Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"You're Watching the Wrong News"

I try not to argue of Facebook. It's not what I would consider an enjoyable activity. However, with the election getting ever closer, more and more political stuff is showing up in my feed, and sometimes, against my better judgment, I feel the need to respond. This response pulls me into a war that I frankly don't have time to fight, and I generally try to extricate myself as gracefully and quickly as possible.

In one of these recent debates, I was told that I don't "watch the right news," and that I need to get "all of the facts," as if more facts will make me suddenly think people (especially black people) shouldn't be upset over the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Still, this criticism got me thinking about where I get my news and when I choose to act upon it.

First, I should note that my aunt (most of my political arguments are with my aunt, who is honestly a kind and lovely person, though her political leaning are antithetical to my own) incorrectly assumed that I watch news at all. Most of my news comes from social media (with, I would say, some healthy skepticism), radio, and some news sites that I've grown to respect and more or less trust over time (NPR, for instance).

This is an important distinction to me because I believe the way we consume media has an impact on how we absorb it. I'm not certain that reading and radio are inherently superior to watching a nightly news program, but I do believe that reading news has greater potential to include details that might be otherwise cut from certain news programs. After all, television news is on a schedule, and the producers need to make decisions about what gets air time and how much.

As such, of course ABC News and FOX News are going to air different content, because they are going to want to focus on different stories or even different aspects of the same stories with the time they're given. Again, the fact that they focus on different things doesn't inherently make one news source superior to the other. It's a simply reality given the scarcity of time.

However, my aunt specifically thinks I should be watching FOX News and other conservative news sources so that I can get "all of the facts" or "the real news." The superiority of conservative news, to her, being specifically what they report and/or how they report it. To her, what they're reporting on is the facts, while other news programs are either making stuff up or glossing over the important information.

At least, I assume that's what she believes since, having watched and listened to my fair share of conservative news over the years, that's basically what I think when I watch the news she prefers: that they often seem to be making up facts and glossing over the important stuff. And, at some point, I have to tune it out after hearing people take many of the same facts I'd hear otherwise and come to conclusions so different than my own.

There's two aspects to news: stating the facts and analysis. Both aspects can have political leanings.

Stating the facts is the purest form of news, but there's no place that simply states "all of the facts," as there's no such thing as "all of the facts." Facts are infinite, and nobody is omniscient. Every news outlet choose which facts to share, gets some facts wrong, simply doesn't have certain facts, and intentionally omits certain facts for one reason or another. Assuming that reporters don't intentionally report misinformation, the biggest factor in what gets reported is relevancy: in short, they ask themselves, "Which facts are the most relevant to the story? What most needs to be said?" Depending on their personal experience (which is generally influenced by their political ideology), reporters will judge what is most relevant.

For example, in the case of Alton Sterling, I've seen several conservative reports that feel Mr. Sterling's criminal record is relevant to the story of his death at the hands of a police officer. Liberal news sources, however, generally omit that criminal record as irrelevant, as that criminal record doesn't justify Sterling's death, and the officer who shot him was not aware of Mr. Sterling's criminal record when the officer killed him.

Many news outlets go a step beyond stating the facts by analyzing those facts. Usually, this involves commentators who come in and try to make sense of the facts presented. This is where the reporting gets more blatantly political, as commentators often end up framing their analysis through the lens of their personal politics. Even if they attempt to bring some semblance of balance to the analysis by having both right-wing and left-wing commentators, their choice of commentators or the way they moderate the discussion can still lean the discussion in favor of one side or the other.

All this to say that I'm well-aware of the differences in media outlets. As someone with a bachelor's degree in broadcast communication, there are few things I've studied more than mass media.

As such, understand that I do not choose the news sources I trust lightly. I don't blindly trust any of them, but I do trust that NPR, for instance, is more ethical, more balanced, and more likely to correct themselves when they make mistakes than most popular conservative news sources. They have some fairly obvious political leanings, but I can tell that they're at least trying to see things from the other side and to respectfully give prominent and intelligent members of the other side to give their perspectives and make their case.

That's about as balanced as you're going to get.

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