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What to Make of the News March 2020



Walter's Visions

What to Make of the "News"

Is it real, simply inaccurate, or fake. 

March 2020


A strength of today’s technology driven world is the wealth of information provided via news organizations, social media outlets, blogs, various opinion pieces and other “informative” web sites.  While most of this "news" is generally accurate, unfortunately much of what is available can fall into a miss-leading, false (inaccurate), fake (deliberately inaccurate) or opinion (possibly inaccurate) category.  And we may unwittingly may exacerbate the problem by first noting the shocking and nearly unbelievable stories, and then by making them available our friends and others by using social media.  While it’s in our nature to be trusting and to want to be noticed, and alerting others to the unusual appears to make us special, this very act gives unreliable information some credibility and results in further spreading.


News organizations can play a somewhat subtle but powerful role in the reader understanding of news stories, not just in the way the story is written, but simply by how the story headline is worded.  Too many of us are rushed for time, and spend too much noting headlines without reading the story.  The result can be a slanted viewpoint of the core story, instead of a neutral viewpoint.  It sometimes seems that virtually all news organizations fail to consistently provide a simple, unbiased lead to their stories.  This is understandable as they want to draw attention to the story and spicing the lead up a little can entice the reader to read the story.


This simply means we must be ever vigilant in sourcing and evaluating our news.  Be aware that the writer may be attempting to draw attention to the article, may have a bias, or he may be misinterpreting the information.  Viewing the story from multiple outlets can be very informative, and should yield the basic facts as well as bias or distortion on the part of certain writers or outlets.  It must be up to the reader to first be aware of possible reporting bias, errors or omissions (both deliberate and unintended), and to then evaluate and come to his own conclusions.


Another significant factor in all this is you, the reader.  We all have our opinions and biases, and seek to reinforce those feeling through something known as confirmation bias.  We tend to seek out and read stories that validate our feelings, and tend to ignore those stories that challenge our views.  It’s important to be aware of our biases and tendencies, and to always try to see both sides of the issues at hand.  Almost by definition we have to believe our opinions are true, or at least are most likely to be true, but in the end we are all human and are the product of our experiences.  Keeping a corner of our mind aware of and open to other ideas is a hallmark of exceptional analytic skills. 


We have to have the ability to react to the latest facts and information be willing to change our views, but we must maintain the ability to objectively evaluate the news and opinions presented to us.  Over time we will develop strong feelings about certain subjects, but as to saying goes “never say never, and never say always”.


We do note that many current news outlets are quite reliable, although its not uncommon for an editorial bias to creep in. Being aware of where different sources fall in the reporting and leaning spectrum is critical to evaluating the news.  I could list currently reliable and unreliable sources, but that list is likely to change over time and it thus a moving target.  The message is to keep an open mind and always be cautiously skeptical of news stories, and when in doubt seek corroboration. 


A final message to those in education, our children must be able to evaluate the myriad of news and information sources that are currently available, as well as those that will undoubtedly evolve over time.  Please make thoughtful information processing a priority in the education curriculum throughout a child’s development, then future generations will feed off the important stories and fend off the alternative stories.



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