7 ways to consume media critically

By Caitlin Kelly

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out”

That’s how the best journalists think: tough-minded, skeptical, dubious, cynical, questioning.

Our job is to challenge authority, in its every guise.

To speak truth to power.

IMG_20160616_134341728 (3)

One of the 20th century’s greatest journalists…

In an era of fake news, it’s absolutely essential to know who is supplying you with the information with which you are making key decisions about your future, and that of your town, city, region and nation.

You can’t make intelligent decisions based on garbage and lies.

I’ve been a journalist since my undergraduate days at the University of Toronto, worked as a reporter at three major daily newspapers and have written freelance for dozens of national newspapers, magazines and websites. Here’s my website, with some clips.

Seven ways to consume media critically:

1. Read, watch and listen to a wide variety of news sources, whatever your political leanings.

If the only media you consume keep reassuring you that your world is exactly as you wish to see it, you’ve got a problem. The world is a complex, messy place — comforting simplicity, while seductive, is rarely honest.

2. Get off social media!

If the only news sources you rely on are social media, you’re stuck in an algorithmic echo chamber. You’re doomed! See point one.

The CBC’s logo — one of the many news sources I follow

3. Think like a reporter (and take my webinar to help you do so!)

That means questioning every single comment, data point, anecdote, story, and “fact” you are given — no matter at what volume and speed. That means your default position isn’t: “Oh, cool. I need to tweet that right now” but “Hmmm. Really? That sounds weird.”

4. Research the news sources you’re relying on.

Google them. Read everything you can about them and their history. Who is funding them? Why? Who is quoting them as authorities or experts? Why?

Every reporter in the world has a track record — if they’re the real deal. Google them. Go to their LinkedIn page. Watch their videos and read their work.

Working journalists are highly protective of their professional reputations as accurate and reliable because without that, we’re useless.

We’re not robots. Use your brain!

5. Assume nothing.

Question everything.

Read every story, if in print, with a highlighter marker handy — and highlight every point you think dubious or unlikely. What conclusions did the reporter draw? Do you agree? Why? What makes you trust them? What did they fail to ask? Why? What assumptions did they make going into that story? Would you have done it differently? How? Why?

6. Talk back to the media!

Not simply on a comments page.

Write letters to the editor. Use their corrections editor or ombudsman to complain when you see lazy or inaccurate work. Email reporters and editors directly to express your concerns about their coverage — or lack of it. Be calm, civil and constructive if you want to be listened to. Thoughtful journalists are in the middle of a period (finally!) of self-examination, so your timing is good. Be an active participant in the flood of information out there, not a passive little nothing nodding your head.

The Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015. Get out into the world! Take notes!

7. Know what’s happening in the media industry.

There are many places to follow news of what’s happening in the media world, from Columbia Journalism Review, Poynter Institute and Neiman Reports to Media Industry News; (did you know that Time magazine is in terrible trouble?)

When you start to understand the media ecosystem — and how these businesses are run and why some are succeeding and some struggling — you can’t really grasp how their products are created and distributed. Yes, it matters! Eating “clean”, locally or judiciously should also apply to your media diet.

15 thoughts on “7 ways to consume media critically

  1. Pingback: 7 ways to consume media critically | Broadside | John Oliver Mason

  2. I have to assume that poor journalism offends those in the industry even more than those of us who simply consume it..but I will say that navigating the daily news buffet in search of an offering that doesn’t contain strands of the “cook’s hair” is getting harder all the time.

  3. Fatima

    I have to admit failing on number 2. In my defence, I follow CBC News, Poynter, Winnipeg Free Press, and CTV. (A division of Bell media and has its finger printers all over its reporting in some areas.) I also read their websites. I agree it’s exhausting and the amount of fakery going on at Facebook, watching friends share the most BS items, nearly drives my head to a desk.

      1. Fatima

        Thank you so much. πŸ™‚ As for the gullible factor, this is the result of two things:

        1. We have put people down, especially kids in schools, for displaying an iota of intelligence. There is so much focus on the ‘right’ answer, we don’t know how to parcel out the truth.

        2.We not only do not aknowledge race, that’s huge, we also don’t acknowledge class. Michael Moore was right about this election as the biggest FU people can give to the ‘elites.’

        Canada dodged this huge bullet in 2015. The moment Kellie Leitch or someone of her ilk, takes control the hate crimes in Canada will go up. Anyone who ignores the idea these guys essentially gave racism permission to rear its head, has their head so far up their posterior they need a flashlight.

      2. There’s a lot of anti-intellectualism, especially in the U.S. It’s shocking and certainly contributed to people lining up to choose Trump — who screeched “I love the poorly educated.” The level of contempt in that phrase alone was sickening to me. But it clearly worked.

        Class is an issue much more readily discussed in the UK but in the U.S. (and maybe in Canada), we’re all “middle class”…even when we are very clearly not. Leitch is a piece of work…:-)

  4. Fatima

    Reblogged this on Stacks and Ranges and commented:
    Caitlin Kelly is a Canadian ex-pat living in the outskirts of New York, with a blog I followed for some years. Also worth reading as we get into the holiday season, her book Malled about her experience working for a North Face after getting laid off from her newspaper job. Her posts cover everything from making a living from words to seeing a great play. If anyone wants a blogger talking critically about media and its role, I would say “Hey, I have this blog you might like.”

  5. Pingback: Weekend Links – Small Dog Syndrome

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