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Americans are getting their news from more places than ever before. Besides traditional sources, we are turning to social media, email and even late-night TV to find out what’s happening in the world. And we are increasingly able to target news based on our interests and ideology. Some journalists worry the sheer volume of all that information is affecting our news literacy. They say we need to think critically about our daily media diet and ask more questions about who is producing and sourcing the news we consume and why. Diane and her guests discuss how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age.
- Alan Miller Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; founder, president, and CEO of The News Literacy Project.
- Tom Rosenstiel executive director, American Press Institute; co-author of “Blur: How to Know What to Believe in the Age of Information Overload.”
- Andy Carvin former social media desk editor, NPR; recently joined journalism start-up First Look Media.
- Amanda Ripley investigative journalist and author of "The Smartest Kids in the World."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. American's have access to more news than ever before. But research shows we've never had less trust in our sources of information. Joining me to talk about how to judge the credibility of news in the digital age, Alan Miller of The News Literacy Project, author and investigative journalist, Amanda Ripley, social media journalist, Andy Carvin of First Look Media, and Tom Rosenstiel, he's executive director of the American Press Institute. I hope you'll join me. I know this will be an interesting and informative discussion.
MS. DIANE REHMI want you to join in. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MR. ANDY CARVINGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having us.
MS. AMANDA RIPLEYGood morning.
MR. ALAN MILLERGreat to be here.
REHMGood to see you. Tom Rosenstiel, what's the latest on how people are getting their news these days?
MR. TOM ROSENSTIELWell, we have shifted to what you might call a user-controlled media universe. It used to be that the public had to adapt its behavior to fit the media. You had to be home at 6:30 to watch the news. You had to read the paper in the morning to be in synch with everyone else. And now the user is in charge. We can get whatever news we want when we want it. It's plentiful. And the media are struggling to adapt their behavior to fit the behavior of the consumer. What we've discovered is not that everyone is running to and ideological niche and only getting news that they agree with. It's more complicated than that.
MR. TOM ROSENSTIELWhat really determines where people go for the news is the topic. So we go certain places for sports, other places for weather. Niche is very important. Style of presentation is very important. Things that are fun appeal to certain audiences. But it turns out that topic more than demographics or age determines where people go. And that the notion that certain old media are vanishing or are irrelevant to younger people is not true. Believe it or not, 59 percent of people over 18 and below 30 read newspaper content every week. But they're reading it on mobile devices and not in print.
REHMAlan Miller, you are president and CEO of The News Literacy Project. Talk about what you mean by news literacy.
MILLERWell, in a user-controlled media environment, everybody is their own editor. And anybody can be a producer. So it's imperative that people have the critical thinking skills to know what to believe in a digital world -- to know what is credible, verified information versus raw information, opinion, misinformation and propaganda. So the way we define news literacy and what we try to give the students in our program is the ability to discern and create credible information across all platforms, as students, consumers and citizens. This is really fundamental to having an informed and engaged electorate, which as we know is essential on depending of a healthy democracy.
REHMSo what you've got as both -- now you and Tom Rosenstiel have said, more sources, but at the same time, greater mistrust.
MILLERYes, because there's such a variety, a myriad of sources of varying credibility and transparency and accountability and more onus on the consumer to determine what to believe -- and not only what to believe, but then what to share and what to act on.
REHMAnd to you, Amanda Ripley. As you think about what is quality journalism, what does that mean to you?
RIPLEYWell, you know, I, as a journalist on staff at TIME Magazine for about 10 years, we would fact-check everything that went in the magazine very rigorously. I mean, it was painful as the writer, but very important. Because inevitably, these, you know, very meticulous fact-checkers would find mistakes. And I worry a lot about how much that's changed. Because now, most places I write for, unless it's in print for some reason, we don't -- we don't tend to fact-check it.
RIPLEYIn fact, for the different I've written, the most fact-checked I've ever been, when I do an interview or I write for a magazine, was actually in O Magazine, The Oprah Magazine, which is sort of counterintuitive, right? So there's -- people don't have good signals for which outlets to trust and which to not trust. So I think there's plenty of skepticism about the media, but not necessarily in the right directions.
