Good and Trustworthy Information and Where to Find Them
This will most likely be the first of many, let’s say Part 1 of Part “insert larger number here.”
Last time we set up a distinction between how I want us to perceive Rhetoric, a kind of modified version of Wayne Booth’s definition centered more upon the reduction of misunderstanding vs. Rhetrickery as the spreading of or generating of misunderstanding.
So, another place for us to look at this idea in our world today is the media.
Living with the all the dispersions being thrown around these days about the “dishonest media” it kind of really is up to individuals to figure things out for ourselves. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t trust media sources, we should. There is circling around less the idea of the “liberal media” and now it appears to be “the mainstream media” now instead. What ultimately gets lost in all this generalization are TWO things:
- There is a difference in what is “media” and what is “journalism.”
- Many of those tossing these generalizations around either stand to gain from doing this with their audience and/or seek to disqualify what is or is sometimes also is not legitimate criticism.
To answer point one: Legitimate journalism is responsible and seeking to provide real information to the public, they have ethics of behavior. Are they perfect or infallible? No, of course not, they get things wrong. This is not an excuse to throw them in with other forms of media that are of lesser quality. I’m talking about punditry. Many people today don’t seem to understand the difference and this is the problem with the generalization.
To answer point two: What do those who generalize have to gain? They typically have some kind of audience they are appealing to. This is what you find with pundits. They skew and push information around in order make it appealing to their audience either for comfort or discomfort. When groups and individuals toss the term “mainstream media” it usually is meant to serve to generalize an “us vs. them” concept, to throw out and disqualify some other point of view rather than listen or actually refute them.
So, what do we do about it? What can we do about it? Well…just that, ask questions, this is what rhetoric does.
What are the kinds of questions we should ask about the sources we read, listen to, watch, and often times share on social media?
Let’s start with sources you come across in what gets “generalized” as the mainstream media because this is where most information that one encounters tends to get filtered.
- What is the sources reputation? Is it a “mainstream source”? Does it have a history of mostly solid reporting?
- What is the sources bias?
- What kind of sources are they using in their reporting?
- Is the material coming from simply another source or investigative reporting?
- If it’s from another source, what is that sources reputation, bias, etc.?
The American Press Institute offers up 6 questions to help you decide what kind of sources/media you can trust.
- Type: What kind of content is this?
- Source: Who and what are the sources cited and why should believe them?
- Evidence: What’s the evidence and how was it vetted?
- Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece proven by the evidence?
- Completeness: What’s missing?
- Knowledge: Am I learning every day what I need?
Another important angle to consider is this: if you still feel “distrust” about a source, consult another source. Verify, research, and explore more. Taking in a variety of different points of view can be helpful for serious issues.
Returning the earlier questions above, let’s address the question of bias because this one is the easy counter-shot, the easy way out of listening to a source is to say: “oh, ________ is so bias for/against ________”
Bias exists. Letting it get in the way of a story or having it skew a narrative away from the actual facts or information in context is the real problematic element. Simply using it as an excuse to outright distrust a source of information that has some sort of reputation or integrity is a poor excuse. You owe it to yourself to at least judge the bias by reading the source and comparing it to the actual facts in context.
To help out in this, let’s turn to a visual first. I found this one recently to be very interesting and pretty comprehensive in taking into account where many people get their “news” today and the kind of impact, bias, detailed it might be. I’ll describe it in basics here but you can check it out at arhetoricaleducationpodcast.com and check it out yourself. In fact, I insist.
Here it is:
-What does one gain?
-What kind of understanding do we or are we able to take away from this kind of visualization?
Beyond the visual I’ve just discussed and told you to check out (there was a reason for that), let’s elaborate some more…by talking about how I deal with things of this nature in my composition 2 classroom when students are charged with conducting research to support a topic for the purposes of an argumentative research paper.
- It’s a big part of what they are asked to do in order to build ethos and be able to credibly support their arguments – something that is not done enough of in our world today and a skill to easily forgotten.
- It’s also, in a small part, what I suggested you do when I told you to check out the image yourself. Very rudimental, but it’s a start.
- Let’s take into account something I did with my students recently.
- So, a couple of weeks ago one of my students walked into class and was asking the question: Why is it that women prefer taller men? She was referring to the perceived tendency in our culture to see photos of massively tall basketball players with girlfriends who appear to only reach their waistline.
- Student thought I was joking when I said we come back and try to answer that after we go done with stuff we needed to cover that day.
- Returning to the topic, I pulled up and did a quick Google search.
- If one were to do that today, let’s say by typing in “why do women prefer taller men”
- What you get is a selection of sources:
- Honestly, not a bad group of sources focusing on what and why is there an attraction between the sexes based on height. WE have a representation here of dating website, psychology, and a smattering of news sources both American and from the United Kingdom. Note the broadest basis but this is just the first page of the search on Google.
- With the students I used different parameters and found a source from the site fivethirtyeight.com best known for its founder Nate Silver and its reliance on data analysis.
- This proved to be interesting. The post was a reply to question asked at a Blog section of the site entitled “Dear Mona” and the article response was titled “How Common Is It For A Man To Be Shorter Than His Partner?”
Breaking Down some notations about the post that can help you feel you can trust what it’s telling you:
- Reliance on Peer Reviewed Studies
- Hyperlinks to the original studies included
- Visual charts to help illustrate the data
- Specific and qualified analysis, synthesis of material to answer question.
- Updated corrections