Being properly educated in the modern world is as important as ever, but it can be difficult with the mess we have in the United States that is the media. There are endless sources of information to read, many with contrasting ideas and stories, and it can seem impossible to determine what information is accurate and trustworthy. Or worse than that, many Americans do not even stop to consider that the information they read or see may not be accurate.
It is commonplace for people to choose one or a few media sources to follow, and that is where they get most or all of their news. With that comes a number of problems and questions: How do major media sources decide what information to publish? Do our popular and trusted news sources really classify as news? Unfortunately, the situation is extremely ambiguous.
Types of News
There are three main types of news that indicate the accuracy or nature of a news report. Most news sources utilize a combination of these types.
Hard news: As the most factual and non-biased type of news, hard news depends on seriousness and timeliness. This refers to important topics, such as politics, war, disasters, science, and economics, and events that occurred recently and are relevant to the current day.
To stay properly educated on national and global affairs, your information sources should mainly be hard news. Most importantly, you should be aware of whether a source is hard or soft news, and take that into account when digesting the information. Good hard news sources will value integrity and neutrality, such as Newtrals, an unbiased media outlet who fact check their sources and keep opinions out of their reporting.
Soft news: In contrast, soft news usually features less important or relevant topics. This includes sports, celebrity affairs, and entertainment fields such as film and music. Timeliness is not critical for soft news, so it can include important topics that are not event-driven, such as discussion of political or social trends. In those cases, it is important to consider the motivation behind the coverage of that issue.
Infotainment: This is a new category of news describing information presented in a way that is intended to be entertaining. This most exemplifies satirical or humorous TV shows such as Late Night with Seth Meyers or The Daily Show. While sources like these present facts and reference current events, the information can be presented in a misleading way.
More and more media sources are leaning towards the infotainment classification due to the nature of profit-driven media that strives to attract more viewers. Although a news source may not intend to alter the truth, their motivation of gaining viewers impacts the type of coverage they choose to publish and how they frame news stories. In a sense, almost all news has become entertainment-driven.
Who is Obligated to Tell the Truth?
When we expect a single source to deliver us information every single day, how can we trust that source to deliver accurate news? News sources legally have to tell the truth, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.
Cable news networks have no governmental classifications or regulations. They do not have any specific licensing to say that they are “entertainment” or “news” sources. In short, they have no rules dictating the kind of content they air. Networks like CNN and Fox News therefore are not necessarily legally obligated to present unbiased, factual information.
Similarly, the internet does not have monitored rules and regulations to ensure that a news source provides unbiased and accurate information (if it claims to do so). Government involvement is well behind the development of technology, and therefore it is extremely easy for information to be presented in a misleading way online. Additionally, major online news sources are further driven by clicks and subscriptions, and less by integrity and neutrality.
The FCC will step in if a major falsification occurs that attracts attention, however they simply do not have the resources to monitor all major sources on a daily basis. The few regulations that do exist cannot be properly enforced with our current system.
Overall, there is no longer a golden standard on journalism to provide intensive, inclusive, and accurate news. Now, it is safe to say that major news sources are not blatantly lying or spreading false information on a daily basis. However, the lack of regulation is profound when it comes to how a source presents information and what information it chooses to present at all. The same facts can be presented in vastly different ways to encourage a viewer to come to different conclusions, and that is extremely important when individuals only view one news source, and there is no standard of neutrality.
Tips for Staying Informed
With all of this in mind, here are some tips to help you stay properly informed in the age of over-information:
- Branch out: Read multiple different news sources, especially on the same topic. This will widen your perspectives and give you a more in depth understanding of issues.
- Fact check: Check the references on every article or story you read. If there are not reliable sources, the information may not be accurate.
- Go international: Reading international news sources is highly recommended to get an unbiased view on an event or issue.
Converse with the community: Actively try to have conversations with those around you and try to speak with individuals different from you. This helps you to understand the perspective of others and how that depends on the information they see.