REHMSo I think of, for example, The New Yorker magazine, certainly lots of fact-checkers there. Why are you suggesting surprise at the fact-checkers at O Magazine?
RIPLEYWell, I think, I suspect, I could be wrong, but that when you're standing at the airport looking at all the magazines there, when you think about which is the most trustworthy? Which one can I most trust? Maybe, you know, maybe you're right. Maybe people do trust O and maybe that's why Oprah was very obsessive about making sure everybody got fact-checked. I will say, The New Yorker -- I wrote a letter once to The New Yorker and they fact-checked the heck out of the letter.
RIPLEYSo that's to their credit. When I write for the Atlantic Monthly, they fact-check their magazine pieces...
RIPLEYBut in general, I think -- I mean, tell me if you all disagree -- but I think the percentage of content that is fact-checked is lower, I would argue, than it was 10 years ago.
REHMAnd Andy Carvin, what does that mean as far as social media is concerned? Fact-checking, no fact-checking?
CARVINWell, because social media is taking place in real time, when a person utters something, claiming that they've seen rubber bullets being fired in Ferguson, it's out there already. And people need to make their own mind as to whether that source is reliable. And so that means you need to have a better sense of who this person is. Are they posting things that have a particular angle or bias? Has their reputation in the past been raised in question?
CARVINAnd so, when there's literally no time to ask that person back before they say it, it requires a person who's listening to all of this to be willing to engage them and ask them, are you sure that's exactly what you saw? Did you see this first-hand? Or are you getting this from a law-enforcement source?
REHMSo if you're talking about social media, you're not just talking about text messages, email. You're talking about photographs that people put up in their...
CARVINWe're talking about anything that people can disseminate in real time, whether it's through Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere. And previously, when you relied on broadcast media, you had to give them the benefit of the doubt that what they were saying had been vetted in some way. And when they say, our sources are saying this or that, well, you can't really push back. Whereas now you can. I've got the ability not only to question a citizen journalist who may be on the ground in Ferguson, I could just as easily out-reply Anderson Cooper on CNN and ask him, why didn't you explain these particular sources? Or have you taken a look at this particular Twitter user?
CARVINAnd in many cases, you're seeing professional journalist actually engage back. And so then you have social media acting less as a newswire, but then acting as more of almost like a collaborative newsroom space.
REHMSo, Alan Miller, to what extent do you believe that social media has, in fact, undermined the public's trust in media as a whole?
MILLERWell I think it goes beyond social media. I mean the fact is that there were a number of, you know, self-inflicted wounds in the mainstream media where they were talking about Jayson Blair, you know, Jack Kelley, Stephen Glass. But I think the Iraq War took a real toll in terms of public trust. And there have been obviously attacks on the media from right and left and various directions that also have exacerbated that.
MILLERAnd I think just generally the -- this proliferation of sources that have such varying purposes that, you know, in some cases are intended to inform, but often are intended to persuade or to sell or to manipulate, have also undermined peoples' ability to sort of navigate this world in a way that they have trust in it.
REHMSo what are the kinds of questions, Tom Rosenstiel, we need to ask ourselves and ask providers?
ROSENSTIELSo in one of my books -- a book called "Blur" -- we set out six questions that we think anyone could ask about any piece of content. And the reason that this movement of news literacy is so important and these questions are important is, precisely as Andy says, because the content is now disconnected from brand. So you can't -- it comes from some person. You don't know who they are. You need to be able to see, in this content, whether it's reliable. Because you can't just say, well I trust it because it's from the AP or from The New York Times or CNN.
ROSENSTIELSo the questions can be asked in any order. It doesn't really matter. But they are, who is the source? Well, the first one actually is, what am I looking at? Is this designed to persuade? Is it an editorial? Is it a news story? The second one, who are the sources? And how did they know what they know? Is it first-hand, second-hand, third-hand? What evidence are they offering? What questions are unanswered by this? And finally, is there an alternative interpretation that -- and what evidence would suggest that?
ROSENSTIELNow that seems complicated. But I've done this with 15-year-old junior high schoolers. Once you get them thinking this way and say, so who's the source for this? They can circle that or identify it pretty easily.
REHMBut, Amanda, how many of us, as adults, go through those six questions?
