As an international relations and politics student, I picked up the habit of reading my daily copy of The Age to keep up with current events. I’ve always been a bit of a news snob, snubbing the Herald Sun for their biased articles, and paper selling attitude. The Age was perceived to me, to be the raw news, and the only paper in Melbourne that I could be sure would give me all the unbiased facts. I was wrong.
Papers need to sell. Papers need readers. Papers need an audience. This makes The Age no better than the Herald Sun.
It is nigh impossible for a writer to keep their voice out of articles. Even something as simple as a minor car accident in Frankston is not devoid of any emotive text. Details are exaggerated or left out. The impact on readers is enormous.
Take for example the media reporting on youth gang violence in Melbourne. I will praise The Age for their attempt at using statistics and perspectives from many sides of the argument. However, much like other media sources, the “problem” is exaggerated, and news is turned into a debate when there isn’t need for one, with the opinion of its readers eventually emerging as the only solution.
News should be news. Tell me what happened. Don’t give me some emotive article about how the situation is worsening and we need to change current programs, because believe it or not, that is not news. Reserve that for the opinion section or the dinner table.
I, however, do not see the media having the capacity to do this any time soon. So, when you subscribe to The Age and snub the Herald Sun, you are only getting one side of the multi-sided story. To sell papers, they will use emotive text, and feed off their readers’ opinion to ensure that they keep reading.
This phenomenon has also infiltrated Facebook. All the information that comes up on our news feed is rarely contradictory to what we think or believe. You will like pages because they are funny or interesting, not because they are controversial or thought-provoking. If a post offends you, you can delete, block, or hide the post, telling Facebook that you don’t want to see this anymore. Even ads are based on your search history.
Stop using social media as a reputable source for news.
Your social media is essentially a “safe” space. All the information that we receive is intended to make us comfortable and likely to use the platform again.
It is not healthy.
By being constantly bombarded with one side of the story, it may reinforce our beliefs, but it takes away our ability to think critically about the information presented to us. An important part of critical thinking is being able to model an opposing argument, counter this opinion and thus strengthen your argument. However,if we’re constantly being presented with information from a single side of an argument, whether or not this information is true or not, we are blinded by our formulation of the truth.
To connect this to the news media, there is no distinction between emotive and opinionated articles and the facts of the story. Readers will treat the story as factual, and consequently, the “news” does not inspire critical thinking.
The media don’t do this as a ploy to separate society, and there is no huge conspiracy to hide the truth. They do it for purely selfish reasons. The Age, in particular, feeds off middle-class Melbournians that get off on reading stories about disadvantaged people. It could be that it makes them feel better that it is not them. It could help their ego to find that there is a heart somewhere in their chest. Either way, sob stories sell and the editors of The Ageknow this.
It is highly unlikely that this practice will change, but I would rather know about it even if there is no possibility of news becoming just news again. So I would say, instead of snubbing both The Ageand the Herald Sun, read them both. It’s easy to avoid articles on MKR drama, and it is easy to pick the real news from both sources.
If you do, you will be able to build more rounded conclusions about the world we live in and more importantly, be a great dinner guest.