One thing that’s both fascinating and confusing about the Internets is the ability of each of us to create an online world entirely built of our own interests and desires, to the exclusion of other worlds that are equally vibrant.
Thus spake Catharine P. Taylor recently on Social Media Insider.
I don’t know why Ms. Taylor finds this obvious observation either fascinating or confusing.
For many, many years prior to the emergence of the Internet, people tended to congregate and socialize with people whose viewpoints they agreed with and to shun those whose ideas were different…or at least to avoid discussing those different ideas in social settings. The old adage that, “Birds of a feather stick together,” alongside the etiquette reminder never to discuss politics or religion in polite company both attest to that. And they both go back a long way before the Internet.
No, Americans (particularly) have long — perhaps always — preferred to insulate themselves as much as possible from news, ideas, and opinions with which they disagreed except for the occasional necessity to argue them with someone with whom one’s relationship was not, perhaps, all that sanguine to begin with.
What has changed is that “back in the day” everyone got their news from common sources, of which there were relatively few. Those sources tended to report a wide variety of news, both out of a sense of journalistic integrity and for commercial reasons: you wanted to cover everyone’s favorite topics so as to draw the largest possible subscriber base.
Today, you can pick your news outlet based not on its objectivity not only in viewpoint but also in selection of news (which I would argue is even more important than viewpoint), but also based specifically on the narrowest possible perspective that coincides with your own experiences and values. The result is that almost all of us are much less well informed than we were less than a generation ago. We of the Left like to poke fun at those people who get all their news from Fox “News” which is demonstrably nothing more than a propaganda outlet for the GOP and the Right. But we are not really any better if we get all of our news from MSNBC, which is somewhat less demonstrably an outlet for the Democrats (because they have drifted too far right) but unarguably brings a distinct Leftist view to its coverage.
It is, as Biblical wisdom has it, much easier for us to see the mote in our goofy Republican uncle’s eye than to see the beam in our own.
But try, as I have, to find a news outlet that is at least reasonably objective in its choice of stories it covers and opinions it offers, without paying for the coverage, and you run into the problem that the only such sources tend to be news aggregators. These outfits don’t do any news evaluation, so their choice of stories by subject is often bizarre, even unfathomable. They are less convenient; every story involves at least two clicks. They don’t always differentiate between free and paid sources, which results in greater inefficiency. Plus, of course, they don’t generally offer coverage of your local area, which means you must also try to fill that void.
It is difficult to expand your horizons outside your narrow circle of interests, friends, and viewpoints on today’s targeted Web and in today’s screeching 24-hour news cycle dominated by the Right but populated by the Left as well. At one time, CNN could be counted on for broad coverage and reasonable objectivity but that has long since ceased to be the case; it’s now Fox Lite.
I don’t have an answer.
My own news fare tends to come from Google News (an aggregator with all the problems I just cited plus a fairly narrow list of stories it bothers with, chosen by criteria I can’t begin to fathom), Al Jazeera (which does a surprisingly objective job of news coverage and whose opinions I mostly agree with but not always) and my local TV and weekly news outlets (the local daily, the Monterey County Herald, having gone to poop in recent years). And yet if I want to understand what’s really going on with a given story, I find myself having to use Google Search and dig into outlets whose objectivity I’m not clear about. A retired journalist friend and I frequently bemoan the demise of great reporting but we can’t come up with a model that will work financially and return us to the Good Old Days. Even what we consider the three great newspapers in America — the New York and Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post — are succumbing more and more to above-the-fold garbage that, five years ago, would not have appeared anywhere in their sacred foolscap.
And now I’m starting to sound like the Old Man I am. So I’m going back into my Grandpa Cave.