RIPLEYWell, that's so interesting. Because what Tom is talking about, right, is about thinking critically when you're reading. I mean, really, at bottom, that's what that is.
RIPLEYAnd we know...
ROSENSTIELOr watching or listening.
RIPLEYOr processing information of any kind, right? And thinking, where did this come from? What's missing? What's not there? And we actually know a lot about our strengths and weaknesses as a country at all age groups when it comes to that.
REHMAmanda Ripley, author, investigative journalist. Her latest book is titled, "The Smartest Kids in the World."
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about trust in media, why it's declining, what is happening, the kinds of questions people should be asking as they look at various forms of media disseminated, not only in this country but around the world. Alan Miller is with me. He's founder and president of the New Literacy Project. Amanda Ripley is an author and investigative journalist. Andy Carvin, formerly ran the social media desk at NPR. He recently joined the journalism startup First Look Media. Tom Rosenstiel is executive director of the American Press Institute.
REHMAnd here are two postings on our Facebook page. Nancy says, "Live streaming is the death now of network news." Justin says, "When there are people on the ground with a tech, live streams allow me to watch the event and make my own decisions on the impact." But you, Alan, are still saying you've got to teach people to negotiate all of that.
MILLERAbsolutely. And I wanted to make one point from our earlier discussion at the media which is the media is not a monolith. We sometimes tend to refer to them in that way. And the fact is that there are news organizations that are dedicated, however imperfectly, to trying to tell the truth in a dispassionate way to give people the various perspectives that they need to make up their own minds about things. So we try to foster skepticism among students, not cynicism. All information is not created equal and we want them to be able to make those distinctions.
MILLERSo what we do is, you know, we bring original curriculum and journalists into middle schools and high schools to give students critical thinking skills to know what to believe and to be able to make these distinctions, which we think is a vital skill in the digital age...
REHMSo how do you do that?
MILLERWell, first of all, we do some of the things Tom was talking about earlier. We ask them to look at what they're looking at. Is it news? Is it opinion? Is it advertising? Is it propaganda? If it purports to be news, you know, what are the sources, what's the documentation, what is the bias? Do this give different points of view? Is there elemental fairness? And then to make those judgments in terms of both what they believe and then also what they share and what they act on.
REHMBut Andy Carvin, with news coming so quickly on social media, How do people make those kinds of critical judgments?
CARVINWell, I think it becomes important for people when they start consuming information through social media that they broaden their sources as widely as possible. I think the people who sent their messages in Facebook raise interesting points regarding -- excuse me -- live streaming because on the one hand, if you find a single live stream from an event such as the protests and the riots in Ferguson, it'll give you a perspective of what's happening in that field of view. But it's not the full perspective.
CARVINI recall just a few days ago, I literally had four live streams going on multiple monitors trying to make sense of what was going on on the ground close to -- I think it was close to midnight in Ferguson. And one camera, it looked like it seemed the protestors were there yelling at the police. And all of a sudden the police overreacted and started firing tear gas. But if you switch to another live stream, you'd actually see people further in the back, several of them holding Molotov cocktails.
CARVINAnd so if you weren't watching two live streams at once, you could get very different perspectives on what was actually happening on the ground. Neither of them are false because they're depicting what's happening, but neither of them are the full picture either.
REHMSo Amanda, confronted with two pictures of that kind, what do you say to people who are watching this? Do you say, take all this with a grain of salt? Do you say, look elsewhere? What do you say?
RIPLEYWell, I can tell you what I do personally, which is I try to view original sources when I can. And now, as Andy was saying, we can do that in a way that we couldn't before. So, you know, I read about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. I read a lot about it but then I also went and watched the YouTube videos that people took with their phones right after he was shot. And I have to tell you, there was something so raw and devastating about the way his body was just lying in the street for so long.
REHM...in the street.
RIPLEYAnd I wouldn't have gotten that from traditional -- by the time the TV cameras show up, you know, things have moved on.
REHMBut nobody got the actual shooting.
REHMWhat we saw and, you know, has been confusing, it seems to me, because people have said, oh we have the footage of his being shot. Nobody has that footage.
