Back when I was first starting out in life on my own, I read the Reader’s Digest. Initially for the jokes and Word Power and some articles that piqued my interest. As I expanded my reading to newspapers (Washington Post and local papers), I found the Reader’s Digest was pretty clearly a Christian oriented magazine and spun news in ways positive to being a Christian. Of course, negative spin on non-Christian activities. They were interesting but I found the actual News was more accurate. It was News. Simple reporting on the facts without apparent spin. I did read the opinion columns on the Editorial page (inside back page of the A section) with William Raspberry being one of the more columnists. As I got older, I did pick up a few other papers now and then. The Washington Times and USA Today when it started out. I found they also spun News articles but in a way that didn’t align with my own leanings. I felt the Washington Post was reporting accurately. Certainly it reported News in a way I accepted.
Internet is next though. Folks now think of Facebook and maybe MySpace if you’re a bit older. But back when I first got on the ‘net, it was Usenet. Usenet had all sorts of interesting groups. Technical support groups for just about anything you could think of, no matter how obscure. Recreational groups like rec.humor and rec.humor.funny. But others as well, again on just about anything you could think of. As groups needed to be approved for transfer, there were groups that were somewhat frivolous, fringe, or even illegal. These were the Alternative groups. You could find interesting stuff of course like alt.folklore.urban, but you really had to be thoughtful as to where you wandered or you might get into some bad stuff. Note that much of the FAQ from that group turned into Snopes.
Then email. Sure, email has been available for quite some time already but now we have family members and non-technical friends getting email. Mainly from work but you had AOL for personal access. The problem here were the silly Urban Folklore stuff folks would pass around to all their friends. “Can you believe this?” I’d check alt.folklore.urban’s FAQ and then Snopes and send links to Snopes off to friends and family. Eventually either they checked Snopes first or realized I wasn’t going to “OMG” the email and pass it along and dropped me from their distributions 🙂
Back to the News though. I’d get interesting news bits that aligned with my own standards from Usenet. The bulk of it is technical, how it relates to what I do professionally and as a hobby. I remember an old article on Microsoft and how they didn’t have much of a Government Lobby for their products (Windows) to advance their agenda. But News that was relevant to my own niche. Oh I read the Paper but was getting more and more annoyed with the number of Ads. There’s be a 3/4 column with a couple of continuations in column 2 and 3 but 3/4 or more of the page were Ads. And in the middle of Section A, two or four full page Ads. At one point I considered getting two papers and cutting out the Ads just to see how much actual News there was in the paper.
Bit of a side note, a lot of the tech and “Guy Stuff” were advertised or reported on in the Sports section. As I didn’t follow sports, I seldom saw these ads. I did read the Lifestyle section so I got to see all the less “Guy” Ads.
I do want to point out something that is relevant to where I’m going here. Way back when there were only a few channels on TV, the Fairness Doctrine was enacted. This ensured that, due to the limited access to News, TV Channels must provide access to folks who wanted to discuss controversial issues, forcing these channels to be ‘honest, equitable, and balanced’. In 1987, President Reagan pressured the FCC to eliminate this Doctrine due to the availability of Cable Television, so folks could get alternate viewpoints from an alternate channel on Cable.
I find this problematic as folks would actually have to find these channels and would then be in their own little bubble. Mainstream News organizations like ABC, CBS, and NBC didn’t need to present these viewpoints any more. To me, this is the start of the Media Bubble. From a conspiracy view point, Fox itself, a channel that was mostly the alternate local station in most regions, was consolidated by Rupert Murdoch in 1985. Could pressure from Rupert Murdoch have influenced the GOP?
Read about The Fairness Doctrine here.
As to Politics and the Media Bubble. In general I was somewhat aware of politics. Not active and not more than being aware of various bits as they occurred. I did vote, in general but didn’t really follow all the things going on. As I got older, I did start paying more attention. A little at a time. I did think a businessman as president might prove to be good for the country. Lee Iaccoca and Ross Perot were the ones I was thinking of. One of the ones I really paid attention to was in the mid-90’s. A measure came up for vote about raising sales tax up from 4% to 4.5%. In reading the news and paying some attention, I voted against. My reasoning mainly was the county (Fairfax) wasn’t doing a good job with my existing tax money. Why give them more? The response after the measure failed was surprise by the business folks.
Since then I’ve gotten more thoughtful in my voting and in understanding issues as they pertain to me and to my beliefs. Still not keeping up on every little thing. Once voting, kind of let things run. Only pay attention when it’s time to vote again. In addition, I’m reading more on line. Digital news. But really only when things pop up in one of my various discussion sites. Meaning generally related to my hobbies. Motorcycles, gaming, and computers. Occasionally something political would pop up and of course watching the Presidential elections.
And over the past 20 years, we’ve had more folks get on line. It’s easier to create websites and post content. You can pretty much find any conspiracy theory web site from Anti-Vaxxers to ChemTrails to, well whatever feeds your beliefs. GeoCites and then MySpace gave you a single place to post such things. Then sites like reddit where you can create sub-reddits for just about anything. And of course Social Media pops up. It’s cool to keep in touch with family and friends but you’re now open to those same weird emails you got from Grandma about coke dissolving a steak over night. You can respond with ‘this is nonsense’ but Grandma has 100,000 other friends and now she’s a force to be reckoned with. With Obama getting in office, even more silly things popped up like the Birther nonsense or Secret Muslim or maneuvers in Texas where he’ll be taking over the US. Ultimately I just blocked the sites my family and friends posted.
With the recent election, I was paying about the same attention as usual. Reading the same sites and keeping up on the news. I don’t watch Fox News as they’re pretty right leaning and their opinion folks are pretty out there to me.
As we led up and Trump became the front runner, I was seeing more false stories showing up on my Facebook feed. I posted rebuttals and advisories about reading further into what’s posted but as we know, false stories feed narratives, feed folks beliefs. These things spread over Social Media like wildfire. You can try to prove they’re wrong but Grandma’s 100,000 Granny Force is bigger than you little peep. I posted queries several times after all the ‘Fake News’ quotes Trump spouted. “What news are you reading or watching?” But no response. I worked on expanding my own reading beyond the tidbits I got here and there for the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and BBC. Some folks steered me to Al Jazeera which I was hesitant about but did read a few articles and of course NPR which I did occasional read an article on, but more oriented to my hobbies.
An interesting Pew Report on news after the election pointed out that the majority of Conservative voters got most of their news from Fox News (40%) with the next at 8% for CNN. But Liberal voters were spread around much more evenly, reading a broad range of news. And that was interesting. Folks speak of Media Bubbles but it appears the biggest bubble is on the Conservative side, unless you assume every other news organization is Liberal.
Anyway, I’ve expanded further. I purchased subscriptions to both The Washington Post and the New York Times and even created an account on Fox where I do read an occasional article. Yes, they’re biased but I can compare their bias with every other news organization and their biases.