On 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.