Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Sources of News Can Often Affect Your Views

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, August 8 / 22

Zack Gross

I recall, when I began my years of University teaching, that one of the first things I asked my students was where they got their news and views on current events.  I was teaching a course that was a combination of history, politics and social issues.  Given that I tended to read newspapers and books and follow traditional news programs on mainstream TV and radio, I was surprised to hear that my students almost unanimously got their news from Twitter!

So, I asked one of my sons, who teaches high school, about this and was assured that such is the case for most students, and their teachers too!  How, I wondered, can one decipher concrete news from the crazy marketplace of social media that throws information, opinion and argument together into one big pot?

It’s not that I avoid or condemn social media “news
.” I am on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and find these social media useful in following family and friends in their on-going activities, catching up on local news (like the ubiquitous “Meanwhile in...” sites), keeping up my professional connections, and so on.  But, I wouldn’t have thought that social media are the best sources of well-researched, respected news coverage.  I also have wondered what it is that we call “news” today, given all the celebrity, entertainment, sports, culture and other “newsy” things that grab our attention.

There was a time, not long ago, when all our news was print or radio – or if you go back really far, by word of mouth!  There was a Golden Age of Radio during the generations between the 1930s and 60s, when print and sound were our sources of news.  TV really changed that in the 60s, displacing radio to a large extent, and digital media (iPhones, tablets, desktop computers) have muscled their way into today’s news waves, endangering the life of print and – especially in our post-modern world – even supplanting TV watching.  Many young families today don’t have a TV or a radio, and don’t get a newspaper.

In the US today, statistical research by the Pew Centre shows that 86% of Americans get at least some news from digital media (that is, the Internet), and 60% often do so.  Only one-third of Americans continue to rely on radio or magazines, and only 10% get hard copy newspapers.  Half of Americans, if they had to choose, would take digital over the other sources, while all other means of news-getting would own small shares of the other half of the population.  Younger people are most likely to follow the news on digital media, with three-quarters of people aged 18 to 29, and two-thirds of those aged 30 to 49.  42% of the younger generation get their news strictly from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media.

Statista tracks a variety of issues around news gathering and reporting.  It tells us that ten years ago 71% of the news we get digitally was thought to be trustworthy. Since that time, with the growth of social media news and the explosion of conspiracy theories and social contentiousness, digital trustworthiness in news has declined.  Social media only garner about 30%, search engines like Google and Bing about 50%, and traditional news media websites about 60%.  That is to say that our news of the day’s happenings and the current issues that affect us – although nothing is without some bias – has descended in many cases to what might be termed gossip, argument, or opinion.  The question might be:  has social media democratized our news gathering, dumbed it down, or turned it into a prize fight?

The answer is that all of us, as consumers of information – and there is so much of it – need to check out several sources on any news story to get the full picture of what is going on, and need to consider the various points of view to decide seriously what we think of them.  We also need to research the various sources of news reporting to determine which are to be believed and contribute to enlightening our society.

When I asked my students where they got their news, I probably expected too much.  Hopefully, suggesting to them what I consider the best sources helped them to improve their understanding of today’s world.  It was the same when I asked them what books they are reading and heard that so few of them read at all today.  As our lives, especially those of young people, are so influenced by video games and other visual inputs, they find books boring or too “slow
.”  This is yet another challenge for the older generation to take on…!

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Brandon-based international development organization, and co-author of the new book The Fair Trade Handbook: Building a Better World, Together.

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