3 things to keep in mind
1) As with all types of media, us bloggers are probably biased. Personally, I try not to be, but I am not sure if I achieve this – or if it is achievable in the first place. As my interest in the media has increased in recent months, I have begun to notice subtle phrases that demonstrate the biases of an article or television report.
When the views of one individual are being expressed, they are often contained within the safe limits of an opinion column. This is very good, the reader instinctively knows that they are not being presented with a balanced argument or all the relevant facts. This is why I sign-post any opinion articles I write. I may be opinionated – but at least I know I am. The problems arise when a whole publication or broadcaster holds a bias which its employees must adhere to in all of their work. Here, the warning signs are lacking.
Take, for example, this phrase: ‘X, Y and Z should be done. The current A policy is failing.’ According, one might ask, to who? Has the author of this sentence examined how and why policy A is failing? And have they examined in enough detail the consequences of X, Y and Z enough to say that they should be done? I am by no means saying that every suggestion any journalist has ever made is wrong. I am simply saying that we should not blindly agree with them without using our own brains as well.
2) Sources of information are interesting things to evaluate – and not just in tabloid stories about super-injunctions (a whole other subject). There are two main strands to this debate – accuracy and reliability. The first is relatively straightforward. When you see a quote or something along the lines of ‘So and so told this publication’ all you need to ask yourself is whether said information sounds credible. If not, well, there you go. As to reliability, is the person likely to have a good knowledge of what they are talking about? For example, a professor of environmental issues may have a more reliable view on new energy-saving cars than a car salesperson. Likewise, is the source biased? Are figures about unemployment coming from the Department of Work and Pensions or the National Office for Statistics? You get my gist, I’m sure. Ask yourself whether the source has anything to gain. Or, more importantly, lose.
3) Last but not least – hype. When the media have a story that sells, they’ll do anything they can to keep it on the front page, even if that means making things up or analysing completely irrelevant stuff. It is, if you think about it, a great piece of marketing. However this does not necessarily mean that you want to read it. You need to dive through the massive headlines and determine whether the content is any good. The media also love a scandal. When every newspaper is showing the same thing as every television news show, while everyone discusses it over the table at dinner parties or in the queue at Starbucks it is easy to forget points one and two of this article and get sucked in to the story as if it was a black hole. It isn’t.