The information age could require readers to learn fact-checking skills

blurOn NPR’s Talk of the Nation today, authors Tim Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach discussed their new book, Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload. The thesis of the book seems to be that the more information we’re bombarded with by the Internet, the more adept we need to become at assessing the credibility of sources. We should develop the same sorts of skills editors and reporters use to separate fact from spin.

The authors talk about the inherent bias in a number of news sources these days that build their audience and income by “affirming the preconceptions that the audience brings to the newscast.” They explain that reporters are often quite good at presenting an impression of more knowledge than they actually have. They also point out that the erosion of the gatekeeping restrictions of old media means that corporations and other interest groups have many more ways to reach out to the public directly.

The notion of a gatekeeper really comes down to the idea that, if I were trying to make the news, and I wanted to reach the public, and you were the press … I had to go through you to do that. You’re now only one conduit that I have, and you might be the most aggressive filter … So I, as a newsmaker, am going to use a lot of other tools to reach the public.

I’ve mentioned before that we need to be less credulous about what we read on-line, but it’s always good to have the occasional reminder: just because it’s on your screen doesn’t mean it’s true.

2 Comments on The information age could require readers to learn fact-checking skills

  1. I have a very well developed B.S. detector and it amazes me how many people don’t. I frequently get stories from friends and family and can immediately tell if something is questionable. It doesn’t take to long confirm the info one way or another. As for the traditional gatekeeper model, I really like that people can gather information themselves and aren’t restricted to some reporter’s version of the tale. Although reporters are supposed to stay neutral and just report the news, they don’t seem to be able to help themselves from falling into bias. These days, it only takes a few seconds to confirm whether a reporter quoted someone out of context or not.

  2. American politics suggests to me that most people who think they have a terrific BS detector have none at all. Anyone who believes what comes out of a politician’s mouth (either party) without independent fact checking is, in fact, an idiot. If you believe someone who stands to gain from having you believe what they’re saying, you’re an idiot. Unfortunately, 90% of the population is in that category.

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