Sunday, March 30, 2014

[OM] On the new news paradigm.

Also titled:
On Bill Maher's notes on the news.

I've just watched and listened to Bill Maher's New Rules (from, I believe the earlier part of this month—March 2014) and I want to discuss something that has been going around: the hatred for the new paradigm of news. First, that people are only seeing what they want, and second that the lack of journalists is bringing down the level of news. 

I'll put the latter one (a lack of journalists) aside after saying this: that it's not immediately obvious that news has suffered wholly since the advent of the Internet. Sure it's hard for them to make money (On this subject of modern day changes, the matter of paying the original content owners is something everyone must address. I see a lot of content being provided by professors, who would appear to be somewhat cushioned from the same monetary constraints as those outside—I'm not sure if that isn't a problem/solution) but it appears that some do, and that to see a drop off in "the news finding things that are worthy" requires a rosy view of the past.

Journalists too are subject to many influences. By being allowed access to higher levels of power, I would say that they are corrupted and won't out the hand that feeds them unless they see a real reason to. In other words the positive of having a steady stream of information—itself suspect on many levels—has to be outweighed by the chance of making it big with an outing story... How many real controversies were uncovered before as opposed to now? I haven't seen evidence that it has become worse. We now speak on subjects that the mainstream media won't touch, but plenty of bloggers will. In fact, I have more or less cut most of what is considered mainstream news from my list (more on how to read the news here).

But the only real way to judge this matter is to take a survey of what happened in the past, what was left covered or was uncovered by mainstream sources versus the results of modern day Internet sources (bloggers and the like). And my only consideration (not well thought through, I must admit) for change in this realm would be to separate news media from other conglomerates by law.


Regarding the former point, the "echo chamber" for both sides: the Internet powers that be are exacerbating this by further enabling them. Readers will now get a news piece only because it's been algorithmically said to be what people like them clicked on (though this is already happening because people are actively seeking out the sites that agree with them, the veritable echo chamber). And so it goes.

The scare is that this will only further polarize an electorate that hardly understands one another and that doesn't care for the other view, and not having the other view only further makes it so that people never hear what both sides of the coin will look like. I'm not saying that both sides of the coin exist in all situations, but surely something can be agreed upon? In a democracy shouldn't a large proportion be at least listened to?

Perhaps we need to somehow let people know that it's all right to have fruitful discussions on the Internet and to allow people to speak an opposing view. It's not easy. And one wonders what to do with comments. There has been some controversy as to whether sites should cut them, as Popular Science did, for it does feel like it goes against the grain of our democratic ideals. But read this link. It makes a very powerful case. What does one do when you know comments influence, right or wrong, and people are willing to pay for that influence? (and I won't lie that no matter how inane comments are, I will read them over and over)

I might have more questions than answers here, but I will attempt to add more as information comes in.

Update (May2014): Here's a link to the (always updated) post I wrote on how to deal with bringing in new sources of news to make sure one is not being misled by what is being shown by the mainstream media. It's not easy. And, once again, if you're someone who simply reads the news to tap into the zeitgeist, this article is not for you—most people are indeed wary of any Cassandra like personalities. But, if you do care, then you should try and cultivate the most varied amount of news sources possible.

IMHO, I think that the most recent geopolitical crisis in Ukraine, and most of the media's reaction to it (I'm including even the likes of Jon Stewart and others, people who are normally somewhat more nuanced when it comes to domestic politics—though not always). The reaction/analysis, one of basically seeing the world as black or white, is horrendously misguided and tends to miss the main point. Even some of those calling for cooler reactions are starting off the same worldview that Russia started something here. Not that a democratically elected man was ousted. For those of you who don't remember this, you should ask why.

What the main news outlets are doing, is what they have always done: they've given the talking points over to those people who are officials (and thus with a very narrow set of interests—no, truth to the American people is not one of them), or people who give the impression of being serious. If they can make something seem worse, especially with an us v them narrative, they will gain more viewers/clicks. Again, using the methods I mentioned will help immensely.

Update: There are other facets of this argument. Here's a solid article that you should read. This article does in fact look at the original creators (journalists) are now being swallowed up by the powers that be. Some of this has been enabled by the same technologies/advances that I've touted above. So the question then, if what this article says is to be taken seriously, is what do we do? Surely some media ownership law could be passed? Having those in power take over all the original content creation is not something that will help our republic.

Update: In this article, there's a piece on how Facebook execs and journalists go on an argument on the new news paradigm. Who's right? I would have to agree that a Facebook exec decrying news stories (to which they have a great amount of control over seeing what goes viral and what doesn't) seems odd. Such is the nature of news today that it's geared towards simpler stories. I too experience that here on this blog. My lists for books (especially the scifi list) is 10 times more popular than any other article I've written. Does it make me want to write more lists? No. But I'm not running an entire business off this blog. This is some important stuff then. Especially if we think an informed population is necessary for a democracy.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can contact me at nlowhim@gmail.com if you have any questions or wish to discuss something or just to say hi. Look forward to hearing from you.

Some articles you might be interested in:
# Article on Drone Warfare
# Article on the Iraq war, with links
# Article on the Rushdie fatwa
# Article on how to read the news
# 5 Best global novels

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