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.