Outrages & Insights / Consider the sources
As a major election cycle begins, getting accurate information is key
Jim Heaney is editor of Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative reporting center based in Buffalo.
Near the end of his lecture last summer at the Chautauqua Institutution, Bill Moyers urged the audience to be mindful of the media they consume: “Be careful of what you subscribe to, be careful of what you read.”
It’s good advice, given that we’re awash in media, much of it the intellectual equivalent of junk food. Witness Fox News. Several studies have determined that its regular viewers are less informed about current affairs than those who get their information from mainstream outlets. In fact, studies have established that Fox News viewers know less about current affairs than people who don’t follow the news at all. (Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2012)
Put another way: When it comes to the news, you are what you eat. I’ve gotten more particular about what I read, watch, and listen to over the past year. Partly because of information overload, but also because I don’t like being played.
I’m still a big newspaper reader, subscribing to the print (and online) editions of the Buffalo News and New York Times. I also subscribe to the digital editions of the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Albany Times Union and am a daily reader of numerous publications that don’t have paywalls, including the Guardian and the Intercept. Oh, and the Hockey News.
As for radio, I stick with NPR for the most part. Mainstream talk radio, be it sports or politics, is simply awful in this town, as it is most places.
I don’t get my news the way a depressingly large number of Americans do—via Facebook. In fact, I have little use for Facebook, aside from distributing the work of Investigative Post. I suppose Facebook is fine for sharing personal information—if you want the world to know your business, which I don’t—but it’s been firmly established that those who want to screw with our democracy find Facebook a useful tool. The best way to avoid disinformation is to not frequent its distribution channels, and that starts with Facebook.
I’ll admit to being a heavy Twitter user, but that platform allows you to choose whose feeds you follow. Several months ago, I purged a fair number of people I follow, not because they were kooks—I mostly follow mainstream journalists—but to ease up on the overload.
YouTube? I love it, but not for news. Rather, video clips of rock bands big in the sixties and seventies. It’s amazing how much is out there. (And how good The Who was back in the day.)
Unlike most Americans, I’ve never been big on television news, aside from Investigative Post’s partners at WGRZ. I started watching cable news during the 2016 election, but that got old not that long into the Trump presidency. It wasn’t Fox News that turned me off, because I haven’t watched it for more than fifteen minutes in my entire life. No, it was punditry in general and CNN and MSNBC in particular. They broadcast a lot of noise, especially during the evening. I don’t consider Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell to be journalists; they’re news actors, spewing hot air and phony outrage.
Face it, people, you’re being played for the sake of ratings. My advice: recognize that much of the news media vying for your attention is lazy journalism, at best, and purposeful disinformation at worse.
For your news, stick with credible outlets that produce fact-based stories rather than punditry. The New York Times and Washington Post, in particular, are producing outstanding national coverage. Listen to NPR. Avoid the blah-blah-blah of cable news, especially in the evening. And be skeptical of anything that’s shared on Facebook.
Doing so will free you up to doing something much more constructive with your brain, like read a book.