Consuming the News

I was one of those nerdy little kids in class that loved it when show and tell switched to bringing a current events article and presenting it to the class.  In my grade school, the big day was Wednesday.  I got my first subscription to The Paris Match in 7th grade and my Honors World History teacher turned me on to The Guardian in 11 th grade. My grandmother made sure we all had subscriptions to The Christian Science Monitor until the day she died. I think a lot of it had to do with being trapped in Omaha where nothing EVER happened.  I was fortunate that my family put a high priority on travel because the newspaper subscriptions were  a portion of what kept me away from becoming the archetypal Omahan.  Geographical and cultural isolation can lead to some strange people. (Cue The Deliverance banjos.)

I’ve been returning to the PEJ site now that I know it exists.  That’s where I’ve pulled this book review and an interesting set of suggestions on how to “interpret the news”.  I admit to having a preference for C-SPAN these days as I’m pretty tired of the idiots that filter and read the MSM items now.   I probably will order up the book ‘Blur, How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload’ by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. The review says its goal is to provide a “pragmatic, serious-minded guide to navigating the twenty-first century media terrain”.  That’s a serious agenda given the number of commercial news outlets we have these days.

Here’s another bit from that:

Blur provides a road map, or more specifically, reveals the craft that has been used in newsrooms by the very best journalists for getting at the truth. In an age when the line between citizen and journalist is becoming increasingly unclear, Blur is a crucial guide for those who want to know what’s true.

What I want to offer up is the list they provide.  It’s called “Ways of  Skeptical Knowing”.   My mother handed me her middle name–Jean–for my birth certificate.  She was always a true to form Show-Me-State skeptic.  That’s why I always consider “Skeptic” to be my authentic middle name.

Ways of Skeptical Knowing—Six Essential Tools for Interpreting the News

1. What kind of content am I encountering?

2. Is the information complete? If not, what’s missing?

3. Who or what are the sources and why should I believe them?

4. What evidence is presented and how was it tested or vetted?

5. What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?

6. Am I learning what I need?

So, armed with this, I got slightly curious about the guys that wrote the book and found an interview with Bill  Kovach at a site called Stinky Journalism.  I gave up writing for the school paper back in high school so I actually didn’t know he’d authored your basic Journalism 101 textbook, The Elements of Journalism. The site explains how Blur “focuses on the importance of verification, fact-checking and evidence in media — whether it be traditional newspaper media or an online blog”.   Evidence!!! Verification!!! Fact-Checking!!!  NOW, we’re talking stuff that sends tingles up and down my researcher leg!!

I found this quote to be very interesting.

“The separation between journalists and citizens is slowly disappearing.  I mean, anyone, anywhere can be a reporter of the next big news incident.  Anyone can be a reporter now, and in terms of the information citizens need because they have access to the online presentation of information from hundreds of sources, they are becoming their own editors.  So it’s imperative that we both help journalists understand this change…and citizens understand how they can determine what they can believe in.”

What drove my Grandmother to send me The Christian Science Monitor, my French teacher to share the Paris Match, and my history teacher to encourage me to read The U.K. Guardian is what drives me to alternative sources on the World Wide Web today. I  was fortunate enough to  develop a healthy skepticism about relying on any one source of information from these precious folks who cared about my development as a person.  I am thankful for my earliest experiences of looking out side of the Omaha World Herald for information.  I do have to say that I was fortunate to be educated in an excellent public  school system that was well known for its outstanding English programs and teachers.  This is the same high school and school system  that produced Kurt Andersen. (One of my friends had a wicked crush on him and used to use my access to get into the Journalism classroom/lab to get near him when we were sophomores.)

I guess I’m bringing this up for several reasons. First, I think part of being in a democracy means that you become an informed citizen.  That implies you need information and it should be factual information.  Second, I think that the powers that be have found so many profound means of disseminating propaganda through main stream sources–think WMDs and the Iraq War– that we have to actively search out alternatives to find out not just the information; but the truth.

