Every day when I listen to the news on the radio or read papers on the Internet (I avoid TV), I struggle with the thought that others consuming the news may be less skeptical than I am. This worries me a great deal because of the huge influence of media on our lives. The problem has become even more complex today because we are completely flooded with data from every angle (this blog included). I wanted to share some thoughts on news and information in case you can relate, critique, or otherwise benefit from it.
What is news? dictionary.com defines news as a report of an event, information, intelligence, also a person or anything worthy of journalistic treatment. The problem is separating valuable information from noise defined as “incomprehensibility resulting from irrelevant information or meaningless facts or remarks.” I define news simply as information with an effect where the key is the effect. Information with no impact is not news. Furthermore, information I cannot use is not useful news to me. A few points come to mind here.
First, news media, reporters, people all over the world commenting and reporting cannot screen what they report for impact. Just as we cannot control the consequences of our actions, they cannot and must try not to control the effects of the information they report. Therefore, they MUST simply report the facts and leave the effects alone. Attempts to try to control the impact are wrong and should be avoided because of the possible unintended consequences. Separating fact from opinion and language used to guide the reader should improve the quality of the facts reported. This applies to news and not analysis and opinions clearly marked as such. Any source which reports more than the facts as news, or provides the conclusions we must draw based on the reported facts, should probably be ignored as noise. Second, we as consumers of information must be very careful to understand what is fact and what is conclusion or analysis. We must be able to separate the opinion words from fact words used in the same sentence. Third, we must see clearly our own bias and the bias of the report/reporter/media source. Awareness of our personal screens is required for proper processing of the vast volumes of data thrown at us every second. Fourth, we must cross-validate the facts. Often the facts are incomplete or reported with a bias. In extreme cases facts are distorted and reported specifically to mislead us in a certain direction. It is our responsibility to make sure that the facts that affect our minds and consequently our behaviors are correct to our standards.
Imagine a world where news comprise of only facts, newsworthy, valuable facts that you can use, facts with effect. Also imagine all opinions and commentaries are clearly marked. In that world, we would all make better decisions every day. We would enjoy the news rather than running away from it. We would all benefit greatly. For this, I just ask reporters to stick to reporting of facts as news and I ask you to be more skeptical of what you hear, watch or read, be more aware of your screens, and be more willing to check the facts. Never fully trust what you see, hear, or read.