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Make Yourself Smarter

Updated on February 22, 2019
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.

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I'm a baby boomer, and it amazes me how many of my contemporaries almost brag that they don't watch the news or read newspapers. They have no shortage of opinions though, so it begs the question: where do you get the information that formulates those incessant opinions?

As a career journalist, I'd advise anyone of any generation to be a wide-ranged consumer of information, never gleaning all your intel from just one or two sources. I've never bought into the conspiracy theories about the media, having never seen any hard evidence of it firsthand after more than a decade in the industry. (Instances have certainly been documented beyond my limited experience.) But the fact remains, there is only so much airtime. There are only so many column inches. The real bias lies in what editors chose to cover and what they leave on the cutting room floor or never send a crew out to cover. The very process of elimination that is the heart of daily or hourly production meetings is where the real prejudice lies. And there is no way to remove that human factor from the process. A limited number of people decide what the news is every day. That's not going to change.

Which is why the Internet is such a great tool for informing the public, but buyer beware. Forums and blogs are not news organizations. No one is editing or fact-checking. No one is certainly writing retractions or corrections. You can access myriad news organizations and public records via the Net. Pick a couple that are perceived to be liberal, a few that are perceived to be conservative, and a couple who have the reputation for being "Just the facts, m'am." (If you're not a Boomer, you might not get that reference!) Educate yourself to the difference between news reporting and commentary - then read some of both.

In my first journalism course as a freshman at the University of Georgia (one of the country's most prestigeous J-schools - a little bias from a grad!) they showed us a film (it was the Dark Ages) of three news anchors reading the same story. One had been directed to read it with a positive spin, one with a negative spin, and one as impartially as he possibly could. Our assignment was to determine which was which. After much heated debate we pooled our answers and they broke down as an even number of votes for each observed bias between all three anchors. Then we were told each anchor had been directed to read the story as objectively as they could. The bias was on our part as the audience and what we were watching for. All I'm saying is it was an interesting exercise in human nature.

Simply put: if you only have one source of information on a regular basis, YOU are as biased as the organizations you are criticising. Be a smart consumer of news: then let's hear those opinions. You'll have something to say that is worth hearing.

You probably don't want to see how news gets made any more than laws or sausages:

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