Blog Post: The News Media, Politics, Group Think and What the News Media Should Be Doing

Linda Elder
Oct 13, 2020 • 6d ago
The News Media, Politics, Group Think and What the News Media Should Be Doing

{"ops":[{"insert":"The logic of the news media is both simple and complex. On the one hand, many reporters see themselves as objectively informing the public of important information—and in many cases, this is precisely what they are doing. Yet, on the other hand, it seems that reporters themselves do not have a shared conception of objectivity in the news. Indeed, the Society for Professional Journalism has recently removed the term “objectivity” from its list of primary purposes because the term now apparently means different things to different journalists (Atkins, 2016). One might then ask: how can the news be objective when reporters themselves have neither a shared understanding of the very term “objective,” nor feel the need even to aspire to it in their work?\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"POLITICAL INFLUENCES, ADVERTISING, AND GROUP THINK"},{"insert":"\nThe lack of a shared concept of “objectivity” on the part of journalists reveals that reporting the news is not so straightforward as it usually appears and is presented.\n \nYet there is an overarching logic underlying the news of which critical news consumers are well aware, and which is the primary focus of this book. For instance, you cannot critically examine the news without understanding the connection between politics and news coverage, because political parties often have deep affiliations with major news outlets—increasingly so as advocacy journalism has become more the norm than an anomaly in recent times. Indeed, some news outlets are flagrant voices for a given political party, without demur nor apparent need to\nexplain their political biases.\n \nJust as politics plays a major role in media bias, so also does money, since politics and money typically go hand in hand. Political forces and advertisers influence media content in ways frequently hidden from the news consumer. Consequently, to understand the logic of the news media is to understand, as a beginning place, the logic of the relationships between the news media, politics, and economics (or, in other words, money).\n \nAnother key variable in grasping the logic of the news entails understanding sociocentric biases, or group think, and how group biases affect the news as it is disseminated to the people—including the fact that people fundamentally want to agree with the news and therefore seek news outlets that validate their own biases, prejudices, and worldviews. In other words, because the news must be sold to the people, naturally it must be palatable to its audience.\n \nConsequently, news outlets typically give their audiences what they want to hear and will naturally agree with. Clearly this is not in line with critical thinking or objectively discerning what is happening in the world.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Whenever you seek the news from one or more outlets, you might therefore ask:"},{"insert":"\n• To what degree and how is “the news,” as presented by this outlet, affected by politics and the political climate? (Politics)\n• Do the owners of this news outlet hold a particular political position, and if so, how might their political views and affiliations influence the ways in which “news” is disseminated through this outlet? (Politics)\n• To what degree is the news affected by the wishes and motives of advertisers that largely pay for the news? How can this even be determined? (Money)\n• To what degree is news being given to the people in accordance with what they want or like to hear, rather than making them uncomfortable by telling them news they would rather not know or have to face? (Sociocentrism or groupthink)\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"TECHNOLOGICAL NOISE IN THE NEWS"},{"insert":"\nAdding to these complexities, current trends in technology have radically changed the way we experience the news. Through their questions, critical thinkers examine how these complexities affect the way they receive, pursue, and interpret the news.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"For instance, critical thinkers might ask:"},{"insert":"\n• How is my ability to think deeply about complex issues presented in the news being affected by the constant bombardment of advertisements from companies strictly targeting me, increasing the likelihood that I will be highly distracted by those ads (precisely because they are designed to appeal specifically to me)? In other words, how does this barrage of personal ads affect my ability to read and reasonably interpret the news across different platforms? (We now have ad blocking software that can be downloaded to cut down on some of this noise.)\n• If I’m reading all of my news on a small device like a cell phone, how do I experience the news differently from when I can see it on a larger page such as a magazine, newspaper, or even a larger computer screen? How can I even know how this is affecting my ability to reasonably interpret the news? In the end, it is up to each of us to ask these questions as well:\n• What news outlets should I pursue? What criteria am I using to make this decision?\n• Do my biases lead me toward certain news outlets and away from others?\n• How can I find reputable alternative news sources?\n• Am I even open to considering alternative, perhaps more reasonable, ways of looking at the news?\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"WHAT WE NEED THE NEWS MEDIA TO DO FOR US"},{"insert":"\nAs readers of the news, we are often caught up in following news stories as if they came to us from on high—as if these were the only stories worth knowing, since they are the ones given to us by whichever particular news outlets we choose to follow. But when we look closely at what passes for news, we may wonder whether more important or enlightening stories are being ignored, and whether we are wasting our time, or being misled, by the stories we read.\n \nWhat we need the news media to do, among other important things, is:\n1. Illuminate best practices throughout human societies in potentially every important domain of human thought.\n2. Focus on what is most significant in advancing human life and wellbeing, rather than highlighting and propagating the trivial.\n3. Enlighten and educate us.\n4. Point out the most pressing problems we humans face, including our treatment of one another, other sentient creatures, and our home—planet earth.\n5. Illuminate problems from all reasonable significant perspectives, without fearing that news consumers may take a position contrary to the “party line” or the status quo.\n6. Offer real investigative journalism that uncovers issues which should be of concern to us.\n \nCritical consumers of the news are aware of the inherent weaknesses in the logic of news media largely controlled by money, political power, and groupthink. They therefore seek ways, through alternative news sources, to counter biased mainstream news. And they have a broader historical perspective of the news, with a keen awareness of how news stories today fit into broader historical patterns of human ideas and actions.\n \n\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Adapted from an excerpt (pp. 7-9) from our forthcoming book: "},{"insert":"Fact Over Fake: A critical thinkers guide to media bias and political propaganda"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":", by Richard Paul and Linda Elder (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2020, in press:"},{"insert":"\n"}]}

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