In news stories, scrutinize the source

This week, I embarrassed myself pretty badly. I was on my way to class, minding my own business, when I thought I saw one of my friends in the distance. I didn’t have my glasses on that morning, so I couldn’t quite tell one way or the other. As I was getting closer, I yelled out his name.

Yeah, turns out it wasn’t him at all, but someone that looked like him. Whatever, it happens to everyone. But there is something to be learned from the experience: it is hard to determine what we are seeing when we are distant and removed from the situation. To use an example, look at conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of JFK. It has now been fifty years, and there are still people arguing one conspiracy theory after another, each either building off of or completely disregarding theories that came before. The conspiracies surrounding JFK’s death are there in order to best explain what happened. That is to say, we have a blurry view of his assassination, and the conspiracy theories are being used as different lenses in order to best be able to see what really happened.

I’m not going to rant on JFK conspiracy theories. Instead, I’m going to rant on everyday conspiracy theories.  There is one stance in politics today that I find rather odd: the media’s role of informing the public.

Explaining our love-hate relationship with the media is tough. With so many news outlets – and just as many critiques — it is hard to settle on just one topic, so I will pick an easy one: clickbait articles. Clickbait articles are easy targets for criticism because of how simplistic the news becomes. “10 Reasons Why Obama is the Greatest” is a no nonsense article title; it tells the reader exactly how long the list will be, who the list will be about, and what the list will be about—simple and easy to digest. But clickbait articles serve a need, the need being quick and easy to digest information.

Who has the need for quick and easy to digest information? People who don’t have time to read actual news, specifically 20- to 35-year-olds. Yes, we as the public have influence over companies no matter how large they are, because they are selling their services to us. So if ‘the media’ is trying to sell their products to us, then we as consumers have some power in what they sell to us. If there weren’t people reading clickbait articles, then there would be no clickbait articles, but people do read them, so companies will keep pushing.

To take this a step further, the reason that Fox slants to the right, MSNBC to the left, and CNN center left, is because they are fulfilling consumer needs. It isn’t Democrats who watch Fox, it is Republican voters that do, just as liberals watch MSNBC over any other news station. One critique that is often levied at the media companies is that they lack journalistic integrity, and that they care more about what advertisers and stockholders say than actually reporting the news. However, that isn’t fair to the companies because it places all of the blame on them.

Again, Fox, CNN, and MSNBC are all marketing to different demographics, so they tailor their news accordingly. Fox running stories on how climate change isn’t real is not proof of the coal industry owning Fox news, it is proof that Fox viewers don’t believe in climate change. In fact, according to a Stanford study, only 60% of regular Fox viewers believed that anthropogenic climate change is real, meaning 40 percent of regular Fox viewers are climate skeptics.

Some would connect the dots and claim that Fox is turning people into skeptics, but correlation does not mean causation. What can be said, though, is that if Fox suddenly started running stories on how climate change is very real and very much a threat, there
would be a sizable part of their regular viewing population that would suddenly not be interested in watching Fox news

To tie it all together, at the beginning of the article, I talked about the troubles of blurry vision. If your eyes are blurry, you can’t see the exact shape of an object, but instead its unrefined outlines. This can of course lead to problems, such as mistaking one person for another, but it can also lead to more serious mistakes. But what is important to note is that had I worn my glasses that morning, I wouldn’t have made an ass out of myself when I called out my friend’s name. I forgot my glasses, so it was my mistake—no one else’s.

In the same way, if we want to change how we get our news, then we have to change our viewing habits. Don’t like clickbait? Don’t click on it. Think Fox’s position of skepticism on climate change is ridiculous? Persuade people to stop watching or write to the station.

The point is that casting all of the blame on companies for bad practices totally absolves us of our own sins. We have a part in the creation of their message as well, so that means we have to change it. We must ask ourselves: do we want easy information, or real information?

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