Reading the News, Deeply

I remember a time when there was a just a few sources for news. When I was growing up there was the local newspaper, three television networks and magazines like Time (read in waiting rooms). Even after we got cable while I was in High School, CNN was nothing more than expanded, 24 hour a day news channel much like the news on regular TV or from the newspaper. Journalists tried to provide information that was at least confirmed and had been filtered through the prevailing notions of the time. Even if the reporting wasn’t always completely accurate and even it was somewhat biased by political or financial considerations, it was a received truth that created a common world view for citizens. If ther was a single point of view at least it was everyone’s.

In their book Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel present the case that individuals now have to take on that role for themselves. With more and more primary information available, understanding an issue now involves searching out multiple sources on the net, synthesizing a personal view. This may be as simple as avoiding the trap of one sided presentation of a situation and searching out other reports to verify or perhaps present a more nuanced picture.

The presidential campaigns have raised fundamental questions about the US, its role in the world and its future. I’m finding much of the conversation to be unconvincing from all sides. Some of the changes to tax policy, trade pacts and immigration are quite radical with potentially far-reaching unintended consequences. Of course, in line with the ideas described in Blur, I’ve been reading multiple sources, opinion across the spectrum and fact checking if possible.

Some of the questions I have are pushing me towards reading some political science, economics and history a bit more in depth order to understand context. For example, I just finished Martha Nussbaum’s Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality. Why is political economy relevant to Deciding Better? It’s an example of a complex system. The constitution provides a framework and set of rules. The actor within create an ecology of ideas that govern real events. Even constitutional rights are fluid and changeable. These ideas of tolerance and free exercise have changed over time with fear being a major driver of minority rights being infringed.

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