Lastly, nothing is making this an imperative as the Wikileaks episode.  What first made some things clear to me in Junior High School was The Pentagon Papers.  For some childish reason, I thought my exceptionally wonderful and moral country would never lie to me or hide things from me other than battlefield plans.  I believe that my reaction to both was formed early by the intents of my grandmother and my teachers to get  me to look outside my narrow life to the world at large.   Our government, many people in our communities and plenty of those around us–including the press–are not always acting from truth or the best interest of all of us.  It’s important to discover intent, funding, and connections.  We must all become investigative journalists.  However, it heartens me to see that there are still journalists that remember they are an important element of democracy.  It saddens me when journalism turns into celebrity gossip rags and spin vehicles.

Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin were the bloggers of their day.  Samuel Adams made certain that the Massachusetts Circular Letter was seen by more than just the local politicians.  His ‘leaks’ outraged the British monarchy.  It also lead to our nascent democracy.  Much of what is going on right now is part of our heritage as Americans.  However, so many people have have access to platforms now that it’s important to do the basic research for ourselves.  We must be vigilant and tenacious truth seekers.

34 Comments on “Consuming the News”

  1. fiscalliberal says:

    Gee – you missed all the corn and wheat growing each year, the howling wind and scourching sun. All of those character building elements.

    Did you ever get to see rodeo’s

    • dakinikat says:

      Yup, got to see rodeos. My mother liked to take us to Powwow’s a lot more, however. My first rodeo experience at Ak-sar-ben included a steer really goring the heck out of a rider. My first big tent circus experience at the Civic Auditorium included a woman that fell off one of those spinning ropes–with no safety nets–to her death. The worst thing I ever witnessed was a bull fight in Madrid when I was 15. I had to ask my parents to take us to the bus because it was traumatizing me so much. My family and a bunch of us other bedraggled American Ford Dealers sat most of that out in a tour bus. I think my mother found Powwow’s to be a better experience for us.

    • dakinikat says:

      My dad was a Ford Dealer. We provided f-150s for the farmers of Eastern Iowa!!

  2. Laurie says:

    I adore Chilean rodeos-very fond childhood memories of those…far less violent and a great deal of riding skills and special horses.

  3. fiscalliberal says:

    Dak – did you ride horses and go to football games? You mentione Skiing – where – I do not recall many hills in Nebraska. I just remember the long very well done interstate while driving from Denver to Wisconsin. Best family clean reststops in the country.

    I wonder if it is fair to say prairie folks read a lot and enhanced thier education through absorbtion and hard work. While schools certainly existed, it was the pragmatic environment that realy built character. People just did not have time for balony and learned to sort that out quickly

    As I remember everyone used to get weekly magazines and people were releatively knowlegeable of world affairs.

    Interesting afterthought – Your list needs to include a curious reader also. I think one of our problems today is we have a dumbed down population and a lack of respect for knowledge. Here in Michigan a lot of folks like to call wrap songs poetry. Give me a break

    • dakinikat says:

      Yup. Both. I spent a lot of time in Colorado. There was a small place to ski in the Iowa Hills where I could practice up for Colorado. Yup, that’s probably true about the curious reader. I’m amazed at number of zombies that plug into the passive boob toob experience still. I’d rather read or do something more active on the internet. My family played a lot of cards and board games. I still do that on line too. I was a complete bridge fanatic until I moved here. Played since about 5th grade–mostly with really really old people!!!

      • dakinikat says:

        Oh, and Nebraska takes I-80 seriously as it’s one of the few sources of revenues they have. They try to slow you down as you speed across the state. Reststops included!!! They love you buying gas! One of the highest state taxes on gas you can find!

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      I for one am disappointed that my own kids don’t read like I did when I was their age. I have tried everything to get them to read…to no avail. I mean by the third grade I read Gone With the Wind countless times. In sixth grade, I left a copy of the play Whose afraid of Virginia Woolf? in my math class. I can still remember the teacher saying to me, does your mother know you are reading this? I had the perfect response…it is her book. I think the Dumbing Down problem is frightening…what kind of country will we have? Idiocracy is looking to me like a real possibility. “Welcome to cosco, I love you.”

      • B Kilpatrick says:

        Best movie ever. And it is happening. Can’t wait until the day I can get a law degree at a five mile-wide CostCo!

  4. Branjor says:

    As to the sources – just how many links do you follow before you get to a “reliable” source? How can you tell who is a reliable source if you never heard of the bozos? I’m pretty skeptical of Wikipedia myself.

