According to a Pew Research Center study from September 2020, 88% get their news from their smartphone, tablet or computer. Another 68% get at least part of their news from TV sources, 50% percent from radio and 32% from newspaper/magazines (print and digital).
It’s not far-fetched to say many only watch the networks that reinforce their beliefs and assumptions. And it’s even less of a leap to say that the most-watched cable news networks such as CNN, FOX and MSNBC certainly skew their presentation of “news” – sometimes under the guise of “entertainment” and sometimes bordering on “propaganda.” That’s not to say there aren’t outstanding, objective journalists at all three networks who are diligent and present facts. But as the evening wears on, the line becomes blurred between news, entertainment and pure opinion, often not based on facts.
It’s a stark contrast from the way the legendary Walter Cronkite and his contemporaries broadcast the news decades ago. The closest news show that emulates that is the PBS News Hour, which presents deeply researched facts, avoids conjecture and speculation, and doesn’t invite guests from “each side” to engage in yelling matches about a topic using talking points that are essentially only their side of the story. Instead the news is presented almost in a monotone manner. Today’s viewers may find it boring.
So for those who want to get just the facts and then arrive at their own conclusion, who should they trust? The answer is simple. Trust yourself.
If you are truly open to hearing or reading the facts, and not just information that reinforces what you already believe, there are some fundamental approaches you can take.
- Read. Go beyond TV or radio to get your news. The formats are not conducive to in-depth presentation and often limited to soundbites. Most topics require deeper analysis and presentation. Newspapers and magazines – even in digital format – offer the space and time for deeper drills. Some say even those are skewed in one direction of another and that’s true if one only reads the opinion writers at, for example, the Wall Street Journal (conservative) or New York Times (progressive). But there are incredible journalists at media outlets everywhere that simply do the research, gather the facts and present the story and/or analysis.
- Diversify you sources. One of the best ways to mitigate risk in your investment portfolio is to diversify so if one investment decreases in value, others may help maintain your overall portfolio. The same applies in how you invest your time getting news. Read, watch and listen to several sources and if the majority of them are reporting the same facts, quotes and analysis, you can be more certain the information is accurate. If there is an outlier, then you have to question why so many other credible outlets aren’t reporting what the outlier is.
- Check facts yourself. For the truly industrious, the Internet provides access to the original source of data and information. It just takes time and effort to enter what you want information about in a search box. You can find economic data from sites like the from the Office of Management and Budget or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Centers for Disease Control has had data on number of COVID cases, hospitalizations, deaths and the number of those who have been vaccinated – nationally, by state and per-capita.