Extra! Extra! Read All About It: What's in the News?
How do you find out what’s happening in the world? In your country? In your town or neighborhood? Our society has moved from town criers to newspapers and radio on to apps and the internet in order to get information from one person to another.
To develop a working sociological imagination and to be an engaged citizen in a democracy, it is imperative to know what’s going on around you. The sources you use to get this news is crucial!
One of the activities I encourage my students to do – and that I challenge myself to do – is to look for the same news story from many different sources. The common thread between all the stories may be the kernel of accurate information or it may be the programmed talking points from some organized group. Seeing the differences across many sources can help learn what the bias of the sources may be – and to learn which bias or perspective aligns with your own.
To be scientifically objective is not easy, yet we strive for that when we do research and study some subject with close scrutiny. In our everyday lives our personal biases and perspectives can limit what we expose ourselves to yet it’s still important to challenge those boundaries.
So, what source of news do you use? (Hopefully you do have some source!) Yahoo News? The New York Times? Wall Street Journal? CNN? USA Today? NPR? Fox News?TMZ?
Whether in print or online, there are many places we can get information. As an exercise in information assessment, take a look at your usual news source (or pick one from the list above). Then, choose a different source and find a news article about the same issue. Do they report the same information? Is the author the same person? Did both sources use the same original source that might have come from yet another source?
Many news outlets used to have full staffs of reporters who were out gathering information and using journalistic procedures including fact checking. Many of those news bureaus have been cut or have hired inexperienced staff.
I’ve noticed that the evening news on television stations often includes weather, sports, and interviews with actors or others who have some show on the same network to plug. It is not easy to find factual investigative news in local broadcast media!
An interesting source of information that can be used to compare information across different types of boundaries is the Newseum, an actual museum of news that exists in Washington D.C. They have a very useful website (and app) that show over 900 front pages each day from 89 countries around the world.
It is fascinating to see what different papers use. It can give you a peek into their culture and what issues are deemed important enough to put on their front pages. Historically, what they put above the fold (on the top half) is the most important information.
For instance, on one day The Anniston Star (Alabama), a homicide investigation, renewing car license plates, tornado damage, and football were the big news. The Los Angeles Times (California) led with stories on public transit, a voter poll on terrorism, a reporter from Afghanistan sharing his perspective on living in the U.S., Ohio voter opinions, and nudists in San Francisco. The Illawarra Mercury in Wollongong, Australia, had only two stories, one on rugby competition, and the other on Nazi graffiti in schools. The Namibian, from Windhoek, Namibia, had headlines relating to resettlement beneficiaries, a libel lawsuit, and influence issues of American diplomats tied to Wikileaks.
You can get a sense of what is big news in a region, especially once you track down more information such as the demographic profile and primary economic activities. Then you can see how a region connects to the wider world – or not – and you will gain an understanding of what life is like for people in those areas.
Using the plethora of information that we have available to us can be daunting if we don’t take the time to sort through it and think about what those news sources are saying about people and the society that produces it.