The news, the whole news, and nothing but the news

It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with media studies, that often – and often unfairly – maligned discipline, to learn that news sources aren’t always as ‘reliable’, ‘objective’, and ‘impartial’ as conventional wisdom might suggest.

There is a growing feeling that the internet has undermined balanced, impartial news reporting. Euan Semple wrote about this recently, and today the Guardian publishes a piece by Kellie Riordan questioning the old assertion that ‘news’ must be ‘unbiased’.

Both writers suggest that individual news consumers should take responsibility for their own collation and interrogation of news sources. That, it seems, is the best way for us to come to some understanding of the world.

The Brookings Institution recently published an excellent review of ‘news literacy’ in the digital age, prompted by the authors’ view that at least a basic level of common understanding of the world is essential for democracy to function. “Without an underlying consensus on the facts – on what we know to be true -” they write, “we face unending dispute and policy paralysis.”

Their review contains a handy taxonomy of ‘information neighborhoods’ (US spelling) which describes the goals, methods, practitioners, and outcomes for a range of different information sources. This is a good place to start if you’re looking for ways to be a more critical consumer of information.

However, the information sources included in the taxonomy are all, more or less, ‘published’. As such they constitute only a part of the routes through which we all acquire our worldview.

Challenging though it may be, we must also apply ‘news literacy’ techniques to sources closer to home; our parents, carers, partners, neighbours (UK spelling), teachers, priests, and so on. From them we acquire the commonplaces, to use Bourdieu’s term, which we reference – consciously or otherwise – when we try to make sense of the news.

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