The Easiest Way To Navigate This Media Minefield

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It turns out that nobody knows what’s what when it comes to the media anymore.

Who do you trust for your news and media? Now, picture that media outlet. Which way does their news slant? Left? Right? How partisan are they? How much of their content is fact-based reporting verses editorializing, panel discussions and slanted perspectives? Do you really know what “fake news” is (and, if you’re not sure, please read: Words Matter. Definitions Matter More… Or The Problem With Fake News)? What types of advertisers do they have? Do you think that these advertisers might influence their content? Can you clearly tell the difference between their news and what could be content marketing? How much true reporting are they doing, instead of tagging on to an already developing story from another news source?

The questions are boundless. Many people (even media professionals) hardly pay attention to these questions. 

We are all becoming more biased because of the news filters that exist. That, coupled with our increasing time spent using social media to get our news (mostly Facebook and Twitter), is pushing us further into these filter bubbles. It matters. It’s important. There was a hope when the Internet first became commercialized (that’s close to two decades now). The hope was that our world views would expand. The hope was that we would be exposed to many new voices, from many new areas, that we could have never heard from before. The hope was that individual voices would rise and create audiences of their own (think about the early days of blogging and podcasting). The hope was that these independent and connected voices could now reach and engage with larger audiences than the ones that were accessible by the biggest traditional media channels (TV, radio, print, etc…). The hope (maybe the biggest one) was that because of comments and unfetered access to these platforms, that we would hear divergent voices in powerful discourse – a true mix of opinions and insights. Of course, this would make us more human, more connected, more understanding of other’s perspectives… and, of course, this never happened. We (and yes, this is all of us), started filtering out the type of content that we didn’t want (“just give me sports, entertainment and business in the morning”), and we then started filtering out (by no fault of our own) voices that differed from our own. We starting following and liking and connecting to “friends.” Whether these were real friends or pure acquaintances, it didn’t matter. Still, this one action has now cascaded into a world where the vast majority of people on social media are only seeing content from those with a shared world view. Not good. Not helpful.

It’s a small world, after all.

The issues and challenges of media started long before the last general election campaign in the United States of America. The outcome of that election simply crystallized the problem: it’s not just a divided nation, but we live in divided times… and we can all see it now. It has been frustrating for many (if you don’t believe me, check out my conversation with media theorist and journalism expert, Jay Rosen: Media’s Massive Problems With Jay Rosen – Six Pixels of Separation – The Mirum Podcast – Episode #544). Candidly, there are days when I find myself shaking my head in total disillusionment about the state of our world and what individuals believe to be true or facts, based on how we interact on Facebook in regards to the news we share, post and comment on.

How do we navigate the media in these complicated times?  

In a word, we must be: Open. There are types of news and content that may not be aligned with your values or beliefs, but it is important – now more than ever – to expose yourself to it and expand your own belief systems. Few know how to make this happen. In fact, we all do know how to navigate the current state of media, we just have to think about the lessons we learned from our parents while we were very little kids.

Look both ways before you cross the street.

That’s it. Look both ways before you cross the street. Nobody wants to get hit by a car. Nobody wants to get hurt. Nobody wants to wind up in the hospital. Nobody wants to be a burden on our society. Apply this lesson to your media consumption as well. As the rhetoric ratcheted up during some of the bigger newsworthy moments of last year, I started alternating between CNN and Fox News. In fact, it matters not which channel you prefer. By watching, listening and trying to understand both sides, I was able to look both ways before making my own judgement calls. At first, it was not easy. I found myself, literally, shouting back at the TV (or satellite radio). It felt like one side was lying, using words and intonation to slant the meaning or delivering news with mannerisms that change the message’s intent. Then, slowly, after spending more time, my mind cleared. Both sides were just that… their own sides. I was able to see “across the road” (instead of just looking left and right), after making sure that the coast was clear. Another interesting layer that can (and should) be added on to this model it to also grab a different geography’s perspective. Being Canadian, I would also look for sources up north, here, to better understand how the “outside world” was reporting on these, specific, news items.

It’s not foolproof, but it will open up your mind and change your perspective.

The result of looking both ways before you cross the street has manifested into many strategic by-products. Personally, I’m intentionally looking for these other sides in everything from business ideation to client-specific work. Meaning: we will review some strategy/data from a client’s upcoming initiatives. It’s easy to take the data as it is being delivered. Now, I’ll look both ways before crossing the street. A deeper evaluation, listening to the skeptics and the outliers to better understand “why” they’re thinking this way, and not “what” they’re thinking or saying.

So, look both ways before you cross the street!