Could Joe be right (for once?)

Readers in my locality know that there’s a particular blogger who I am more often than not at odds with; the “Joe” in question is one who delights in attempting to hasten the demise of our local newspaper. This story is for him.

It came to me over the last few days from the folks at Pew Research. According to this report, the internet has overtaken the newspaper as a main source for national and international news. More striking are the figures for the Millennial Generation (ages 18-29) where the internet and television are dead even as a news source – 59% of young people cited one or both as a main news source.

A graph showing the percentage of Americans who receive their news from various sources, from the Pew Research Center.

After skimming through the report, I had two immediate conclusions.

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One is that the claim of media bias in the news may pale in comparison to the chasm in conservatism vs. liberalism on the internet.

The second is that, with the lack of journalistic standards practiced in some quarters, people (particularly the youth) may be more ill-informed than ever.

In this age of wireless technology and video streaming, certainly it’s possible to witness events in real time and make up one’s mind about what goes on within the range of the camera taking the video. However, the vast bulk of news isn’t from eyewitness accounts, but from someone reporting the news. In olden days, we counted on newspapers to relate the story but often the information was at least second-hand if not more remote. This improved to some extent with the advent of radio and television; the former allowed newsmakers to speak directly with the people while the latter could be present where news was being made.

Now we have the technology that allows people to be their own reporters in real time. Certainly, the age of videotape allowed news gathering by non-professionals (one example was the Rodney King beating, caught on videotape by a person playing around with a camcorder) but that still needed the prism of someone at the evening news deciding it was a story worth relating. With the advent of Youtube and other video streaming repositories, that filter is eliminated to a much greater extent.

On the other hand, as a society we still must by necessity gather our news via a second-hand source who relates events to the reader, listener, or viewer through their eyes. Obviously my post is one example – I’m taking an event which happened (a survey of adults concerning their preferences for learning about the national and international news affecting them) and shaping it in a second way, the first being what Pew Research chose to report on. In this instance, I’m adding my opinions to the mix about what I feel was newsworthy and why it was so. Unless we happen to be witness to a momentous event in person, practically everything we gather as information will by necessity come as at least second-hand knowledge, regardless of whether we read it in the newspaper, hear it on the radio, or see it on television or the internet.

And here is where a nonbiased view and accuracy come in; that is, journalism in the truest sense of the word. Sadly, that seems to be lacking more and more in the 24/7 news cycle we now live in. What good is all the incredible amount of information we can gather if it’s presented in a slanted manner which highlights only one side of the story? Even worse, if people act in a particular manner on information which is later found incorrect, the future direction of society can be altered negatively.

In 2008, America had a Presidential election where even the most hardened observers noted the coverage of candidates was slanted negatively toward one and positively toward the other. (Pew did some research of election news and how the candidates were perceived within that coverage.) While there were opportunities to hear what the candidates had to say directly in joint appearances – to the extent that a moderator shaped debate questions he or she felt were appropriate for the electorate to hear – there was still spin afterward as spokesmen and network coverage talking heads let everyone know what they needed to think about what they just saw.

While I’m fairly pleased that the medium I dabble in most is beginning to penetrate a greater audience, the truth remains that those who look for news generally just go to the website of whatever news source they trust instead of flipping to their channel or buying that particular paper at the newsstand. It’s unfortunate that Pew apparently didn’t ask further whether the internet sources used by respondents were connected in that manner; however, much of my sourcing to do monoblogue comes from sites affiliated with either newspapers or television networks, and for the near-term future bloggers will rely heavily on those same sources to put their own spin on things.

If we denizens of the internet really want to be informative and take advantage of the growing audience, we need to put an emphasis on accuracy and hold ourselves to the journalistic standards which seem to be missing from more and more news outlets who’ve become cheerleaders for one side or another. It’s a goal I strive for when I report on events and if more sites would take that into account when they place what they do for all of us to see, we could turn America into a more well-informed nation.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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