Reality Check. Staying sane with today’s media.

Podcast Episode 090920

Reality Check. Staying sane with today’s media.

Evening guys and welcome to today’s show, I hope this episode finds you healthy and somewhat sane during these unprecedented times of civil unrest throughout our nation, and in the midst of an international pandemic going on around us. I hope that you are in constant communication with those you love and respect. I hope that you are able to see through the political rhetoric being thrown around and remember to maximize your research when accepting information. Taking just a second to give a shout out to my mom, who is now a subscriber to the show. Welcome to the jungle mom. Love ya.

Last week we talked about the benefits of a personal safety plan, and how to begin the construction of your personal plan to help keep you and your family safe and secure. Before that I had to vent about all the misinformation being produced across the airwaves, driving me absolutely crazy. Don’t sweat it, I’ll be all right. Bottle of fireball later and I won’t remember a darn thing. Sorry, mom. This week I want to pass on some truth about my old adversary, the news media. This comes from being flooded by news streams and social media providers, to the point where it is rebroadcast on my local NBC affiliate news program. Many have talked about this elephant in the room from different perspectives, however, I’d like to add some fact-checked truth about this group of elites that we place so much faith in, while accepting their attempts to dictate our belief systems. As I’ve mentioned hundreds of times throughout these podcasts, the single largest source of misinformation is these media channels. When I mention anything about the media, most will immediately have negative connotations in their mind, however, they aren't all bad. However, our first objective should be to define what media we’re talking about within the context of this show. With that thought in mind, let’s cover the two major groups of this beast called the media.

The first group is the mainstream News Media which is one of the largest, profitable enterprises in the world. It covers most television broadcast networks, most radio channels, and printed "news" as well. The main group I'm interested in for this show anyway, are the television networks, and they're defined as the major players within the news world. Organizations like NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, CNN, NPR, OAP, the BBC, and many others. They are designed to produce a digestible message for the average consumer, and to that end, they play dress up every morning, noon, and night, with their information delivery and spoon-feed the average consumer their version of the news. In addition, most of their messages are typically crafted in such a way as to coerce their consumers in aligning their own beliefs to match the producers. To this end, camera angles are carefully thought out and planned, as are the sound bites taken from event audio clips, attempting to match the required narrative set by the production management. The mission here is to create a staged scope of impact of a reported event. What that means is that the final product will include only the scenery the editor wants you to see, most often carefully set to support whatever narrative they may have.

Now, to be fair (sort of) we need to take a minute to understand what are these organization's missions, and I know I’ve passed this information to you before but, I feel that it’s absolutely critical that we clearly understand their mission, to better understand where I feel the whole problem stems from, as well as for the benefit of our new listeners. These organizations are on a mission to make their financiers money. That’s it. They couldn’t give a care less if anyone benefits from the actual content, or not. Their avenue of drawing you into their broadcast by inciting your emotional thinking instead of rational thought. Their driving methodology is to attract more followers/viewers. By attracting more viewers, they can raise the prices on advertisements, which in turn creates a larger revenue stream for the stakeholders. The pretty faces that we tune in for each evening ensure that they appeal to the majority of their desired target audience. After all, they need to afford a studio, the technology, and the pretty faces that read the teleprompter to us during those news hours.

This principle is applicable to most of the radio stations as well, especially those who glean their individual news broadcasts from one of these major sources, which most do to minimize their own staffing. Another note here is that for the smaller stations, borrowing news snippets from the big organizations adds a level of legitimacy to the content, regardless of the truth, or fact-checking involved. When it all boils down, most of the news that we hear every day comes from one of these major sources, and most of it is politically swayed one way or the other. As you’ve probably witnessed by now, there is an attention issue within the world’s news consumers, the number of individuals that read the newspaper front-to-back is declining at an alarming rate. In this modern-day world of 140 character tweets, it’s obviously super difficult to get the truth boiled down to that character limit, but more frequently, no one cares about the truth, it’s all about the followers. This means that many news broadcasts are ripe for misinterpretation, which happens more often than not. From that point it becomes a game of “telephone” where each time it’s relayed, some are added, some is subtracted, depending on the “slant” of the receiving organization. Honestly, by the time the average consumer receives the news, it’s not even recognizable to the individuals who lived the reported event. Our translation hack becomes balancing multiple stations against each other in an attempt to counteract their slant and get the seeds of truth buried in there. But, there comes a time where we need to ensure that we don’t over-correct by adding another slant the other direction. Therein lies the pitfalls of some other organizations is that they overcorrect, adding another, opposite slant, just to counteract the first source

