As we grow into young adults in a world brimming with information, it becomes less about the search for knowledge and more about the sort. Try to type a random topic into Google. You will find thousands if not millions of resources available at your fingertips; however, choosing the right resource becomes the issue. It is certain, no matter what piece of writing, whether it’s from a teen magazine or a news report or a cereal box, there will be some type of bias. Nothing is impartial. Even this very article is not clean of its partiality. There will always be a writer and therefore a bias, and when we have all these resources from all these writers, how do we decide what is worth our time?
In the late 19th century, newspaper publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer have been pulling readers in with stories dripping with bias and opinion. This later became known as yellow journalism. It was a class of wildly radical pieces that shocked audiences and fooled them with lies in order to get them to keep buying the paper. Now at the end of 2019, very little has changed. Bias is not new, and it will never go away. Public figures, news reporters, companies, and many others who hold more power have their own bias. Many use this power for good, like those who use their social media platforms to support environmentalism or feminism, or to bring light to injustice, but others don’t always have the same goals.
News networks like Fox News have coined the slogan “fair and balanced,” and MSNBC have claimed “this is who we are” as theirs. The difference in how these two networks address their audiences with their type of content is almost contradictory. These short slogans speak so much to the audience, and to some extent, controls what type of audience they pull in. Even things that feel as meaningless as thumbnails on videos immediately impact how you’re processing the information. Scrolling through the YouTube trending page, you can see hundreds of different types of thumbnails, some containing heavily saturated photos, or some with muted colors and small lettering. Either way, things like coloring, fonts, letter sizing, and facial expressions on thumbnails have a bigger impact on the selections you will click. The same sort of programming can be seen in other types of media as well. The way reporters use diction or leave out or focus on specific details can greatly impact how a viewer will understand the story.
It is so hard to understand where to look – what is safe? It is important to establish and remember your own personal beliefs and morals. Understanding your own bias and the bias of others allows you to look at information differently. Also, trustworthy people in your life and trustworthy sources can direct you towards similar, trustworthy places to find information. It is harder to find reliable sources than poorly researched and low-effort sources because the latter uses ploys to advertise the articles more. When we get millions of resources when we search something in Google, we need to know how to sort.
A huge trap in media is most often titles. A lot of sources use extravagant and sometimes completely false titles in order to get readers. Now, we best understand this idea as “click-bait.” It pulls in a reader with simple, yet jaw-dropping titles containing information of little importance or even relevance to the actual article. However, if you read carefully and understand these sorts of traps, you can easily sort out the meaningless articles or stories and sift for some gems. It is important to read beyond the titles if you wish to be informed.
Personally, I know many people in my life that use several ways to find their ideal type of media. That can include not only different writers and networks, but the media form as well. Sometimes it is much easier to scroll quickly through my news feed on my phone, and sometimes I prefer to sit and watch the news or listen on the radio. It exposes different points of view and allows me to hear the entire story – nothing is left out, because everyone’s voice is heard. Whether it’s through subscribing to several newspapers or switching between channels during the nightly news, we can be opened up to the gaps each program has.
Remembering that we are all human and we all have bias is the key to looking at media in a clearer way. It is important to trust your writers, but it is also important to understand that no one will ever reach perfection. No article will ever be clean of bias, and neither will you as a reader. My biggest piece of advice: see where you fall. Explore where you find it is best to find your media, and experience that in many ways. Watch the news, listen to podcasts, read the paper, and follow journalists on social media. No matter how you incorporate news and media into your life, knowing your interests and concerns can create a much smoother experience and make you a more informed person overall.