5 Ways to Become a Better Media Consumer

5 Ways to Become a Better Media Consumer

These days, there is a pervasive sense that our country is divided — and it’s going to take a lot to bring people back together again. While there are many reasons for this division, one factor that cannot be overlooked is the role of the media. Biased news networks and fake news websites, combined with social media, has created an environment where it’s all too easy to be swayed by inaccurate information.

With so much misinformation showing up in your news feeds and on your television every day, how can you be sure what is truth and what’s not? How do you know when to react to something and take action, or when to keep scrolling and refuse to engage? While sites like Facebook are cracking down on fake news and redoubling their efforts to ensure that what appears on the site is real, you also need to take responsibility for your media consumption. Becoming a better consumer of media, and looking beyond the headlines, is a great place to start.

So how can you become a better media consumer? Try these techniques.

1. Practice Critical Thinking

In the simplest terms, critical thinking means looking beyond the surface of any argument, and considering the underlying issues that may be present. It’s very easy to see a headline and have an immediate reaction, but critical thinking requires considering more than the headline or soundbites that are presented to you. Critical thinking requires asking questions: Who is presenting this news? What are their biases? What are my biases? What is included in this report — and what is left out? Looking at sources critically means understanding that they can be infallible, and acknowledging not only the existence of other points of view, but also the validity of those viewpoints.

2. Analyze Data

Statistics can be misleading — and polls can be incorrect. Being an informed media consumer requires considering all of the data, and looking at it within the context of the bigger picture. In addition to looking at news stories, pay attention to analysts like A.B. Stoddard at RealClearPolitics, who can provide additional insight into what data and information really means. Spend some time learning about the basics of polling and statistical analysis, so you can view statistics with a more critical eye.

3. Learn to Fact Check

Again, when you see a particularly inflammatory or shocking headline, it’s only natural to immediately form an opinion and act on your gut feelings. However, before you share news, or develop an opinion about what you think is happening, fact check. For example, if you read about a new bill before Congress, check out the Federal Register to learn more about what is actually contained in the bill and the motivation behind it.

You can fact check other types of stories, too. Learn to watch for the signs of fake or inaccurate reporting. For example, pay close attention to author bios and the sources quoted in the story. There have been cases in which stories have been based on a single Tweet or a Facebook post which have turned out to be fake. If you read something that seems odd, do some additional research to confirm what you are seeing.

4. Use More Than One Source

Many times, when you read a news story or see something on TV, you’re only getting part of the story. Even the most professional, non-biased reporter can only report so much information in the space or time allotted, and will select which details and perspectives to share. Different outlets are going to provide different viewpoints, and may even have additional information, so it’s important to rely on more than one source for your news. If you aren’t convinced, try comparing the media coverage of U.S. news from one of our national networks and an overseas network like the BBC. The reports are often quite different.

5. Understand Your Own Biases

Finally, being a good consumer of news requires understanding your own biases. We all have biases, even if they are unconscious, and they influence our interpretation of events and opinions. Most humans have a tendency to seek out information that aligns with their existing viewpoints, and dismiss information that doesn’t support those opinions. It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge contrary opinions and reports, but it’s vital if you are going to be “media literate” and develop well supported and thoughtful opinions.

Being a good consumer of media doesn’t mean you can’t have strong opinions, or that you need to distrust all reporters. However, it does require stepping back from your preconceived notions and being willing to ask questions. When you do, though, you’ll be better equipped to handle disagreements — and ignore the inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation on social media.