At a recent cookout I attended, the subject turned to the demotion in June of NBC’s Brian Williams from the anchor desk of the NBC Nightly News to the vast hinterlands of cable news and MSNBC. This occurred after the revelation that he fabricated multiple stories and that his “first hand” accounts of what happened were about as truthful as the score keeping at a golf scramble.
This discussion ended up turning into a debate over which news outlets one can trust, if any. As someone who works more closely around news-related material than others, I was asked which outlets I follow and “trust.” My friends probably wish they hadn’t asked the question, because I certainly have some thoughts on the topic. For the purposes of this column, I’ll list a few of my thoughts and recommendations.
Of course, media outlets are partisan, and that’s not a bad thing.
Some folks like to act as if the advent of cable news introduced partisanship into an arena that had been so very pure. That’s simply not true. Our country has had a partisan media since the Revolutionary War (yes, there were Tory media outlets and Rebel outlets). That doesn’t mean each reporter has a partisan agenda, but they may, and their owners and editors almost certainly do. It’s pretty easy to identify which way a media outlet leans by their coverage. For instance, the New York Times is traditionally a liberal outlet while the Wall Street Journal has leaned more right of center. Their editorial page leanings shouldn’t be the deciding factor on if you read their papers, but it can provide some helpful context.
If it’s on in Prime Time, it’s not a “news” show.
Full disclosure. I rarely watch any cable news programming after the 6 p.m. news. It’s not that I don’t like the shows, they just happen to conflict with my daughter’s bath time and nightly viewing of Sophia the First. Having said that, the programming on cable news in the evening may contain discussion about current events, but they are not hard news shows. So, feel free to enjoy Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Rachel Maddow, and if you’re one of the 10 people in America who watch Anderson Cooper, then kick up your feet and relax, but know that you are signing up for personality-driven issue entertainment. Sometimes these shows present newsworthy interviews, but they typically fall more into the opinion camp. If these are the only “news” shows you watch, then you’re doing it wrong.
The Internet Giveth and the Internet Taketh Away.
Quite simply, the Internet has been an awesome provider of content to people who are interested in news. However, sometimes if you’re not careful, you can find yourself regurgitating lines such as “every member of Congress gets a full pension in perpetuity no matter how long they’ve served.” Pro tip: They don’t. There are many new media sites that produce strong content, but it is important to verify what you’ve read. Also, be wary of websites that use “clickbait,” or outrageous headlines meant to attract you to the website. Strong headlines are a sign of good media, clickbait is not. Think of clickbait as the media version of the Hot Dog Pizza from Pizza Hut. You may try it out, but it’s never as good as you thought it would be, and it could leave you in a bad spot.
Read your local newspaper.
I am one of those strange creatures who still has a newspaper delivered to my home. I love to read it in the morning and can’t wrap my head around staring at my iPad that early in the day. I like reading the local paper because by and large it’s still the best source of what is going on in my community and with my state and local officials. That’s also true of you. It is the communication lifeline to your local community. Also, keep in mind that an elected official and their staff are more likely to see comments by you in a Letter to the Editor than they ever would on social media.
So my ultimate advice: If you see news pieces built on anecdotes and not facts, do some digging. If you find yourself always referencing one cable outlet, website or radio personality, try something new every once in a while. Also, know you can trust everything that you read in the pages of this publication.