Lately, life has felt like one never ending breaking news segment, each moment more depressing than the last. The constant changes have created a surge of reporting where people can easily get lost under mountains of information. It’s no wonder, then, that people have turned to curating their own news feeds to get the news. This includes following their favorite journalists or publications on social media, subscribing to certain late night news programs, and reading certain blogs. The fact that people are becoming much more active in politics and current events is commendable. However, with the rise of alternative facts and fake news, the legitimacy of news reporting has come into the spotlight. It’s also raised concerns about what kind of news people pay attention to. Studies show that people are more likely to read news from organizations that they are confident they’ll agree with. Articles written by journalists with opposing values or affiliations are largely ignored. But does this matter? The news is still being read by someone, somewhere. The question is, how important is it to diversify our news sources?
Truthfully, treating news like it can be consumed Ã la carte is not a recent development. In 2009, Ohio State University ran a study with 156 students in which they had a few minutes to decide if they wanted to continue reading an article based on its positive or negative title. Each article tackled a different hot-button issue, abortion and gun control to name a couple, and made it clear what stance it would take in the first few sentences. Prior to this task, the students had revealed their own opinions on those issues with the study’s researchers. The Ohio State researchers found that their subjects spent “36 percent more time reading articles that agreed with their point of view than they did reading text that challenged their opinions.” In 2015, the LA Times essentially corroborated Ohio State’s research by reporting on another study done by the University of Michigan. In that study, 10 million Facebook users, who publicly stated their political affiliation, had their activity analyzed. Not only did those users single out news organizations that were inline with their party, but they filled their friends list with people who thought similar to them.
The inclination to curate personal newsfeeds, however, has a downside. Shunning journalists or organizations that have different viewpoints most likely means that news readers are only consuming half of the news. Every news site has categories that they focus on and categories that they don’t. Most news sites also include opinion pieces in which journalists synthesize the facts that they have accumulated. Reading another person’s opinion can be helpful to understanding the facts. These days, hard facts are not only difficult to come by, but also difficult to parse meaning from. The government and government officials have always been prone to double speak or vague explanations that journalists interpret with their articles. However, like language, facts, speeches, and events can be interpreted in different ways based on who’s doing the interpreting. It’s like tear or tear, one is the act of ripping something, the other happens when a person is sad. Just by looking at the words it’s difficult to understand what is being talked about. But by adding explanations from someone who can tell the difference of significance, the person reading these words can grasp what is actually going on and can prepare themselves for what is happening next.
In this political climate, informing oneself of current affairs couldn’t be more important. This unfortunately means that opposing viewpoints are necessary to getting to the whole truth. News organizations with opposing values can be beneficial for audiences to subscribe to. However, many right and left wing organizations have underlying biases (racist and sexist views) that cloud their reporting. Because of this it’s also important that news is thoroughly verified and the journalists who write it are properly vetted before society consumes it. This means that in order to be thoroughly informed about current events, members of society should subscribe to a variety of different news organizations and sources. With those checks and balances in order, it will become easier for society to understand the world around them.
By Lilian Uzokwe