Consuming News: Getting the Facts

Posted on Monday, February 6th, 2017 at 17:42

In 2015, an intern at my last job recommended that I subscribe to the email newsletter the Daily Skimm, and because I never get enough email in one day, I took her up on it. What I found was a cute take on the news of the moment, with a “quote of the day,” links to some top stories and happy birthday wishes to individual subscribers—packaged with a bit of self-deprecating feminine snark.

After looking at a few of the emails, I created a rule in my in-box to filter the daily messages into a folder, and pretty much forgot about it. My daily consumption of news was already abundant, and I didn’t have the capacity to read one more thing.

Then recently, I came upon this sponsored advertisement while scrolling down my Facebook wall:

“Feel like the media’s letting you down? Meet the Daily Skimm. It’s our daily newsletter that gives you everything you need to know in a nonpartisan, no BS, way. Just the facts. Oh and it’s free. Join the 4 million people who wake up with us every day. You’re welcome.”

I thought about this ad in the context of one of the conversations du jour: “fake news,” and the angst many are facing in deciding what is fact and which sources we can trust, an endeavor not made easier when the President of the United States calls major trusted news sources “liars.”

The Skimm claims to give readers “just the facts” while at the same time capitulating to the world view that the media is flawed and “letting you down.” But the newsletter is nothing but links to that news, which is gathered and produced at great cost by others. In one blurb about the immigration ban, today’s Skimm links to articles by ABC News, The Washington Post, Reuters, The Seattle Times, CNBC, Politico and CNN. (The article also links to a Tweet.) While some people may find time to read all of these sources, I bet most don’t. And by ingesting just the “Skimmed” version, these people will miss out on important details and context of stories.

An example this context on another story can be found in today’s New York Times front-page article, “Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles.” The article reveals that President Trump did not read the order he signed naming Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council: “…Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.” That’s a significant revelation that can inform one’s understanding of goings-on in the current Administration.

Where we get our news and how we consume it is a predictor of several things, including how we vote. For example, according to a Pew Research Center Jan. 2017 report, “Americans who say they voted for Trump in the general election relied heavily on Fox News as their main source of election news leading up to the 2016 election.” This fact was hardly a surprise. I’ve looked at enough of Fox News to see how differently stories are reported than on the news sources I regularly consume, including its competitor the CBS News.

I don’t want my news to be accompanied by an ideological filter, so I avoid MSNBC as judiciously as I do Fox News. I am a firm believer in the integrity of NPR and The New York Times, which is where I consume the majority of my news. I also watch CBS News, and if I want more thorough coverage of a television story, the PBS News. No news source is perfect, and all have had their missteps, but I believe I’m getting an honest take on current events from these sources.

Part of our civic duty is to be informed about our community and our government, and despite the mass proliferation of “information,” I find that fulfilling this duty requires work and discipline. For example, we should all train ourselves to read news stories before we read opinion. We should share articles only from trusted news sources and avoid sharing memes, which are used most often by special interests to incite. We should double-check the validity of anything we share, and realize that news aggregators like Daily Skimm are not giving us “the facts,” but are providing a gateway to sources that may or may not be factual. And finally, we should read, read, read actual newspapers and pay for them, because gathering the news and reporting it is not free.

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