RIPLEYNobody has that. But, you know, I will say just watching how long his body sat there and how all the neighbors watching it and watching it from their vantage point gave me a level of understanding that there was a lack -- a perceived -- a very strong lack of, like, humanity in the way the body was dealt with. So that's just as important actually as what happened during the shooting, yeah.
ROSENSTIELSo, Diane, if I can just jump on this point...
ROSENSTIEL...which is I totally agree with Andy about urging people to follow a wide range of sources. But also, you know, news is often provisional. And Ferguson's a good example. You need to follow a story overtime. Very often the first story isn't a complete story. It may not even be an accurate story. Ultimately, hopefully, certainly in major stories like this, facts will come out. And that's the way to get the complete story.
REHMBut on the other hand, the manner in which the police doled out information became itself a great point of criticism, Tom.
ROSENSTIELRight. And this is one of the -- the Ferguson story is an interesting case and a challenging case because the incident itself was short lived and took place in a small amount of time and we don't know that much. Then what we have since is people trying to interpret an event that they didn't see, the police stonewalling -- behaving in a way that raises suspicion, the family bringing in other people to do another autopsy.
ROSENSTIELSo this is an even where what journalism -- traditional journalism was focused on was what happened. Let's get the facts right and establish that foundation. This is an even where people are coming into it now days later. And it's very hard to sort of know the moment of origin and what occurred. The other challenge with all of this is, people learn what matters to them when it matters to them.
ROSENSTIELThe news cycle is not so much continuous now as it is asynchronous. We -- I come in when I come in. And I don't know things from the start. And I'm not necessarily going to be interested in them until they become relevant to me. And so that's why these skills become so vital. The only way we can really reshape our media is by reshaping the users' demand for it.
CARVINAnd I think there's something simple that those of us who either participate in broadcast or social media helping people negotiate what's going on, you know, there's a traditional practice that's been in radio for decades, which is simply saying, here's what we know and here's what we don't know, and raising that on a regular basis. Because as Tom suggested, people don't stick with a single source for a continuous period of time. You know, they're flitting in and out of different news sources and news environments.
CARVINAnd if we're not prepared to step back and constantly remind people, here's what we know, here's what we don't know and these are the sources we've used, then people could very easily get the wrong impression based on what we're saying at that moment.
REHMMarion in Grand Rapids, Mich. writes, "I personally think that opinion news has taken over for legitimate news," Amanda.
RIPLEYWell, I think there's definitely some truth to that. I mean, you see more opinion news because having a strong strident voice is a way to get attention, right. In a very cluttered, noisy media environment that is one easy, cheap way to get attention. On the other hand, I mean, unfortunately we have so many hands in this conversation, but, you know, there, at the same time, are more people watching. And there are three points of view. I mean, we would've had just one, NBC or something, you know, back in the day.
RIPLEYSo I think it's complicated. And I think what you're hearing -- at least what I'm getting out of this conversation is that these skills that Alan is talking about, this ability to critically think about what you're seeing is becoming more and more valuable. And it's actually not just in media. It's in processing health care information, in processing nutrition information. Everything is coming at us like a fire hose and we have to figure out ways to make judgments to...
MILLERWell, and that's the challenge. We have the raw ingredient for a better journalism because we have more ingredients. But knowledge is actually harder to create when you have to sift through more things.
REHMAnd that said the word from another email, Kathleen, she says, "As a middle school teacher in an inner city district, I have quite a challenge. When doing a research project, my students do not have the critical skills or the background knowledge to discern what is true or appropriate on the web for their research paper." That is a huge challenge, Alan.
MILLERYes. And that's the primary focus of our work is to give students tools that will make them better students today because they're applicable immediately to the research they do as well as, you know, the lives that they lead outside of school. So I would refer this teacher and any others to our website. We have what we call Learn Channel with video lessons that deal with everything from using Twitter and Facebook to sources in news stories, to using reverse imaging to check photos. And we are in the process of developing an open access digital unit that we'll have available on our site by the end of the year that will be there for teachers and students everywhere.
CARVINI'm really glad you raised this issue of reverse image searches.
CARVINThere are certain technical skills that we wouldn't have even been talking about a year or two ago that have really become absolutely necessary if you're really going to scrutinize what you're seeing. Because it's so easy for people to either fake a picture or perhaps more commonly take a picture completely out of context and claim it's happening somewhere. Then we really need to be skeptical of almost everything that's shown to us.
