Why it’s important:
For the past near-decade now, I keep saying that my news reader app, Feedly (Though I used to use Google Reader) is the most important app on my phone. It’s the one I check constantly, it’s where I learn so much about what’s going on in the world and understand what to be looking for when I leave the house.
Twitter has been a piggyback on that for me – most journalists are on twitter, news breaks on twitter, and I have several mentors and close friends whom I first met on Twitter. I’ve learned about men’s fashion from the Tie Guy, progressive politics from Shoq, and how to look at the world differently (and interact with it) from You Too, Can Be A Guru. A close friend who works for a TV news station and I first met on twitter at a conference years ago.
At the end of the day, it all comes back to constantly finding the latest story about the world. I pride myself on being a storyteller, and it’s my spiritual belief (as a Unitarian Universalist) to spend time listening to other people’s life stories and making my own life better for hearing them, that it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to the news.
How I Got Started:
I first got hooked in 2010 when I discovered what an RSS reader is and does. I learned through “the magic” of Google that website updates can be organized chronologically and like a magazine to be read at one’s leisure and bookmarked to pick up right where you left off. That was Google Reader. After starting my college education in 2006, I started trying to soak up as much of the world as I could like a sponge, since I spent much of my childhood in denial that there was a “rest of the world” out there. I made different categories for the different things that interested me – LGBTQ Issues, Politics, Technology, Finance, ect. I even found out how to plug in blogs and Facebook/Twitter feeds from friends, to keep up with them better. Eventually Google closed down reader, and I’ve had a home at Feedly ever since.
Over time, I refined my sources. The two sites I first ever plugged in were JoeMyGod (LGBTQ Issues) and Mashable (Technology). From there, I kept looking for new sources. I started with the places they quoted from. I found David Pakman on iTunes and started looking up his sources, like Raw Story and Think Progress. The point was to learn. The point was to know what was happening at any given moment. I started looking up local news sources like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and eventually Seven Days and the Burlington Free Press. There’s a number of people that come to me with technology questions, and the only reason I know how to answer them is because I’m armed with information from places like TechCrunch, Business Insider Tech, and MacRumors.
Bias In The News & Media:
As I continue to grow in my reading, I have come to see more and more about media biases. The bias in media isn’t “Liberal” per se, but rather money. Taking a cue from David Pakman & Shoq Value, I agree that the media market seems very controlled. There is an excellent infographic that can be found here that demonstrates this point perfectly. I make a specific point to seek out independent news sources whenever possible. I have rarely been to the website of a mainstream TV station (or seen a broadcast) in the past 6-10 years.
Money talks in media. The common reference is that “Fox News is owned by the republicans” and “MSNBC and CNN are owned by the democrats.” Here’s some evidence behind that. I think it goes even deeper than that. It comes down to the advertisements you see while browsing the web, on your phone, ect. Yes, I do have a specific political leaning, but part of my journey when I came to Vermont was to open my mind more and look at the world from a different perspective.
Bernie Sanders brought up this very point in his book, Outsider In The White House. He says:
Positive stories are ignored, negative stories are played up…It’s hard to win a fight against someone behind a TV camera. We need to keep thinking about it.
The context for this quote is that he’s talking about a local Vermont news channel’s bias against him in a 1996 election, but the idea applies in so many different ways. How often do you hear any happy news stories being played, not only on TV but online and in print? Happy stories don’t bring in viewers and page views, but negative and “shocking” stories do. Fox isn’t the only station that uses this technique to hook in viewership. Bernie goes on to talk about the media blackout of opposition to the Persian Gulf War in the 90’s.
Furthermore, specific people and companies tend to be shown more favorably on different media channels, and it’s because there’s an exchange of money for it. I don’t blame news companies, per se – they are businesses too after all, but it does make it difficult to take journalism seriously when you see if time after time after time.
There is a major difference between News Reporting, News Opinion, and Entertainment. Corporate media blurs the lines between all three of these. For the longest time, even I was blinded to the differences. I used to see the two political opinion show hosts I follow (David Pakman and Rachel Maddow) as political reporting, when in fact they are opinions and not strictly reports. And yes, Rachel Maddow is part of the corporate conglomerate that is MSNBC – I do see that. What I enjoy about Maddow is that her show (in my opinion) falls on that blur between news opinion and entertainment.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine began working for a local news station that I watched regularly, that I started to understand what actual news reporting is. Of course, local news channels aren’t independent, they are franchises of their corporate versions, but for the most part, I feel they get much closer to actual reporting. Watching FOX 6 in Milwaukee is a different experience than watching the national Fox News network. Generally speaking, there’s not nearly as much effort to make local news pieces controversial. In my lifetime, I’ve noticed the subtle things that media will do to make events seem more controversial than they really are, in an effort to hook as many people as possible to them. I have been trying to train myself to speak objectively in as many situations as possible, and this blog will become virtual proof of that, assuming I ever get around to not talking about myself and my own life on here.
Another media platform that is sometimes overlooked is radio. While 40% of the world’s population has internet access, more people have access to an AM/FM radio, which is where the radio industry originates from. Now, many radio stations have obvious corporate backers, and independent radio stations have risen up. The David Pakman Show started out as a radio program. RuPaul and Michelle Visage got their start in radio. This is part of why I get so excited about Podcasts, which I feel is my generation’s way of bringing radio back into the mainstream.
The bottom line is that I want my time and consumption dollars to be spent on media that’s not funded entirely by corporations that are only using the media to further their own interests. I believe that journalism should be about telling the story because it is compelling enough on it’s own, not because a reporter is being paid to tell it through a specific lens. And before you comment – I do recognize how “idealist” this sounds. It’s just my opinion.
Every so often, I go through a cycle of cutting off some of my sources, if only for a little bit. I experience news fatigue. There’s just so much information coming at me in my own feed (Feedly, Facebook, plus Twitter is quite a lot), that I can’t handle all of it on the level that I used to. I actually tried to watch Pakman on TV instead of keeping up with his show via Podcast, and it got too overwhelming to constantly have to go in and add his videos to a playlist before I could watch them.
I’m curious to see if that rings true when/if I do go back to regularly listening to Pakman.
The news will always be important to me. For a brief period, I even considered changing my college major to journalism/communication to pursue it as a career. As I continue to look to it for my information, I will continue to improve my reading not only the articles themselves, but reading between the lines and seeing where the story is coming from and who wants it known. I’m looking forward to continuing to look at different sources, listening/reading about life from different perspectives, and expanding the way I see the universe.