« Atheism in America | Main | Money see, monkey avoid »

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Become your own reporter

If you're confused about what's going in the Middle East, Kos elucidates the situation quite eloquently:

So we've got Israel attacking Lebanon. Israel attacking Palestine. Hezbollah attacking Israel. Palestinians attacking Israel. Israel threatening to attack Syria and Iran. Iran meddling in Iraq. The US meddling in Iraq. Lots of terrorists and insurgents targeting the US. The US threatening Iran. Sunnis attacking Shiites. Shiites attacking Sunnis. The US and NATO fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Kurds attacking Turks.

Seriously, things are getting pretty bad between Israel's offensive against Hezbollah. From my perusal of alternative media outlets it seems that much of the story as reported through the major US outlets is being skewed in one way or another (big surprise there). What we cannot forget is the face of war: the innocent victims that are caught between (and often at the receiving end of) bullets and bombs.

So how do we wade through all the useless garbage constantly muddling the airwaves of CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, and others? Over the past year or so I have become quite the news junkie, and I have my strategy down to a science. All you need is an open mind and an internet connection.

First, CNN and the other TV news outlets do serve a useful purpose despite carrying stories about Oprah's sexuality and President Bush caught saying "shit" while chatting with Tony Blair. CNN in particular is known for their worldwide network of reporters and bureaus positioned to provide up-to-the-second news as soon as it happens. For this reason, I often check CNN.com for breaking stories as they happen. That’s where they cease to be useful. Find what the headline is and get out.

The next step is to seek out news sources that aren’t based in the United States. This is especially critical with world news stories such as the Middle East situation and Darfur. My next stop is usually the international version of the BBC News homepage. While a major news outlet and not immune from biasness (no agency is), they offer a different angle on major stories and often report them in a more straightforward and concise manner. And like CNN, the BBC has a fantastic network of their own reporters around the world. So, between CNN and the BBC you are sure to read about every major news story out there if only by virtue of their highly integrated worldwide network.

As I mentioned, major news outlets are good for reading headlines, but the underlying significance of a story cannot be gleaned through a single outlet, especially the big ones. For that you have to rely on independent and aggregate outlets. Perhaps the best aggregate news outlet is Yahoo! News. They have spent quite a bit of money and energy into developing a pretty comprehensive website that pulls together stories from a host of news agencies, both big and small. Aside from a few public interest features, the meat of Yahoo! News is not original and are stories pulled from various sources. It’s usefulness lies in being able to quickly see how different agencies are reporting the same news and what priority they give a particular story. Another aggregate news site is Google News and they are unique because they don’t use human editors. All pages within Google News and computer generated based on the frequency of a particular story on outside sites monitored by Google. This virtually eliminates human bias and allows for lesser known but just as useful resources to surface.

My favorite, alternative news sources (or more accurately, opinion sources). I simply do not know enough about the world to recognize every possible angle of a story. Nobody does. As a result, we must rely on people that have a specific knowledge about a particular topic or geographical area. Finding these voices is often difficult because everyone and their mother thinks they are an expert. Typically from a global perspective, alternative sources are great for reading “the other side” of the story and seeing other points of view. Even if I don’t always agree with alternative descriptions of events, they are useful for making up your own mind. Sometimes, these sources do have original, first-hand reporting but usually they pick up on news from news wire services such as the Associated Press or Reuters and do further research. This research comes in the form of interviews, archival research, or simply applying one’s own knowledge to an event. Personal opinions sometimes find their way into alternative news stories but their insights are indispensable.

The Socialist Worker Online is a good example. The Socialist Worker is the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization: the extreme opposite of FOX News. While often extreme, their take on major stories is refreshing and makes you think. By no means an unbiased news source, The Socialist Worker online is more of a op-ed site than a traditional news agency but they sometimes highlight lesser known stories, typically human rights related, that don’t make the headlines of the more prominent outlets.

The online version of Mother Jones Magazine is in the same vein, but not as extreme as the Socialist Worker. They offer different takes on top stories and follow up that can’t be found anywhere else. As with many alternative sites, Mother Jones doesn’t pretend to be unbiased. They simply claim to bring forth stories you may otherwise never hear about and highlight perspectives that are typically suppressed in the mainstream media.

Truthdig.com is one of my favorite alternative news sites because its premises are exactly what I’ve been getting at in this post:

The purpose of our new Web magazine is to provide you with insightful and accurate reporting on current subjects and on issues that need to be brought to your attention. We want to challenge conventional wisdom. Over time, we hope to build a solid and reliable resource for those of you who want to explore particular topics by drilling down to unusual depth. In addition, we hope to create a home for thoughtful, provocative ideas and dialogue by a group of talented contributors and editors.

Truthdig is the epitome of what I want when I read the news: the story between the headlines. By bringing in a variety of editors and columnists, the site certainly exudes an air of relative objectivity in a world dominated by bloodthirsty corporate news agencies out for ratings. But as with any site that claims to present “the rest of the story,” one has to make up his or her own mind and go a step further by looking at still more sites.

As you can see, I am clearly a news junkie but I am even more of a truth junkie. I find nothing more satisfying in terms of news that finding out for myself what is happening in a different part of the world. You have to become your own reporter, culling information from a variety of sources and sorting out the hundreds of opinions that may or may not help you shape your own. It is dangerous to take what you hear on CNN or FOX News and think that’s the way things played out. It is equally unwise to rely solely on alternative sources for your information. They typically do not have the resources the large corporate agencies have at their disposal. The trick is to first figure out what is happening, then take a few minutes to search out other facts and opinions, including those that you are pretty sure you will disagree with (this is why I read Townhall.com for opinion and less frequently, FoxNews.com).

Posted by Will at July 19, 2006 03:05 PM in In the News | Personal Reflections