CARVINAnd there are simple tools out there such as Google Image Search which you can set up on your web browser and, like, right-click a button and it will automatically show you if a photo that people are claiming is new has circulated elsewhere on the internet in the past. And so one of the things I do is I never re-tweet a photograph from any source until I've had a chance to do a Google Image Search first. Because on many occasions you'll see people sometimes well-meaning, not realize that the photo they've been sharing among their friends came from a completely different context, sometimes even years ago.
ROSENSTIELWe expect children to graduate high school with competency in math and science and literature and a variety of other curricula, but we do not expect them to understand or have any trained competency in the literature of civic life, how to be a citizen. We didn't really need to teach these skills because our media force-fed us this and we trusted sort of these brands to handle that for us. And our society hasn't caught up to the fact that we're in a kind of information entropy.
REHMTom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Andy, there's a big red flag for us to how stories are sourced. How do we find that out?
CARVINIt's really tough especially when news organizations sometimes have to keep that information close to the vest. And they do it at their own peril. You know, I think of situations such as the Boston bombing when CNN reported that the suspects had been arrested when they hadn't. That came from unnamed law enforcement sources.
CARVINDuring the afternoon following the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook, the wrong brother was named. And over the course of an hour his name was spreading all over the place, despite the fact that about 15 minutes into the first release of his name, he was on his Facebook page saying, it's not me. I didn't do it. But because his Facebook page was closed only to his friends, most news organizations kept running with it for another 45 minutes.
REHMAnd Amanda, talk about anonymous sources.
RIPLEYWell, you know, it's funny because obviously when you see an unnamed source, we as reporters and people who study the media know to be cautious of that. And I look for that when I read. I don't know, maybe Alan can speak to this, whether teenagers look for that or young people, regular people look for that.
RIPLEYAnd I think the interesting thing though is that even -- I remember when I was reporting after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, we were getting really false inflammatory information from the police chief. And we were naming him, right. So there -- you can get really bad information particularly in a crisis...
RIPLEYHe thought it was true. He didn't know that it was false. Terrible things, looting, you know, rape, violence that wasn't happening. So there are, particularly in times of crisis, and this goes to Tom's point, that, you know, speed, as he said, is the enemy of accuracy. In moments of crisis you have to be extremely skeptical and cautious, as a reporter and as a reader.
REHMAnd talking about being extremely skeptical, I wonder how police know that some 30 of the protestors in Ferguson are from out of town. Do we know that for sure? Are they instigators brought in to heighten the tension? How do we know?
CARVINOn previous days they've referenced the IDs that some of these people were carrying when they were arrested. I didn't hear that mentioned from last night's press conference. But also, the press conference that happened in the middle of the night didn't mention the fact that several journalists had been arrested. They only referenced 30 or so quote unquote "criminals." And among those 30 was actually one of my colleagues from First Look Media. He was only released about 90 minutes ago.
REHMAnd that's why I find myself wondering about how we as the ordinary and presumably somewhat educated public can discern reality from somebody's pushing an idea. How do we do that?
RIPLEYWell, I think there are some patterns, right. There is some wisdom that we can pass on from person to person. And I have uncovered a lot of disasters and now Ferguson is unfortunately looking like a disaster scene. I can tell you there are patterns that most of us don't know about. One pattern that's very predictable is that reports of looting are almost always exaggerated. After hurricanes this happens every time. And then seven months later the researchers go in and find out, oh, it was actually much smaller than we thought. By then no one's paying attention. But once we know that there are those patterns and to be cautious about those reports, we can be careful about spreading those rumors, right.
REHMOf course we saw that looting take place.
RIPLEYWell, you can always see it. That's the thing. And the same thing happened in New Orleans, right. There were these stunning visuals of people walking down the street with, you know, big screen, flat screen TVs. That's always the kind of token example. But it turns out that's one guy out of many, many tens of thousands who are not looting. The impact of that is actually much smaller than the fear of looting.
REHMAmanda Ripley, author, investigative journalist, and we'll take a short break here. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd just before we open the phones, here's an email from Ann, who says, "I sometimes use fact-checking websites, like PolitiFact or FactCheck.org, to vet stories I hear or read. How objective and reliable are these websites?" Andy Carvin?