  5. dakinikat says:

    You have to learn from other reliable sources who the reliable sources … most of the time it’s not quantity that matters but quality. But, you may need to search for the quality. You can always ask folks around here. A lot of people here know who the nitwits are.

  6. fiscalliberal says:

    To this day, we play cards with the grandson’s. each time we visith Euchre and Sheeps Head are kind of a bridge game in which you can participate while drinking beer. Boys tend to migrate to Poker. Women get very competetive and play like sharks. Male and female mind games

    Adults played cards a lot years ago. Country school PTA used to hold card parties where the women would make box lunches which were auctioned off to raise money. That was done at the end to cap off the socialization. Women made the lunches, men got to buy then and share with others in the last table of the evening.

  7. fiscalliberal says:

    Another thing we had was county book mobiles. They came out on monthly stops at each of the rural schools. Mostly geared to kids, but it kept the reading skills up in the summer. I carried that on with my kids. Saturday visits to the library were commonplace.

    My mother was a country school teacher and she emphasized reading and phonics. Occasionally she had ten year old first graders. She got their interest going in reading with comic books and then migrated up. In the country school we had the Wisconsin school of the air with 15 minute programs to supplement art, music and conservation. Each Friday we had book reports which each kid was expected to get up and tell the rest of the school about a book they read for that week. We had good libraries, supplemented by the book mobile.

    I do not think the emphasis on reading exists today except in localized clusters

  8. Laurie says:

    Personally, I have a great liking for autobiographies and tend to rely upon them in judging politicians.
    I became a Hillary Clinton fan on reading her two books, It Takes a Village and Living History.

  9. B Kilpatrick says:

    Non-isolation can also lead to some pretty weird people. When I lived in the Northeast, I stopped saying hello to people because I learned pretty fast that being greeted by a stranger produces in them roughly the same reaction that other people would display if guns were waved in their faces. A couple of times, I said “good morning” to people I passed, and I couldn’t figure out if they wanted to stab me, run screaming into traffic, or call the police.

    • dakinikat says:

      nah, that’s a just a Yankee thang ….

      • fiscalliberal says:

        Oh realy! A Yankee thing?

        What reference do you have for that

        I think it is more a thing of living in crowded area’s (rat cages?). I know people from NY City who exhibit those characteristics. Move out of the city and it gets normal.

        • dakinikat says:

          Actually, most of what I have is anecdotal evidence. It’s the Southern culture down here. You greet every one you meet. You open doors for people older than you and call them Miss or Mister and M’am and Sir. You wave to your neighbors. When I go ‘up’ North, young men cut in front of me to get into elevators. People give you weird looks if you smile at them or say hi. It’s very much a cultural thing and it’s noticeable if you go back and forth some. What’s considered street smart in the North is considered rude behavior that your steel magnolia mama would not allow down here. I may have mostly grown up in Nebraska, but I was raised culturally southern. I really learned that when I moved to New Orleans. What I was taught to do made perfect sense here and got me weird looks in Nebraska.

          • fiscalliberal says:

            So – how does the gender equality thing work out outside acadamia. Do southern women make more than thier northern counterparts. Are high heels and sun dresses required uniform.

            Just asking 🙂

          • dakinikat says:

            Actually, I have no idea in terms of gender equality issues. The only thing I know is that there are extremely strong pioneer women in the west and that southern women are very powerful too. The stereotype of the frail woman doesn’t fit well down here.

            You should read about Laura plantation.
            In the creole culture, whoever had the best head for business got the family business. This particular line had women in charge for quite a few generations.

            Because of the tragic first decades of Louisiana’s history, Creoles adopted a strict pragmatism that dictated: “If it works, then, do it.” European traditions of male authority became suspect and many Creoles would ensure that their smartest child, not necessarily the oldest son, would run the family business. By 1803, there were already 8 schools for girls in Louisiana. By 1903, along the River Road in plantation country, still half of the farms and businesses were run by women. The 20th Century came to Louisiana and women took the “back seat” like everywhere else. It is interesting to note that in 1891, Laura Locoul rejected the Creole model of running the family business to become what she called a “modern, liberated American.”

          • B Kilpatrick says:

            Minor correction – what’s considered street smart up north could get your a– kicked down here, or worse, depending on who you do it to.

