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Blog 7: News Gathering

With the fragmentation of news gathering, it’s apparent that people who strongly identify with a political party tend to gather their news from specialized sources that cater to their political philosophies. For instance, those with liberal leanings tend to gather news from these folks:

While those with more conservative standing may get their news from one of these fine specimens of political banter:

While still others with, say, more Libertarian leanings will follow what this institute puts forth as relevant news:

Regardless of from which stereotypical political party sympathizing news source one gathers news, there are pros and cons to the fact that people tend to watch news programs that align with their political philosophies. For rational political news watchers, getting one’s news from a specific source will give that person a thorough understanding of a specific viewpoint pertaining to a given issue. For instance, if someone with liberal tendencies watches MSNBC news coverage of the healthcare debate or the dissolution of Wisconsin unions, that person will have a fairly deep understanding of the liberal viewpoint of those issues. This, in turn, can lead to lively and well processed arguments and debates with those who do not hold similar viewpoints and are, presumptively, gathering news from a source with a different viewpoint. The key here is rationality within the individual, however. One who gets one’s information from a specialized source must consider that the source from which they are gathering information is biased, may be misinformed or flat out wrong, and should consider other viewpoints if it turns out that the information one has does not back up an argument.

Another pro of gathering sources is that fragmentation breeds dissent, which can bring about compromise to advance a cause or manage an issue. That there are so many different channels concerning political news means that people are taking sides and holding opinions on issues important to the public discourse, implying that compromise and debate are necessary elements in terms of managing an issue relevant to the public discourse. Thus, rather than blindly accepting what the media says is the end all be all in terms of public discourse, people can argue and attempt to persuade others in terms of the “rightness” of an issue, which (ideally) can lead to solutions to an issue that may not be noticed if everyone was like minded and consistent in from where news was gathered.

However, a con with these vast array of choices is a lack of consistency. Because there are so many sources from which to gather news, the question of “What is really going on here?” becomes complex and sometimes muddled. If news sources covering the same topic provide entirely different “facts” on the matter, a viewer can become confused or disillusioned with the sources, assuming that if the same story has two conflicting sets of facts, one side must be lying and thus, will be forever considered untrustworthy. This can breed cynicism toward news sources, which may result in people leaving the political news arena altogether, reducing the number of voices on an issue that can be heard overall.

In short, it does matter that there are many different news sources with different political leanings that appeal to specific ideologies. This can be a good thing if political news organizations and participants are rational in their consumption of the news and are willing to engage in logical debate on an issue. However, it can be bad if irrationality, stubbornness and pure emotion guide the consumption of news, as this can lead to simple shouting matches and a departure of voices from the political issues arena due to cynicism over the sources’ credibility.

  1. April 4, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Nice post as usual.

    One question, you state that “fragmentation breeds dissent, which can bring about compromise.” Is dissent prone to result in compromise?

    Also, if this dissent is built upon muddled facts (something you discuss as one of your cons of fragmentation) then what sort of compromise results when opponents are working from a different set of facts? A good compromise? In this negotiable landscape of facts, what criteria do we use to evaluate a compromise?

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