CARVINWell, I find them particularly useful, but, unfortunately, some of them have gotten politicized. Because you have news entities or websites out there that have a clear political bent that will make the argument that, "Oh, this site, even though they're calling themselves fact-checking, they're just an excuse for the liberal media," etcetera, etcetera.
CARVINAnd so it's frustrating that when you have sites being developed with people working really, really hard to get the facts right, even that isn't good enough for some other websites. And so it just adds and compounds the problem with people not knowing who to trust.
REHMInteresting. Let's go to Miami, Fla. Hi, Malone, you're on the air.
MALONEHow you doing, ma'am? Real quickly, I just wanted to say that -- well, I trust you and Charlie Rose. You all the only credible sources that I know. And also, speaking about the digital vibe with -- in terms of journalism. I thought the behavior of, let's say, Don Lemon, in his orchestrated stopping -- whether he was being stopped by the law enforcement officers was outrageous. So could you speak about that?
CARVINI'm trying to remember the details of that incident. Does anyone else remember how that played out exactly?
REHMWe'll have to let that go then. Malone, do you want to remind us?
MALONEOh, well, he was -- he kind of orchestrated it to where he was being stopped by law enforcement officers. They told -- they explained to everyone, again, to walk on the sides not in the street. And then he went behind the barrier -- well, in fact, he went against what they said. So it made it appear that they were harassing him. And I thought that was outrageous. Journalism has to be truthful.
MALONEAnd I was -- and, you know, this celebrity journalism that's going on right now is outrageous. Instead of telling the truth like you and somebody like Charlie Rose, it's some -- they want to make a name for themselves. Could you speak on that for me?
CARVINWell, I think there are definitely times when journalists, for better or for worse, put themselves into the middle of the story. And, you know, while in some cases that can be informative, in many other cases -- if it becomes about them, then it becomes a major distraction to whatever it is we're really trying to deal with.
REHMAll right. To Darrell, here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
DARRELLHi, Diane. I thank you for convening this topic. And I'm a freelance journalist. And I wrote about specifically this topic following the Boston bombings and some of the misinformation that was distributed, not by citizen journalist, but actually by reputable news stations. And I think it's important for news agencies to keep this premise in mind. They will never really beat a citizen journalist who happens to circumstantially be at the epicenter of an event when it occurs.
DARRELLHowever, the thing that they can do that will lend tremendous credibility is to get the facts straight. And individual doesn't have the resources that a news agency has. And yet, news agencies have less resources than they did say 10 or 20 years ago. But they have vastly more resources than an individual has and they should focus on getting the facts straight, rather than trying to be first to get the story out.
REHMAll right. And my only concern about that is we know how often eyewitness reports are wrong, Amanda.
RIPLEYYes. But I think it is true that we will never beat an -- in most cases. At this point, everybody's got a phone video in their pocket, video camera in their pocket. So the point is a good one, that we need to prioritize, as media organizations, getting things right. It would be good if there were more incentives to do that. Right? I mean I know that you often -- you do not get a -- any prestige, any cliques, any awards for getting things right. Maybe these gentlemen could speak to how we could change that.
ROSENSTIELSo one of concepts here is what scholars call the attention economy, which is to say, basically, that the amount of attention that the public has to focus on news is finite. And you have all these new sources competing for that. So they become more shrill. They become more politicized. They sensationalize. There are a lot of incentives to do that to say look at me, get my cliques, you know, get my audience up. And we need to, as Amanda says, incentivize.
ROSENSTIELAnd I think there's an opportunity for certain news organizations to say, our brand is actually rectitude, caution, skepticism. You can go to us and we're not going to pass these things along. And part of our new job is to triangulate and organize this mass intelligence that exists and filter it on your behalf. So if we don't pass it along, it's because we haven't checked it out.
ROSENSTIELThat is an opportunity to emerge in the marketplace by being reliable. But no one's really trying to do that at the moment. That's not a marketing brand that we're seeing explicit.
CARVINWhen you talk about citizen journalists, in reality the majority of these people wouldn't label themselves as such. They tend to be eyewitnesses, people in the right place at the right time.