As an example of this inclusion of a slant, we can review CNN coming into existence with the reporting of “Baby Jessica”, a Texan toddler who fell down a well in the late ’80s (1987). Now, I don’t mean any disrespect to the McClure family, this story should’ve been any bigger than her local affiliated station in Midland, Texas. Maybe a second-page story in the local paper, but instead, became the first story that went viral. The genius at CNN was able to seize on the opportunity, and create a whirlwind of national interest in this little girl halfway across the country to most of the viewers. Honestly, kids have been falling in wells and canyons as far back as upright humans. So the fact that this one catapulted CNN into the major player category almost defines the power of the media, and quite honestly, the rise of social media, as well as the sincerity of its message.

While some printed productions are still more closely tied into the “real” news, they are typically in a reaction mode (or historical reporting), unlike the visual delivery who attempts to be more proactive, which in some cases actually made up the news to be the first to report on it. This is the difference. Printed media has, and uses, the extra time to perform a little fact-checking before publishing a message to its consumers as their messages can be reviewed years afterward. Now, before I lump all news organizations into this bucket, there are a VERY select few who are more interested in reporting the truth than being the first. That single organization would be the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). This source has become my “go-to” for fact-checking on the other network's stories. I also use foreign reporting agencies like the BBC, and Al Jazeera to fact check stories produced by the major players.

So in that spirit, we have to follow the money. Hopefully, you just heard that viewers/listeners/followers = advertisers and advertisers = more money for the station when it comes to visual news. But how much are we talking about here? Billions per year! Billions with a B per year. Now, that pretty face that reads the teleprompter isn’t cheap, plus they require wardrobe, makeup, and other staff. Plus you need the geeks to work all the techno-wizardry to bring it to life. Tons of subscriptions and news feeds from other news agencies, plus a fancy studio. Let’s talk about money. Who is buying all the visual media organizations, who is writing the checks? Advertisers and the best way to determine who writes the biggest checks is to note these advertisers during the commercial breaks. Typically commercials are broken down by time, usually by the quarter or half-minute. The longer the commercial or the repeat of commercials indicates more costs. Also, note where the advertisers fall into the timeline of the show. Within the first twenty minutes are the big spenders, later half of the show is less expensive, so attempt to line up the advertisers to their political alignment and you can begin to see the slant of the news station as a whole.

Over the last two decades, the decline of television viewership has sped up with the final death of the television in the foreseeable future. As the Internet has leaped on to the global platform with the ability to provide for the "attention deficit"  generations now coming into power. With the availability of direct streaming and data stores like Netflix and Hulu, I think we can see the killer of, the killer of, the radio. Within the last several years we have seen the use of the Internet supersede the viewership of television. However, with the rise of home-based Internet availability, the switch to these streaming services is increasing by the hour.

As you can see, the television broadcast networks not only drive what we see but how we see it. We can really see the power of media when we remember the original "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, originally written by author H.G. Wells. In 1938, Orson Wells narrated and directed the telling of the story from the book on a radio show. It was such a powerful performance many who heard the show were convinced it was really happening, some (research shows possibly 50) ran out of their homes in terror. The event caused such hysteria that the show was cut short and an apology issued. But, it ushered in the understanding of what the media could do when used correctly.

Secondly, we’ll discuss social media. Social media is defined as “anything that is not in that other group”. Social media as a separate entity really didn't come about until the late 00s. Although the technology infrastructure was in place, and the nation's interest in the personal lives of others had already picked up substantial momentum by this time. So while many classify places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube as being the face of social media, and while they do retain a lions share of that classification, there are literally tons of others. In most of today’s "news," you will find where these two groups bleed over into each other shamelessly. So, I’ve broken down the larger class called Social Media into two minor categories:

Public consumption is a group that contains Facebook, Twitter, and others. This is a group of very volatile information condensed into a glance type mentality. This is where most of the misinformation stems from, as it is very little (if any) fact-checking involved. This type of broadcast is designed for manipulating emotional responses in the viewers. The actual list is gargantuan and contains the active broadcast of privately acquired information to the public as being genuine “newsworthy” sources. The idea here is to strike when the iron is hot. By creating stories that support, or oppose the mainstream rhetoric, the hope is that the story could move from the fantasy world of social media to the belief systems of the “real” mainstream media. To put it into perspective, if your child is sixteen years old (or younger), they have never known a life without Facebook, which came into being in February of 2004. A year after MTV brought MySpace out in August of 2003, and a year before Twitter in July of 2006.

