History has been made today.
It was made yesterday as well, and tomorrow has promise for new developments.
Today’s history is being chronicled by millions of people around the world. We call it “news,” but the term doesn’t capture everything it means to our society. News can provide connection, comprehension, warning or encouragement. In its purest sense, it is information, and that information is power.
There are many ways of getting this information, but sadly, many people don’t want to know and excuse their self-imposed ignorance with, “I don’t pay attention to the news. It’s all bad anyway.” Others will follow only sources that support their particular viewpoint, which greatly limits their ability to see the big picture.
The role of a free press
I am a journalist who has always viewed freedom of speech, especially its support of a free press, as the greatest gift our founding fathers provided. Our founders gave us the right to know what our government is doing and also the right to comment, criticize and question. In its essence, the First Amendment establishes the press as America’s watchdog or the fourth branch of government – the entity that keeps the other three branches honest. The press should also be the watchdog and town crier with big business and social injustice issues. It hasn’t always played out that way, but I still have hope.
Many will argue that today’s journalism has lost its edge and has given up its responsibility to be the unbiased reporters of the facts that allow people can make their own decisions. Perhaps it has. We’ve lost the power of investigative journalism because few media outlets have the manpower or financial resources to support it; we’ve lost the unbiased presentation of the facts because of the proliferation of outlets that serve specific viewpoints; and the saddest thing of all, we as a people have lost interest.
The danger of opinions and avoidance
We’ve lost interest, but we still have opinions, and we view those opinions as indisputable facts. Our experiences and our role in society shape how we perceive things. Consequently, we tend to filter out or condemn anything that doesn’t match our pre-existing perceptions while we seek, notice and remember the items that match. In essence, we base on our opinions on one-sided information; however, informed decision-making and well-based opinions, mandate we examine all sides of an issue.
We can’t afford to tune out or discredit information simply because it goes against our comfortable views. Like it or not, that information impacts your life. Washington’s decisions affect your family. Business news can create a new job opportunity for you or destroy the one you already have. The events in the Middle East have a ripple effect in your hometown. Even your clothing choices aren’t immune to news; Madison Avenue sets the standard for the apparel you buy at your local store.
You owe it to yourself to get the “real story”
How do we change this? I would love to see a return to bias-free, hard-hitting investigative reporting, but those stories are few and far between. It’s up to us.
The Internet now gives us access to a variety of news sources that can expose us to new points of view and help us find the real truth behind stories. Keep in mind the validity of many Internet sources is questionable at best, and you should never believe, “I read it online; therefore, it must be true.”
As a college journalism instructor, I encourage my students to get their information from a variety of reputable and ideologically different sources, and I encourage them to fact-check the information they obtain. Why? Each source will have a different perspective, but you can create the “real picture” by comparing and contrasting the different viewpoints and filtering them through the lens of accuracy.
Dig deep as well. Television news gives you a snapshot of what is happening, but newspapers and other online sources can give you the full details. It’s okay to read the pundits, follow the bloggers and listen to the talk show hosts, but recognize they are presenting only one view on a topic. You need to explore what the other sides say as well. Don’t forget sources such as journals, scholars, historians or international media.
History is happening right outside your front door. Don’t rely on one person or one source to tell you what happened or how you should feel about it.
Seek out diverse sources, find the real truth by comparing the viewpoints, check the facts yourself, and then use the information to create your own opinion.
The author, Kim Helminski Keller, earned her B.A. and M.A. in journalism from the University of Memphis and has worked as a reporter, public relations professional and university instructor. She is also accredited in public relations by the Public Relations Society of America and certified in community relations by Boston College Center for Corporate Community Relations.
Reprinted from Roadkill Goldfish (Nov. 6, 2013)