CARVINOr the wrong place at wrong time. And they're -- more often than not they're trying to be sincere in the way they share information. But what I've noticed over the last several years is the way some people who are eyewitnesses try to parrot the jargon that they see within the media. So for example, they'll preface a tweet with the word breaking in all caps or confirmed. And so I often have to interact with a person on the ground while they're in the middle of a breaking news situation to have them stop doing that or to have them explain in more detail, are you actually the eyewitness or did your brother-in-law tell you that?
CARVINAnd so over time they're reliability improves because they realize they don't have to parrot us, they just have to observe as accurately as possible.
REHMAll right. To Joe, in Howell, Mich. You're on the air.
JOEThanks for having me this morning.
JOEI just wanted to make a couple of comments. I'll try to be as brief as I can. I guess generically, in the beginning, I think a big issue that most people fall into -- I would include myself and I would say everybody, regardless of how objective we try to be -- we fall into a rut of sources that validate our preconceptions, the things that we find comfortable, the things that we find reassuring because it's easier. It's just simply an issue of generic laziness, I would say, across the board. And I think that -- I think that there's been studies -- I don't have them because that's not my line of work.
JOEBut I think that there's research that's proven that, especially with the internet being as broad as it is and with the access to such -- so many different sources, we tend not to seek out things that challenge us. And one of the things that I've learned -- and this ties into my -- the reason I called -- is I've done military information support operations, it's formally known as PSYOP, Psychological Operations. And that's one of the key fundamentals, is understanding things objectively as possible, stepping outside, removing any emotion you may have connected to a situation and trying to look at the facts.
JOEAnd it gets into the six things that one of your guests had talked about earlier and trying to validate a news source. Well, in the military, in the PSYOP or the MISO world we have a process called SCAME S-C-A-M-E, an it's source, content, audience, media and the effect or the desired effect. And so you can go through any type of media you have, be it a paper leaflet, be it a news story, and whether it's a source that's been credited with it, you can determine those things by knowing what to look for.
MILLERI'm glad the caller raises this point because this is a growing problem of people looking for confirmation in their media, rather than information. I think when you -- when you look at the world of news through prisms of red and blue, you do tend to see the world in terms that are more black and white and you close yourself off to other opinions, points of view, what Eli Pariser has called the filter bubbles, which of course aided and abetted by the algorithms that can steer things that only you're interested in or that may appeal to you ideologically.
MILLERAnd I think one of the problems here is, not only does it make harder to have discourse about agreed upon facts and reach a consensus, but it also subjects people to greater manipulation and exploitation and makes them more vulnerable to propaganda.
REHMYeah, we've got a number of people questioning PR from companies masquerading as news, Amanda.
RIPLEYThis is happening more and more, in my experience. Where you cannot easily tell at first glance -- unless you're looking for it -- whether something is a news story or an advertisement or paid content. Sometimes it's both, which is very disturbing. And this is partly a function of news outlets being more desperate for cash. Right? So they will compromise and sell paid content to sponsors in ways that they wouldn't have maybe before.
RIPLEYSo, again, it goes back to this point that these skills, this ability to be self-aware and objective and look at what you're seeing critically are becoming more and more valuable. What we know -- and this is actually some hopeful news in all this chaos -- is that actually, you know, most states are moving to a curriculum set of standards, targets for what kids should know called the Common Core State Standards, that require kids to do more of this work from an early age, to really think about where's the evidence for this in the text? And to write with that in mind, with an analytical mindset, as opposed to -- what we used to ask kids to do was -- how do you feel about this?
REHMOr memorizing things, yeah.
RIPLEYOr memorizing, right. So we're asking kids -- we're asking more of kids, which, by the way, a handful of other countries have done in recent years and gotten incredible results, where they're seeing that your social background is not related to your level of critical thinking and reading. And so that's pretty exciting.
REHMAndy Carvin, talk about your experience with the Arab Spring.
CARVINIt was one of the first times in history where a major geopolitical event was being defined on the ground in real time by the people who were either experiencing or engaging in it directly. If you think about, for example, the protests that took place during those 18 days in Cairo, there were certain times where it simply wasn't safe for a reporter to be out and about because thugs were hunting them down.
