The Art of Being Informed

Being an informed citizen is an art form. It involves a willingness to utilize multiple news outlets in order to get a fuller grasp on a story. It also involves not blindly trusting everything you come across when you’re flipping through headlines. I’m saying this because the media is not infallible, it often falls prey to band-wagoning the news. By band-wagoning I mean that main stream media outlets will often just report what has been reported and will attribute the content to the outlet that broke the story without conducting their own reporting on the issue.

This tactic has occurred many times, for instance the Drudge Report posted an article claiming that Bill Clinton had an illegitimate child with a prostitute in Arkansas. After Drudge reported on the potential paternity claims, other news outlets followed suit. When the paternity claim turned out to be false, Drudge refused to acknowledge that he had misreported the story.

When Shirley Sherrod was accused of being racist and denying help to a farmer because of their race, the media had a field day in misreporting the news. The story first broke on a blog and ended up on all the major network news shows with reporters referring to Sherrod as a racist and with those closely associated to Fox News calling for her resignation. After the farmer in question spoke out and said Sherrod had helped her, the media tried to back peddle and attribute the blame to the blog they lifted the story from.

So where is the public supposed to turn for news if the media can and sometimes does distribute misinformation? I would say that the public needs to learn to take their news with a grain of salt, that they need to question what they read and that they should depend on several outlets for information instead of just one or two. The public should also take stock of what they’re hearing/reading – if CNN is the only outlet reporting that a suspect has been captured, but no one else in confirming it, then maybe CNN got it wrong (like they did with the Boston Marathon). If multiple news outlets are reporting the same story, but its the exact same story from the same person being reported everywhere, take the time to question why these outlets haven’t taken any steps toward publishing any original reporting with this issue.

The people who operate within the media are actually humans, they mess up. It is the public’s choice to determine whether or not they’re going to blindly believe whatever the media reports. Take the initiative to see what different organizations are saying, don’t be a sheep and just take one outlet’s word for every story. If you do that, you’re only going to get a piece of the puzzle instead of the whole picture.

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Objectivity Vs. Transparency

Let me begin by making my opinion known – I don’t think a journalist can ever be 100 percent objective when they are reporting on an issue, they can be balanced and they can be transparent, but they cannot be completely objective. (<– Oh look an example of transparency)

As a journalism student I have had it drilled into my head a thousand times over that a good journalist must write objectively. The problem with this is that people have opinions and journalists as people (I know, weird right?) are going to have a certain perspective on whatever they’re reporting on. That’s not to say they can’t craft a balanced story, but presenting all of the arguments in a story is not going to make the article objective. It makes it balanced. I believe that if a story is balanced and the journalist is transparent with their opinions about the issue they are reporting on then their work is acceptable. It’s not realistic to believe in the traditional echo of objectivity in an age where information is so readily accessible.

According to this article, “transparency is the new objectivity” within journalism. This blogger, suggests that with the rise of the Internet and the usage of links to support different claims that the media’s transparency is becoming more important than their objectivity.

David Carr (a fantastic journalist) wrote an article where he argues that the line between a journalist and an activist is blurred. He makes the point that this blurring is acceptable as long as the journalist is transparent, that they make it crystal clear where they stand with the issue they are reporting on.Carr makes the point that as long as the reporting is working to reveal the truth and as long as the truth is brought to light the reporter’s ideology is not as important.

“Journalists are responsible for following the truth wherever it may guide them. Both Ms. Gibson and Mr. Greenwald said that they would quickly follow the Snowden story even if it led to something that questioned his motives or diminished his credibility. But I do think that activism — which is admittedly accompanied by the kind of determination that can prompt discovery — can also impair vision. If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.” So what really should be asked here is: can the journalistic activists report the truth even if it negatively impacts their cause?

How do we percieve opinions?

I think the first thing to note with this story is that CNN posted this as an opinion piece. Which brings me to my first point, why didn’t CNN examine the role of WikiLeaks in the Tunisian revolution as a news story? When readers come across opinion pieces they tend to be less interested in reading them and more likely to overlook them because an opinion isn’t news.

The writer of this story isn’t some hack spewing crazy theories, he is a well respected member of a think tank. He has the credentials to be a source on this issue for a story that is perceived as news. In fact Maha Azzam has actually been cited in CNN’s news coverage on Egypt. Unfortunately because the story is an opinion piece CNN’s readers are less likely to be inclined to care much about it because an opinion does not have to be rooted in fact.

Does that make this story any less important? Despite being an opinion piece this story has several links to back up Azzam’s argument, but it doesn’t have any links connected to the statistics or quotes he refers to. So as a reader what are we supposed to believe?