Friday, May 4, 2012

The trouble with the news

The 24 hour news cycle. Something we all take for granted in this day and age. No longer do we have to wait until 6pm to get our news. You can find a channel telling a version of the story right now! But is this actually leading to us being better informed? Is there enough news happening every day to warrant this kind of attention? And how much of the news is only news because another news show did a segment on it? Let's explore...

With several 24/7 news stations currently on cable television, we can tune in at any time to get news from a variety of perspectives. Many of these stations focus on politics in one form or another. MSNBC, FOX, Al Jazeera. While others focus on sports related news, i.e. the dozens of ESPN channels. While you may find local news on the non-sports channels anyway, their focus is on national news that relates to their stance in politics. Fox is one that I really cannot focus on. This is because the few times I *have* watched it, they have presented "facts" that I already knew were false through my own research on the topic. I cannot, and will not, willingly watch a station that regularly presents information that is easily dis-proven. MSNBC, being the obvious flip side to Fox, is one that I am often forced to listen to. I live with other people. It is their home. As such, if they want to watch something, I end up having to listen to it. However, I have found that most of their information can be verified, and all of their shows have willingly posted retractions if some of their information turns out to be wrong. Al Jazeera television is one that I do not often watch. It is largely neutral in our constant "liberal - Conservative" debates, pointing out the flaws in our system and the arguments that tend to hold the attention of the media. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying they are unbiased. But they are more "liberal" than anything in this country can get while being mainstream. However, they are a news outlet. And often run informative shows that either debate current topics, or go into the history of decisions made in various countries.

With all these channels to choose from, which is the best? Right now conservatives listen to Fox News. Just about anyone else listens to MSNBC. Or (shudder) NPR. Those damn liberal hippies are always trying to "inform" people. Blech. Any who, tangent traversed, back to the main topic. Can one have "two extreme choices" and still be informed on either end of the spectrum? Yes, I put that entire phrase in quotation marks. Mostly because I believe one of those two news outlets tries to inform, while the other tries to keep your attention in any way possible. I am not here to tell you which is which. And this is an issue (to me). You can't have intelligent discourse if one half of the issue always believes that the other half is being misled or lied to. How can you? Everything that comes out of their mouth is just another regurgitated lie, right? How do you rationally argue against willful ignorance? Both sides in our national debate seem to have this basic stance when it comes to the electorate. Our side is right. The other side is too stubborn to get their facts straight. And that is, in large part, due to the dichotomy of our news system.

I believe that the 24 hour news cycle has forced this disconnect between the two sides of our political spectrum. They lose viewers if they don't have a related show on at all hours. But there just isn't enough information to fill all that time. So what you get are a dozen different shows, all of them giving a slightly (or sometimes the exact same) take on the stories that are currently being reported on. It isn't uncommon for an entire "news" station to dedicate a week to a specific topic, only mentioning other news that may have occurred during the week. And having the same thing said, over and over again, and then referenced by the other shows gives it more weight than the facts currently available would normally lend it. After all, if six different pundits said it, it has to be true. Right?!

Which brings us to our final topic. How can we be well informed in this digital age? This is the greatest question that we can ask. All of our news outlets, television or not, seem to be tainted with political ideals. Even our written publications cannot be trusted, as they are owned by the same folks who own the television and radio news channels. And have you tried googling anything that gets mentioned on television? 400 hits of people all commenting on it. Objective journalism is hard to come by. The "echo chamber" on each side of our political spectrum is often blamed for people being misinformed. But I think it comes down to complacency. We trust the folks we get our news from. But I don't think many of these same people are worthy of that respect.

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