CARVINBut meanwhile, you would have dozens of people in Tahrir Square, in the surrounding area, live tweeting what they were experiencing. And while one of them might have a limited perspective because they can literally only see so much around them, when you have a series of 20 or 30 people all reporting on the sound of the same explosion happening in the distance or beginning to see smoke coming from a certain building, you're able to triangulate that knowledge and almost have this type of situational awareness as to how a story is actually taking place.
REHMBut, you know, I find myself thinking back on that, whether the amount of social journalism that was going on in those days somehow mislead us into thinking that the movement, the strength of the movement was more powerful and more widespread than we really understood.
CARVINEgypt is a perfect example of that because while there's no doubt that social media played a role, not necessarily the role, but a role in the revolution. In the weeks and months following that revolution you had many of those activists continuing to tweet about their protests in Tahrir Square, as if momentum was still on side -- on their side. But what you didn't realize is if you just went one or two blocks away from the Square, it was business as usual because the rest of Egypt had essentially moved on.
CARVINAnd so because you had this small group of well-educated English-speaking elites, talking about revolution following the initial protests, it gave the impression that everything was still on their side. Whereas, in reality, they were getting more and more marginalized with each passing month.
MILLERAnd this is one of the dangers with social media and these new ingredients. We lend a lot of authenticity to them, but we forget that only 17 percent of the American public is even on Twitter. It's not a vox populi.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Birmingham, Ala. Hi, Jim, you're on the air.
JIMOh, good day. What a fantastic topic. And really a very important issue these days. Like all of you, I -- every day I hear these fantastic claims coming from people that I'm sitting and having dinner with, from college students to whatever. And you go -- you ask, where in the world did you get this information about this or that food additive or whatever. But, you know, critical reading, critical thinking, these are not classroom -- things you can learn in a classroom.
JIMIt takes a lifetime of learning. And I'm a former reporter, street reporter and news anchor and producer. And I grew up in a home where we had -- we subscribed to three daily newspapers, Time, Newsweek, U.S. and News Report. Some days my dad would even bring home the publication of the Nation of Islam in one hand and in the other hand a Ku Klux Klan newspaper. We would sit down and compare and contrast the claims. And that's the sort of way that you develop critical, you know, I would call them critical observing skills, to be comprehensive.
JIMBut it -- this thing in Ferguson reminds me of how street reporting is the most -- or, for that matter, war reporting -- they're so challenging. Because we hear about the fog of war, but, you know, when you are on a street scene like that, where all these wild things are going on around you -- usually in a very small area. It can be very confusing, especially at night. And there is never a shortage of people who walk up who claim to have witnessed something.
REHMOf course. Amanda?
RIPLEYWell, I have good news. You can learn this in the classroom. There is unequivocal evidence that you can learn it in the classroom. It is what Alan and the News Literacy Project do when they go into a classroom, but it's also what entire countries are now managing to do. Not most, but some countries are now systematically teaching virtually all their kids to think critically while reading, to make judgments about what they're reading, to consider biases in news articles.
RIPLEYAnd we now know that there's a long list of countries -- Japan, Australia, Canada, Finland -- where 15-year-olds are much more savvy in what they're reading and writing about than American 15-year-olds.
REHMBut give me an example of how you would do that, Alan. Are you talking about taking a news story, sort of paragraph by paragraph and pushing the question of what do you see here versus what do you see here? Give me an understanding of how it's done.
MILLERWell, we teach more foundational skills. We may do that at some point, but we first of all start out by getting students to look at the news or information they're looking at and ask this question as to what is it and give them the basis to make determinations about whether they're looking at a news story or an opinion piece or an ad.
REHMAnd how old are they when you ask that question?
MILLERThese are middle school and high school students. And then we bring in journalists who talk to them about how to think like a journalist in a digital age and to share those skills. We're reaching these students where they live, which is on their devices. And this a very empowering skill to be able to analyze and assess the credibility of what they're seeing. First of all, can they even determine what the source of it is? And then how credible that is, before they act on it, share it, you know, or delete it.
REHMWell, I wish you all success because I think the entire population, at this point, needs something like that. Alan Miller, Amanda Ripley, Andy Carvin, Tom Rosenstiel thank you all so much.
ROSENSTIELThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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