Navigating the news

Ryan Neely, Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

As of late, teenagers have been greatly encouraged to be aware of what is going on in the world. This, on the surface, seems like an admirable cause. Certainly as one approaches the age of voting, it makes sense to gain some perspective into just what all of these people down in D.C. are fighting about.

However, it is best to keep in mind that there are a great many people with a vested interest in obscuring the truth. Yes, it is well known that Fox News and CNN are both considerably one-sided (though, to be honest, their lack of depth is far more criminal), but bias stretches far beyond these two networks.

I know some that take pride in allegedly not paying attention to the news. However, if they end up voting one day, then they better be paying attention to the news, and if they don’t end up voting one day, then they will have carelessly wasted a right that many throughout history have valiantly fought and died for. Unfortunately, those who are “above” paying attention to the news (mostly, they say, due to the prevalent bias) end up with the most skewed and incomplete views of the world, because likely they are going to hear about major events somehow, and if not from a credible source, it can certainly be from some random website or social media account that’s reputation has not been as beaten into the ground as our two favorite cable networks.

Facebook and Twitter allow users to share any garbage they come across from any website that they choose, but most high schoolers aren’t relying on those two. Snapchat promotes heavily sensationalized news stories with its “Discover” page. It’s the modern equivalent to a tabloid shelf at a grocery store. Instagram, while not promoting itself as a source of news, does have many activists that spread their messages through images, though these certainly will not instill a nuanced understanding of the issues into those viewing them.

Other less personal digital platforms can also be quite harmful. YouTube, for example, has many creators that attempt to explain the news to younger viewers. Some do so responsibly (like Philip Defranco), but since the barrier to entry for creating videos is so low, lots of garbage and misinformation can also fester, including extremist content (provided that it doesn’t contain hate speech or threats of violence). Reddit allows the communities within it (“subreddits”) to vote on which news stories to place on their front pages, meaning that each individual subreddit becomes an echo chamber, often pushing the most sensationalized articles that can be found across the entire internet. In addition, news aggregators like those from Google and Apple allow users to read from a variety of sources, but this does not diminish the fact that many of these sources are peddling sensationalist garbage.

Many efforts have been made to inform the masses of the prevalence of media bias and misinformation. A website called AllSides compares headlines from different sources across the ideological spectrum. NewsGuard, a browser extension, rates the reliability of news sources that users encounter. However, these efforts are not without fault. AllSides pays no attention to the ethics and quality of sources, while NewsGuard seems to be mostly concerned with steering its users away from the most blatantly deceptive outlets.

Even then, while the aforementioned resources make reasonably fair judgments, their assessments are still based in opinion. True media literacy does not consist of one single authority dictating what can be trusted, rather, a reasonable skepticism of any information that seems incomplete or skewed. Ideally, people would not need to look at some sort of rating to know that Breitbart and HuffPost are nonsense. They’re not exactly coy about their leanings.

This problem would have a much simpler solution if this bias only existed on low-brow websites. Unfortunately, even large and well-respected news outlets can misrepresent situations. This has never been more prevalent than with their reporting regarding their apparent arch nemesis, Donald Trump. From their consistent assurance that he could never be the Republican nominee for president (even though he was the frontrunner throughout essentially the entire process), to their equally confident assessment that he would never win the general election (despite several key states, such as Pennsylvania and Florida, being tossups, Trump’s appeal with demographics that don’t normally vote, and the possibility of polling being skewed by the hysteria surrounding him), to their incessant hype of how Robert Mueller was supposedly going to find Russian collusion in the Trump campaign, which never materialized.

It would benefit us all to rely a bit more on wire services like Reuters. These strive to write articles that are as dispassionate and objective as possible so that they can then be republished in many smaller news outlets. Sure, perfect objectivity is not humanly possible, but these have less of the center-left slant that the broadcast networks and major newspapers have (an assessment that AllSides concurs with).

Now, obviously, the other forms of news provide their own benefits. I personally am a big fan of The Wall Street Journal’s analytical and in-depth style, often utilizing charts and graphs. They too strive for neutrality, though its opinion section has a clear conservative bent. That said, given its financial focus and high subscription cost (much more manageable for dual-enrolled students, who are eligible for a student discount through their “.edu” email addresses), it’s not for everyone.

In addition, aside from the raw news, hearing opinions is still valid and important. Opinion publications (such as National Review, which I read) and the opinion sections in other news outlets can bring new understanding to issues. I also find myself quite enjoying long-form interview podcasts/videos from people like Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, and Ben Shapiro (which have become a bit of a fad lately). They can occasionally score some quite notable guests such as Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk, and (one of the last true intellectual heavyweights) Thomas Sowell. Most of their other guests aren’t too terribly captivating, but perhaps that’s a good thing, because there isn’t enough time in the day to listen to every single thing that those people produce. I would also suggest reading books on political subjects (such as those by the aforementioned Thomas Sowell) to develop an even deeper understanding of the issues.

Yes, the sources of opinion I recommend reflect my own views (which, while generally right of center, are a bit unorthodox). While I do occasionally peruse what the other side has to say, rarely does it sway me. Please forgive me for not being impressed with such measured commentaries as “Donald Trump Is Trying to Kill You” and “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” (both published in The New York Times, no less). It is, however, important to know that partisan news outlets typically argue against the worst possible representation of their opponents’ views. The left loves talking about silly things Fox News hosts say, just the same way that the right loves talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s many strange and nonsensical remarks. Rarely do they ever refute the words of people who actually know what they’re talking about.

Even the best sources of opinion, however, are not substitutes for actual news coverage. Getting your news through somebody else’s opinions is a terrible idea. Instead of using their opinions as a supplement to the facts, in your mind, their opinions become the facts, leaving you blissfully unaware of your ideological blind spot.

No source of news is infallible. Ideally, you should be exposing yourself to multiple high-quality sources. That will help you build a fuller, more nuanced view of the world around you. And please, if nothing else, don’t get your information from social media activists or partisan news outlets and then act like you’re enlightened.