The second group and much less known (in the grand scheme of things) are the “Less public consumption” shows and sites like the show you’re listening to now. There are thousands more just like it, each producing a message that provides guidance, or rebuttal, or educational information, hopefully, this show is a part of the last group. While we are part of the social media circus, many of us will never see the center ring, and be mostly content to be a part of the sideshows off in the smaller rings. Included in the sideshow attractions are informational blogs that are more static, and permanent in order to retain a longer-term message. While static websites produce a longer-term message for consumption, there isn’t any accountability, so there doesn’t need to be any fact-checking, which leads its readers to believe whatever it publishes.

As I hope I have conveyed here, and throughout my podcasts, the influence of the media (all forms) has had a powerful effect on society as a whole. From foreign countries being influenced by American music and culture to the call for violence being committed against unsuspecting non-combatants around the world, the media has played a huge part in making that happen. The responsibility of verifying and fact-checking the published information no longer resides with the producers, but with the listeners, which has opened the floodgates of information overload without the accountability of misinformation. Social media is only limited by the views of its individual management team, allowing for the aged problem of “yelling fire in a crowded theater” thereby causing unnecessary panic. The other side here, and more detrimental, is the “wolf cry” syndrome. This syndrome has a boy who cries wolf so many times that it no longer is believed. When the wolf does visit, it is able to inflict more damage because no one protected themselves.

In these modern times of hurry-up-and-go, we find ourselves working more off of perception rather than reality, depending more on glances rather than good, long looks. Therefore, as I’ve always told my kids from a young age, perception is reality. Most people do not take the time to get to know the facts, but work off of their immediate perceptions, using stereotypes and profiling to classify things and actions within their bubbles. These average consumers choose not to look behind the curtain at the man pulling the levers, but instead, accept the news account of a situation as the actual facts. No longer are the times of fact-checking what we hear, or see, leaving the legitimacy of a reported event to that of the source reporting it. Many individuals choose to place more legitimacy in certain sources, defying common sense in many cases, simply putting into their memory (and therefore comparing all new facts against) these half-baked information snippets.

From a ground-level view, what exactly is fact-checking, and why is it so important? To demonstrate this, let’s use an analogy here. Let’s say you were parked next to the roadway with a flat tire on your car. [090920-s3]Having never changed a tire before, you decide to dial up your internet connection on your smartphone and put in the search bar “Changing a tire”. The results come back and inform you to remove the tire from the rim after jacking up the car. Once the tire is off the rim, then replace the tire. Now, for those of you who have never done this before, this information, albeit somewhat correct provides you with information that will not help your current situation. By the time you figure out that the information was inaccurate, you have the vehicle up on a jack with the tire removed from the wheel, and the wheel still connected to the car. Your situation still hasn’t really changed, but now you are taking much more time than was necessary. By now you may have damn-near killed yourself, or certainly injured some part of your body, getting the tire off the rim. So, by doing a little fact-checking before you engaged in the activity, the Firestone website (a manufacturer of tires) tells you to remove the wheel assembly from the hub after jacking up the car, then replace the removed wheel with the spare tire and wheel located in the vehicle. Simply retighten the lug nuts, and let your car down, probably a 20-minute job, with very little frustration or potential for personal injury. That's the advantage of fact-checking. While the other information is not completely wrong, the process leads one to believe that there are several steps that are needed, that really isn’t. More dangerously, is when the first dataset is repeated to the public instead of the second set.

So, while my old adversary continues to broadcast their messages, I encourage each of my listeners to carefully weigh any information you receive. Think about the source, ensure that whatever source you decide to use, their legitimacy is earned by producing a fact-checked, well-balanced, messages that stand up to the scrutiny of other reliable sources. Some sources that you might consider, yes, I’ve advertised them before, however, I feel it's worth repeating, would be listed below. These have earned my trust as reliable, verifiable sources of unbiased, unslanted, news information.

  • Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
  • British Broadcasting Service (BBS)
  • Al-Jazeera - America

As always, it has been an absolute blast to be here with you and relay my years of experience in the many different fields that I have experience in. I greatly appreciate your joining me for this conversation, and look forward to talking with you again next week. Next week promises to be an exciting show with the recent explosion of firearm purchases in the United States. With this exponential growth of new gun owners, we need to examine the ups and downs of owning a personal firearm. So, I bring you “Firearm ownership. I just bought my first firearm, now what?”. Again, I deeply appreciate this conversation and hope to hear from you. Until then, be safe, and remember to be true to who you are. Peace.

Posted on: September 1, 2020, by :

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