Being a Responsible Consumer of Media

I’ve been spending a lot of time online these days. First thing every morning, I check out the headlines of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Then I move on to Politico and maybe the Huffington Post—whatever grabs my attention. Since the election, I’ve spent a lot more time sifting through the news. But what exactly am I looking for? The other day I was jumping from one news site to another, frantically looking for something—but for what? And then it dawned on me. I was looking for good news, some glimmer of hope that things would turn around, that Republicans would start speaking up, that his tax returns would be released, that someone could prove a link to Russia—anything to get him out of office. I was like a crazed drug addict looking in all the cupboards for a fix, desperate to move on from my present misery.

Screen capture from the New Yorker. Article can be found here.

The thing is, there are plenty of sites that will give me a short-term fix. I can sign online petitions for impeachment, laugh at the absurdities of Kellyanne Conway, and grow incensed at this administration’s war on first amendment rights or any number of things. You can find practically any article online to support your way of thinking. It’s all out there, just waiting to hook you. I try to be a smart consumer of the news. If I want to read schlock, fine. I just need to be aware that it’s schlock, and if that’s the case, I won’t share it on social media. I don’t want to be guilty of sharing fake news. Here’s what I else I try to do:

  1. Check out the original source before sharing an article. Much of the stuff online is not original reporting. The Huffington Post, for example, just rehashes articles it finds elsewhere. The question is, who did the original reporting? Is it a reputable source? I follow the links in the story until I can figure out whether the story is accurate or not.
  1. Read beyond the headlines. Political headlines can be deceiving. They’re often written to titillate and alarm. They want you to be so incensed that you’ll share the story on Facebook without a second thought. The other day I came across an article titled, “CPAC Scrambles to Control Damage after Attendees Wave Russian Flags during Trump Speech.” The headline was suggesting that Trump supporters were pro Russia. Which in my mind was alarming yet slightly believable. But when I dug into the article, I read, that the red, white, and blue flags were handed out by an anti-Trump activist as a prank. The Trump supporters initially thought they were American flags and started waving them. Once it was clear what they were holding, Trump staffers moved quickly to round up the flags. Now I’m hesitant to trust this new source because of its deceiving headlines.
  1. Subscribe to reputable newspapers. I bought a year’s online subscription to the Washington Post for just $100. The New York Times is about the same. These news organizations are doing great work at keeping Trump and his surrogates in check, so I try to support their vital reporting. As the Post says, “Democracy dies in the dark.”Trump is also doing a great job of supporting the Times—despite his best intentions not to. After the election, the New York Times added 132,000 subscribers within three weeks. The paper’s executive editor recently said that Trump’s attempts to smear the publication have backfired spectacularly. Trump is the “best thing” to happen to the Times’ subscription strategy, according to Dean Baquet. “Every time he tweets it drives subscriptions wildly.”

When Trump slammed Vanity Fair in a tweet back in December, the magazine set a single-day record for new subscriptions.

After the Tweet, Vanity Fair proudly proclaimed itself the “magazine Trump doesn’t want you to read.” And if you’re keeping track, Vanity Fair is just $17 for a one-year subscription (print and digital).