CAN WE REALLY TRUST THE NEWS?
Last week, readers of the Daily Express, The Guardian and The Telegraph will have experienced very different mornings after reading exactly the same story.
You can see how three papers have chosen completely different angles for what would ostensibly seem like a story with a right and wrong answer. The Daily Express reports the cancer danger in food packs, The Guardian appear to be saying the opposite, meanwhile The Telegraph cover the middle ground saying there ‘may be a health risk.’
So, whilst the phones at GPs’ surgeries were probably ringing off the hook with calls from panicked Daily Express readers, The Guardian’s audience was most likely found breathing a heavy sigh of relief into their fair-trade granola.
And, if you saw someone breaking down mid train journey; well, that may well have been a person who’d picked up a copy of The Telegraph, unsure as to whether the packing round their all day breakfast sandwich was going to kill them or not.
These three approaches to the same story demonstrate the different realities presented to us every day by the media and raises the age old question: can you trust what you see or hear in the news?
Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” It’s an argument American songstress Barbara Streisand has even got involved in with her song, ‘Don’t Believe What You Read’. No prizes for guessing where she stands on that one.
But let’s ignore Streisand for sake of this blog’s integrity and take Twain’s point. It does seem like there is no way we can win. By ignoring the mainstream media you may risk getting gently chastised by a colleague for not knowing who’s gone through to the next round of The Voice. Much worse, however, you face missing out on a major political development – and for me, working in a lobbying and PR firm based in Westminster, that isn’t really an option.
What would be the alternative to a life without traditional news media? The immediate answer would probably be Twitter, Facebook or Reddit. Places where many of us go first to get information as it’s fast, concise and continually updating. Whilst these places can be excellent sources of news and are much more immediate than even broadcasters, tweets can’t be verified – false information quickly becomes fact because thousands of people click retweet.
Back when Nicolas Sarkozy was President of France, a French student journalist tweeted that both he and Carla Bruni were involved in adulterous affairs. The story was, as we now know, completely untrue but this revelation came after it had spread across the internet and caused a small saga in France. The only party to remain sceptical about the veracity of the claims was the French press themselves, demonstrating the importance of traditional media.
Major media outlets have the resource to be able to sift through the swathes of tweets claiming that [insert celebrity’s name] has died or [insert celebrity’s name] has cheated on their other half and assess whether there’s any truth there. Then, by the time that news reaches the public, we should (hopefully) have something accurate in front of us.
Traditional media remains an excellent news source, and running the risk of being occasionally misinformed is preferable to being wilfully uninformed. We just always need to remember to take it with a pinch of salt. Don’t go overboard on it though – one paper I read said too much will kill you.