How we deal with subjectivity in the news
Welcome back, to part four of five in our introductory series. Today, we'll talk about subjectivity in the news. And a good place to start is with the vital change in the role of news publishers. In the pre-internet era, the publishers’ primary task was to disseminate information. And it was generally accepted that they would fulfil this role with as little subjectivity as possible.
But today we already have a maddening amount of information at our fingertips. So the role of the modern publisher is not just to disseminate information. Instead, it's much more attuned to sense-making, and holding back the information tsunami so you can focus on information that is essential.
The other big change in the world is that it is also becoming highly specialised. As a result, new developments in every domain now extend well beyond the comprehension of non-experts. For example, 20 years ago you might have been able to follow a manual and repair your car. Today, however, you would need sophisticated equipment, advanced engineering nous, and knowledge of computer programming. From cyber warfare to scientific breakthroughs, the impact of specialisation is that publishers increasingly need to translate and simplify events. Take the debate on nuclear energy as an example. How many people really have the time and inclination to gather all the facts on whether it’s a viable and preferable alternative to renewable energy?
Both these new roles (holding back the news tide and adding context to stories) are inherently subjective. It's also worth acknowledging that this subjectivity, in and of itself, is not always bad. As someone once said, the only people who can be completely objective are complete fools. In fact, people have been arguing since the Enlightenment about whether true objectivity is even possible.
Bit, it's important to know when and where there is subjectivity. And that's why a collated view of the news from multiple sources is becoming increasingly important for understanding the world. A recent Reuters study found that 40% of readers see four or more news sources every week. As an inkl reader, you obviously see far more.
There's one more important point to consider on this topic, and it concerns false equivalence. At inkl we think about news in terms of whether it concerns a consensus fact-set. When it does (e.g., climate change, impact of vaccinations, issues of inequality) we believe our job is to present that consensus view of the facts. Should a heretic come along with a dissenting view, one that is demonstrable, verifiable, and repeatable, it is up to the heretic to shift the consensus. And if they do, we will report that shift as news. But until that happens, we refuse to give airtime to flat-earthers, climate-change deniers and anti-vaxxers along with the hordes of lunatics and obfuscators let loose by the internet.