Monday, September 5, 2011

Half of What You See

About a week or so ago, I was listening to the radio, and I heard a news story that contained an untruth. I knew that it was untrue because I had the proof right there in the room with me.

Now, the media getting things wrong has been one of my pet peeves for a while, and I've typed out a few posts on it from time to time. But this time something occurred to me - no-one is ever always right. We know this. For my part, I understand that I don't "know" anything that I wasn't there to witness or otherwise have first-hand knowledge of. So why do we expect "the media" to always get it right?

Now, this isn't meant to be a backtrack from my previous criticisms of inaccuracies - especially those that could have been avoided with a little research on Google or in a library. The relevant point here is this: Why do we treat any given statement from a single media source as obviously accurate? Especially when so many news sources simply pass along stories from the Associated Press or other news agencies? It seems to me that any piece of information that doesn't have some sort of independent confirmation should be treated as at least suspect, if not unreliable. After all, no-one's perfect, right?

And in this regard, another point occurred to me. Weblogs, like this one, are free for the asking. I met a guy whose hat has its own online presence. (Don't ask - he said it was a long story, and I took him at his word. While making sure that he wasn't between me and the exit.) Basically, as long as you're in a place with reasonably unrestricted access to the Internet, you can be your own reporter. Many activists already are. Will a lot of the information gained in this way be wrong? Likely. After all, if you're only going to believe half of what you see, it's sensible to believe some or none of what you hear. But it's also possible to obtain more than viewpoint on something, if enough people are writing about it. And you can usually tell from the way something is written if the author was there, or if they're just repeating something that they've heard from someone else.

And that is really the only way to have confidence that what you've learned is true. To have multiple unrelated sources, all telling roughly the same story. And we have the resources for that - although for readers, the time might be an issue. But between us, we should be able to create a more reliable and accurate means of getting the news out. It's worth it.

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