          • dakinikat says:

            oh, you are so right about that … you don’t want to ever disrespect people down here

  10. fiscalliberal says:

    I defer to your knowlege of Creole model. I wonder if the strong woman did not come out of the Civil War. Men went to fight the war and women ran the plantations and businesses. They found out they could do without the men.

    That said I wonder if Title 9 didn’t have much more to do with female equality in all races. Also the pill freed women of the economic poverty of large families.

    By the way, my daughter who is a northern gal and lives in South Carolina completely agree’s with you. However I would ask does not gender equality allow equal access to the elevator door. I would agree with the exception while dating, or being married. Then other factors are in play

    • dakinikat says:

      Oh, down here there’s definitely a respect hierarchy and age is above everything. I open doors for both women and men older than me. But men younger or my age would open the door for me and let me go first as would my daughters. I have no idea why … it’s something your mama teaches you and then enforces like crazy. In Nebraska, I would be expected to call adults by their first names. I’d have been hit for doing that by my mother and given a stern look from my father. Every one who is noticeably your elder gets called Miss this or Mister that; no exceptions! Otherwise, you get labeled ‘trifling’ and it become ‘obvious’ your parents didn’t raise you with any ‘manners’. I forget when I go to Nebraska some times and I’ll be knocked over in the rush for the 20somethings to get to lines or elevators or whatever first. It’s considered the respect you deserve as you get older down here and I’ve learned to like it. It transfers to respect in the classroom by students too. No parent wants to claim any ‘trifling’ child. I warned both my kids when they are down here they had to mind their manners carefully. Oldest daughter now gets the respect treatment from kids. She gets the point now.

    • B Kilpatrick says:

      The Civil War had something to do with it, but it also came out of the decades surrounding the Civil War. Men frequently died in all sorts of ways that you couldn’t even imagine – getting pulled into cotton gins, thrown from horses, random violence, epidemics, anything. That, and the simple fact that when you’re a marginal farmer on seven acres of land, NO-ONE in the family could afford to sit around drinking mint julips or “getting the vapors” – the price of forgetting about survival for even a moment was often not surviving. And that’s also a lot of why older people always got respect in the South – unless they were born wealthy, they didn’t make it to 60 by being morons.

      My great-great-grandmother’s husband was, I’m told, a mean old drunk SOB. One night, he disappeared and never came back. No-one knew what happened to him, as he vanished without a trace, but my great-grandmother always said she was always worried he might come back. Anyhow, her mother, Oklahoma Mama (the great-great-grandmother) took over the operation of the farm. She went out and plowed and did everything else he had (and it wasn’t exactly easy labor.) She managed the kids by putting them on a blanket under a tree and getting after them (that’s putting it mildly) if they got off the blanket.

  11. fiscalliberal says:

    As you promote thinking on it, I remember calling friends of the family by first name or those with community familiarity, However it went to Mr, Mrs or Miss as soon as the familiarity was remote. Respect for age showed up in tone deference or other ways, but it was there.

    My mother who taught generations of kids in a farming community was always referred to as Mrs in later life. It also exists in modern day also. Scout leaders are always referred to as Mr or Mrs. That extends to times when the kids are older. I am always addressed as Mr by former scout troup members.

    So I guess it realy comes down to culture doesn’t it.

    I actually enjoy the south as a visitor – would never live there because of the heat. So have you run into the term Civil War Armistance yet? I get you are still a northern yankee in those communities. The other term is “get along – be polite” which is code for acknowleging the difference in races and co-existing. I presume that is not as prevalent in academic circles

    • B Kilpatrick says:

      There are a bunch of Souths, actually. The big thing about this region is that the culture-machine hasn’t succeeded in devouring all traces of local or regional culture, so that people in North Texas, Southeast Texas, Southern Louisiana, Central and North Louisiana, etc etc, are all quite different in their own ways.

      • B Kilpatrick says:

        For instance, in northeast Texas, if you’re driving behind someone, and they think you want to go faster, they’ll frequently pull off the road to let you pass.

  12. Minkoff Minx says:

    “Geographical and cultural isolation can lead to some strange people. (Cue The Deliverance banjos.)” Oh Dak, you got that right!

  13. My late maternal grandfather was a blogger of his day. He published and ran a small indy newspaper back in India. I suppose that’s where my mother and I get our news/political junkie natures from.

    Thanks for the info on Blur. I’m adding it to my book list.