“What I like about April Fool’s Day: One day a year we’re asking whether news stories are true. It should be all 365.”
The above quote is a Twitter “tweet” by Prentiss Riddle (@pzriddle) of Austin, Texas, posted on April 1, 2008. It’s a line we should all live by.
Why don’t we ask ourselves, every day, whether the news reports we’re reading, listening to and watching are trustworthy? The fact that most of us don’t is a vestige of the bygone era when we used to watch the late “Uncle” Walter Cronkite—called the most trusted person in America before he retired as CBS Evening News’s anchor in 1981—deliver the headlines. It’s a vestige of a time when we simply sat back and consumed our media.
At the risk of repeating this too often, let me say again: We can no longer afford to be passive consumers. In this chapter, we’ll look at the core principles for turning mere consumption into active learning.
Even those of us who spend a good deal of our time creating media, as I do, are still consumers as well. In fact, we are and always will be more consumers than creators.
Principles of Media Consumption
The principles presented in this chapter stem mostly from common sense; they involve the exercise of our inherent capacity for skepticism, judgment, free thinking, questioning and understanding. The tactics, tools and techniques we use to achieve this goals– blog commenting systems, for example—change with sometimes surprising speed, but these principles are fairly static. Essentially, they add up to something that we don’t do enough of today: critical thinking.
The following sections look closely at the five principles of media consumption. Some of what this chapter covers may not be news to you, but in context it strikes me as worth saying. At the end of the chapter, I’ll step back and consider the more philosophical question of how we can persuade ourselves to, as a smart media critic has written, “take a deep breath” as we read, watch and listen to the news. The next chapter will present some ways to apply these ideas to your daily media intake.