Wednesday, April 18, 2012

N is for News

I’m a news junkie. Well, technically, I’m an information junkie who gets his initial fix through the news. Over the years, I’ve developed and refined an approach to news and information that has served me well. It has two parts: The filter and the digger.

The filter is fairly simple. I read a story on the site of a mainstream news organisation and ask myself, “does this story sound like it could be true or mostly true?” Most stories from the mainstream newsmedia pass this test. Next I ask, “Based on the preponderance of evidence, is this story likely to be true?” This is where many news stories fall, because the story doesn’t answer some key questions.

For example, if I read a story about a scientific study, I’ll ask myself, “who has something to gain?” If it looks to me as if a particular industry stands to gain by the study being believed, I assume there could be a P.R. angle at work.

When evaluating news, obviously no one can know everything about every subject. However, intelligence counts far more than specific knowledge. As I often say, these days no one needs to know anything—they can just Google it. The trick is knowing who and what information to trust.

What I do, especially for important stories, is I enter the digger phase: I trace everything back to the original source. For example, suppose I read a blog where someone comments on some figures in the news. I go to the news site they link to, and it’s an amalgamator site, that is, a site that reprints other people’s news. I see who the original source was, say, a major newspaper. I go there. That story mentions facts that came from a government study, so I Google the title of the study. THEN I can look at the real information, unfiltered by newsmedia or blogger bias.

This is WAY too much time and effort for most people, and even for me much of the time, which is why I only blog about a tiny fraction of the stuff that interests me—I just don’t have time to chase down the original sources. That’s a pity, really, because I think the world would be a better place if more people refused to take others’ interpretation of things as fact without checking the original source first.

All of us—me included—sometimes place too much reliance on information from sites we may be ideologically in tune with, more or less. The problem, of course, is that they have an agenda to promote. So, most of us have little choice, in our time-strapped lives, but to get our information first from the mainstream newsmedia.

While news can be informing, consuming it does not make us informed. Instead, we need to dig deeper: We need to find the news ourselves. If  more of us did, that would be news in itself.

Here’s one of my recent blog posts with a video showing how news coverage evolves these days.

The image accompanying this post has been released into the public domain.

Click the badge above to visit other bloggers taking part in ABC Wednesday—there are a lot of interesting and very diverse blog posts!


Andy David said...

I have to agree with all that you said. Weather god or bad...we all need the news. Great post.

Scriptor Senex said...

I'm the opposite of you, I regret to say. I find so much news boring or biased and unlike you I can't be bothered doing the necessary tracing to the source. The exception is natural history items which I do tend to pursue to source and thoroughly enjoy the process.

Joy said...

A wise approach to news, and any information.
Joy - ABC Team

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks, Andy, and you're right—we DO need news!

Scriptor: Funny you should say that, it was the bias in news coverage that initially got me to start checking source material much more frequently. I also prefer to go to the source with science stories, though, sadly, a lot of original research is locked behind paywalls (except for research conducted by government—in most countries, at least).

Thanks, Joy! Let's hope more people start doing the same!

chubskulit said...

News is what keeps me update from my homeland. Nice and neat N!

Nursing to Nuclear Medicine
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

Roger Owen Green said...

I daresay that most news readers aren't as discerning as you are. I keep reading about this liberal bias in the media; if it did exist a generation or two ago, it's gone now.
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Ms. Burrito said...

I get scared of bad news!

Hope you can come by and see my NooK, thanks!

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

chubskulit: Me, too! Helps me feel connected to the place I came from when I can read about what's going on there.

Roger: Yeah, standards have dropped. I do think some of that, though, is because newsrooms are short-staffed nowadays, and there just isn't time for them to be thorough or to double check sources. And I certainly don't see any "liberal bias" in the US' mainstream media!

Ms. Burrito: Yep, no one likes bad news—that's one thing we all have in common!