How are we to think about the world we live in just now? How can we incorporate all the dire information coming at us from different directions, and still make sense of the wonderful close-in world of the Finger Lakes?
A brief recap of some recent news. The images of Russia attacking Ukraine causing WWII déjà vu even for those of us too young to have been alive then. The National Republican Party proclaiming that the January 6th riot was “legitimate political discourse.” The stock market decline (“correction”) of 12% or more since the start of the year. A new international Climate Change report confirming that the “dangers of climate change are mounting so rapidly that they could soon overwhelm the ability of both nature and humanity to adapt unless greenhouse gas emissions are quickly reduced…” The current rate of inflation for the last twelve months of 7.48%. Related to that, the average price of gasoline in NY at $3.78. Brittany Spears reportedly writing a tell-all memoir. I could go on, but you get the point.
Guess what? The news media, whether international, national, regional, or local has a negative news bias. Do not take my word for it. According to an in-depth study of hundreds of news sources at every level, Bruce Sacerdote, Ranjan Sehgal, and Molly Cook of Dartmouth College demonstrated that when it comes to COVID-19 news, for example, coverage has been almost always more negative than the actual science. The negative news bias was spread across both conservative and liberal reporting outlets, and again, across the spectrum from international to local.
A summary of the study emphasized that it was not a matter of publishing falsehoods but rather, which news got published — as there are always a variety of stories that can be told. What gives? We have met the enemy and it is us.
It turns out that we, the consumers of news, have a bias for reading bad news. Whether it is in the newspaper or Facebook, we gravitate to the bad news first and foremost. The negative news bias is a matter of giving us what we want, and let us not forget the news media is a for-profit business. Whether it is rubbernecking a wreck on the highway or glued to the tube watching anonymous iPhone videos of smoldering Russian tanks, that is what captivates us. As exasperating as it may be when CNN runs 24/7 coverage of the latest hurricane or wildfire, apparently they have good reason for it and it is us.
This makes it difficult for us to know the actual state of the world — the big picture. Our filters are skewed toward right or left politics, and then after that, toward what sells — apparently a negative news bias. What is an average citizen in Geneva, New York to do? Diversify.
The obvious answer to any news bias is to diversify our sources. Seek more than one source, and work to confirm one source with comparisons to other sources. Just like gossip in the neighborhood needs to be confirmed before it is believed, we need to confirm what we read or hear as best we can from multiple sources. That is a lot of work, but the alternative is being misinformed or ignorant.