watching the clip. And while I understand they were just looking at Canada as another region, I think the point still stands.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t practice good hygiene to prevent getting sick or anything. I’m just saying there’s a place for precaution and a place for a little bit of perspective. Scientists studying the virus have found it’s most likely less dangerous than the seasonal flu we’re hit with every winter. Of course, that’s not nearly as exciting a news story, so it needs to be sensationalized to the point where everyone starts freaking out. At least then the news networks have viewers.

In short, I’m just ranting a little about what many people already know. Take the news with a grain of salt, and do some research on your own as well. Being cautious is good, but never leaving the house for fear of any number of the bad things that could happen to you is going to really kill your quality of life. So at least make sure it warranted that you board up your house before you go ahead with that plan. Most of the time, it’s usually not worth it. For now, it seems like this is one of those times where it’s best to just get on with life, and perhaps review our hygeine practices. A lot of the normal news outlets have picked up on this and started reporting as such. For those outlets, good job. For those still spreading fear about how we’re all going to die, please, just stop now. And for all news, in the future lets try keeping things in perspective first, then if there is a real danger to report, report it once you know, instead of latching on to any and all wild speculation that comes up.

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