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Definition and manifestation: In the first section of his book, Informing the News, Paterson explains that Americans today are misinformed. One reason for this is that while never before has so much information available to the public, much of that information is “untrustworthy”. Today’s talk shows “appeal to the likeminded” and blogs “bring information and discussions together, but usually in a narrow-minded way”. What’s more, people consume news as entertainment, so “controversy has increasingly defined hard news”.
Causes: One cause Paterson sites for this information problem is people’s limited exposure to one side of the story, leading people to have biased views on important issues, and a misunderstanding of what people on the other side of the issue believe. Another cause of this is that there is a “need to attract an audience” so much so that today’s “cable television feasts on controversy. This leads to “alarmist new coverage” and in an attempt to be first on the story with the most attention-grabbing headlines, networks will air false stories with the intention of correcting the error down the line. However, “once people accept something as fact, they tend to fend off information that would lead them to think otherwise”. Once the false ideas are put in the public, they stick.
Consequences: In Paterson’s words, we’re experiencing a “media system gone haywire” where citizens who are “marginally informed about politics” may not be able to be active participants of democracy.
Definition and manifestation: Reporters today “transmit false claims without identifying them as such” which is usually because either the reporter “doesn’t have the time of knowledge to sort out the truth” or because the reporter wants not to appear to be on one side or the other of an issue.
Causes: As Paterson describes, “Journalists expect politicians to be reasonably honest and high-minded, and politicians expect journalists to act with a responsible degree of trust and restraint”. This leads to a drought of trustworthy information and aids the public’s “misunderstanding and confusion”.
Consequences: The public is growing to distrust the press. Paterson explains, “Journalists and politicians now have reputations on par with those of trial lawyers and used-car salesmen”, and this distrust will be difficult to turn around.
Definition and manifestation: The problem, as described by Paterson, is that “journalism is not rooted in a body of substantive knowledge”. Journalists simply can’t put together a knowledgeable report unless they are proficient in the subject matter at hand. While the internet allows up full access to “knowledge-based reporting”, it’s also “a gold mine of solid content and a hellhole of misinformation”.
Causes: Paterson argues that many journalists lack proper schooling and therefore have been “slow to apply systematic knowledge to their everyday work” which makes some journalists, “vulnerable to manipulation by their sources”.
Consequences: We, the people, are digesting biased, and at times uninformed, information from the professionals we assume are there to deliver us “truth”.
Definition and manifestation: According to Paterson, “knowledge is a key to strengthening story context” and unless journalists are informed on the broad multitude of factors affecting their story, they “cannot be counted upon to construct a comprehensive and intelligent account”. Today’s reporters rush to cover a plethora of topics in a very limited window of time, and therefore do not have time to properly analyze and assess their stories they are rushed to report on.
Causes: In journalism education, “subject matter knowledge is far down on the list”. Many journalism schools have a trade-oriented approach, often with the intention to send graduates directly to the news industry. With the hurried pace of today’s reporting, there’s a lack of reporters who know specialized subjects well.
Consequences: Paterson explains that rather than provide readers with the tools to critical think about what’s being reported on, journalists leave out “contextual information that enables citizens to make sense of the events”.
Definition and manifestation: Today’s citizens “take interest in political goings on” and want to know more about what their politicians will do about current issues. However, journalists don’t always cover these matters, “because they are not deeply informed about most issues”.
Causes: According to Patterson, “journalists’ sense of their audience is wrong side up” putting focus on politicians’ problems, rather than people’s problems. The problem, according to NYU’s Mitchell Stephens, is that “most journalists are not trained for this type of quality reporting”.
Consequences: In a race for breaking news, outlets are getting faster rather than getting smarter. According to Patterson, with the rise of internet, traditional news outlet’s audiences are decreasing in part because “the hollowing out of hard news to make room for soft news alienated many of those who prefer hard news” which meant that people with interest in the “hard news” went to find it on alternative outlets).
Definition and manifestation: Patterson explains that “the current media system has raised the barriers to news exposure and eroded the commons”.
Causes: Patterson reports that, “within every age group, Americans devote less time each day to news than was the case eve a decade or two ago” which is due in part to the fact that they are not interested. It is also due, in part, to an overabundance of media outlets, causing today’s American’s to have divided attention for shorter periods of time, with a reduced ability to recall what they’ve seen or read. What’s more, the rise of “citizen journalist” such as social media stars and bloggers have enabled everyone to have a public voice, for better or for worse.
Consequences: Citizen Journalism has allowed “ordinary citizens to participate directly in the communication process” however, it’s not “at least not yet, a substitute for old-style journalism”. Never before has there been such a plethora of information at our fingertips, and such a need for that information to be “grounded in facts” rather than “spin and speculation”.
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