None of the News That’s Fit to Print

If you read blogs and other information sources regularly, it’s probably because you know you’re not getting the information you want from media publishers, either mainstream or alternative/independent.

As I wrote last year, media publishers can no longer afford to do good investigative reporting or competent analysis of what the news means. Most of them have gone under, and those that are left are primarily lowbrow entertainment media subsidizing small, underfunded, and amateurish information divisions.

These hapless remnants of a once-thriving industry are now largely republishers of press releases and PR mouthpieces for governments and corporate donors. They report wildly distorted inflation and unemployment numbers to placate governments and banks, and misrepresent GDP and stock index data as measures of economic health when they actually measure economic disparity and economic malaise. Their headlines are designed to attract attention, not to impart information.

So those of us who really care what’s going on in the world have to look elsewhere. Because there’s such a firehose of so-called information to deal with, including blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and newsletters of every stripe, it can be exhausting trying to identify resources that are actually worth reading. What’s worse, many writers who are credible in one domain and get a bit of a following, seem to think they’re experts on everything. They then destroy their credibility writing nonsense about subjects they’re clueless about. I shake my head each time I cross another one off my list.

It’s a shame, in this age of technological capacity and information access, that it’s as hard as it’s ever been to sift through the nonsense and get an accurate picture of what’s really going on in the world.

The chart above summarizes the process I now use to do this; it informs my choices of Links of the Month posts and my decisions on what to read. Here’s a brief walkthrough of it:

(1-3.) When I encounter articles that are overtly suspect, incomplete or unbalanced, not only do I refuse to get incensed by them (which is sometimes precisely what the author wants), I refuse to even read them. I have much better things to do with my time than read or reply to such crap. And, more than that, encountering such articles makes me question the critical thinking skills and/or commitment to good journalism of the entire publication in which such crap appears. For that reason, I no longer read the NYT or the Guardian, and am considering, in light of recent serious lapses, canceling my subscription to the Atlantic and the New Yorker. (For the second time: I last cancelled them when they supported the Bushes’ egregious Middle-East wars.)

(4.) When I read an article that passes the smell-tests (1-3) above, the next question I ask myself is whether it’s actionable. In the rare cases it is, I will read the full article (and often the related links) immediately, decide what action is appropriate, and put that action on my “to do” list. And then continue reading. The last such article I read was about the local candidates for next week’s municipal election.

(5-7.) If the article is not actionable, then the final three questions help me determine whether it’s worth bookmarking and reading later, when I have the leisure time to concentrate on reading it carefully. I no longer read any op-eds, no matter how well written or how much I may agree with them. They’re pointless. They change no one’s mind, and just reassure those who desperately need reassurance that what they want to believe is true. That includes an alarming number of articles, some of which appear on the front page, that are essentially op-eds masquerading as news. Likewise, if a story is just a (probably heart-wrenching or otherwise manipulative) isolated anecdote, uncorroborated by independent witnesses, I have no time for it. I would rather spend that time doing volunteer work locally where I see the need first hand and can directly participate in improving the situation. Personal, ghastly stories of loss and tragedy are easy to find anywhere, and IMO they’re just cheap, bad journalism.

Before he lost his mind, Bill Maher famously said “The job of the media is to make what’s important, interesting.” If that is true, it’s a job the media do increasingly incompetently, largely, I suspect, because they now rely on a drastically-reduced number of inexperienced, naive, poorly-trained ‘journalists’.

So the job falls to us. As the journals ‘of record’ continue to stumble and disappear, that job will continue to get harder. Still, for those of us driven to know the truth about what’s going on in the world, it’s a job we have to do.

PS: For anyone who didn’t ‘get’ the title of this article, the NYT has, for 130 years, had on its masthead these words: “All the news that’s fit to print.” The WaPo, another once-great newspaper, has these now-ironic words instead: “Truth dies in darkness.”

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2 Responses to None of the News That’s Fit to Print

  1. Bruce Elniski says:

    I also give little time to sources that do not provide an easy and honest way to comment back in a visible comment section that readers can see and dialog with.

  2. Joe Clarkson says:

    a job the media do increasingly incompetently, largely, I suspect, because they now rely on a drastically-reduced number of inexperienced, naive, poorly-trained ‘journalists’.

    At least “the media” actually have journalists. The New York Times has about 2,000. How many do internet bloggers have? I suspect that virtually all members of the internet commentariat, like Caitlin Johnstone, get the vast bulk of their information from mainstream media (MSM) and conventional publications rather than doing their own on-the-ground reporting. They then put their personal gloss on what they’ve learned from MSM and publish their opinions as “analysis”.

    One can read reports in the mainstream media with a critical eye, but doing without them entirely is foolish. Without the MSM, all you are left with is retrospective academic studies and the musings of people who don’t know any more about events than anyone else. I’m all for academic studies and history books, but they make for a long wait for information about what’s going on. Even then, there is often controversy about what really happened.

    Some publications, like the Economist, contain a mix of academic study and worldwide reporting from in-country journalists. The Economist is far too growth-centric and economically conventional for my taste, but I enjoy the quality of its reporting and have read it for decades (along with most of the other MSM sources you deride). Without access to several countries’ intel agency briefings, if you want to know what’s going on, you have to read the news. The more of it, the better. I read many of the sources you link to every month, but they’re no substitute for the news at all.

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