“Be your own editor” is a key piece of advice we give to news users. The words mean something if you have a journalism background. But everyone else is usually left wondering “Right. How?”
Instead of being a “news editor,” think about being a “news eater.” You consume news and you consume food. But food is a much more appealing subject.
Your News Diet
Like everyone else we try to eat a healthy diet including a variety of things from the major groups. We’re not averse to a few treats and guilty pleasures, and yeah, sometimes we get a craving for one thing or another. Some days or weeks are better than others but you try to balance it out over time.
Variety: Actively seek a mix food vs. just consuming what happens to end up in front of you. It’s good to be picky about what you’re consuming and why it’s even on that day’s menu. Avoid a steady diet of any one type of thing no matter how much you think you love it. And try new things — that’s how we learn what’s out there even if we don’t have it regularly.
Ingredients and Quality: Some brands and establishments are pretty reputable because they care about the quality of their product. Others are mostly OK though you wouldn’t eat them all the time. Many more are sketchy or downright questionable; they don’t really care what’s in it as long as you eat it. Finally there are the things that you just know are only going to make you feel gross, flabby or stupid.
Guilty Pleasures: What’s life without dessert? You can enjoy the good and junky treats, within reason of course. Too many or too often and you know how that will turn out. But sure, live a little.
You Control Your Own News Diet
It’s changing but as we said at the start, you have to take the long view to really make it work. You get to keep trying as much as you like because dinner is served 24/7, after all.
The Latin expression in the title can be a handy tool for guiding how we consume news and information online.
It’s pronounced kwee-bo-no. The dictionary defines it as:
1: a principle that probable responsibility for an act or event lies with one having something to gain;
2: usefulness or utility as a principle in estimating the value of an act or policy.
You can use cui bono to think about how information moves around. That includes news, facts, lies, myths, misinformation (wrong info), disinformation (intentionally wrong info), and even gossip. And with the internet being what it is that’s often more important than the information itself.
The thing to remember is to neither believe nor disbelieve what you’re reading, hearing or watching online. Rather, ask yourself how, when, why and where it was reaching you. Question your reactions and responses to it. Chances are someone is hoping that you reacted in a particular way – you clicked or shared, you read, watched, commented or ordered.
If you apply “cui bono,” it’s less about somebody manipulating or doing something to you and more about if, how or why you want to go along with it. You get to decide. If somebody’s going to gain something from your reaction it might as well be you at least in the form of awareness.
That’s a pretty useful principle.
We’re a couple of guys who have spent our careers in the journalism and communications businesses, and, to be honest, we’ve been concerned about how we and our fellow news consumers are getting the news lately. Those concerns have been growing for some time, and they’ve peaked during the presidential campaign and election. We’re awash in “news,” but much of it turns out to be false, and much of it is tailored to what our social media platforms think we want.
We’re moving away from getting our news from the TV or the radio, or even primarily from newspapers. We’re getting it from the screen you’re looking at right now, and it’s making its way to that screen along a path that’s often quite different from the path that led to your TV, radio, or newspaper. You have a new device that delivers your news, and we think that device should come with instructions.
And so, we offer this News User Manual. It’s a collection of podcasts and blogs with our observations about the news environment on social media, and our advice on how you can make sure you’re getting the information you need to be part of a well-informed electorate. We’re not media critics and, for the moment at least, we’re not running any major news organizations. We are passionate in our belief that our system of self-governance can only work if the people are well-informed.
We hope you agree. We hope our effort helps. We hope you’ll tell us what you think. And if you like us, or even if we just piss you off, we encourage you to share our podcasts and blogs with your friends and followers.