The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

There's good news about good news gathering

 


It’s time to ask one basic question about how we get our information about the world’s state of affairs, which itself has a lot to do with the state of world affairs.

That question is: Do we care what the truth is?

This is different from asking if we care about what the truth means, whatever it turns out to be. But societal trends have been drifting a long time toward taking sides in what should constitute the truth. Of course people have preferences in lifestyle, religious beliefs, and the like; those preferences will lead toward preferences in what the truth ought to be. Even so, that’s still different from stating that the truth has to be one thing or another in the face of what it might actually be.

Cognitive distortions occur on a societal level. Psychologically (and very broadly stated), cognitive distortions are when reality is shaped into mistaken cognitive perceptions about ourselves and others, typically leading to erroneous conclusions if left unrecognized. Those same distortions occur on a societal scale, typically leading to erroneous conclusions if left unrecognized.

In the age of the internet—metamorphosed by some as a kind of vast electronic collective unconscious—instant transfer of information and communication leads to a whole new order of potential cognitive distortions. In part this is because the potential for mistaken perceptions is amplified to a degree once unimaginable, and, being a relatively recent phenomenon, as a whole we haven’t figured out—when we even care to try—how to wade through the miasma of collective unconscious internet traffic and discover reality. The problem is grossly exacerbated if we let the surge of content go unchallenged by not caring what the truth is. Which brings us back to our core question and its importance.

We need to exercise our societal neocortex that can take cognitive control of the otherwise unfiltered reactivity generated by our societal amygdala, that portion of the brain that fires off emotional impulses in the face of stimuli either real or imagined.

This relates to how we process information about events on every level of activity, from local to global. This, in turn, leads us to a reconsideration of news gathering and reporting.

One of the strong cognitive distortions out there is that established news organizations grow increasingly irrelevant in the age of omnipresent information. Some say that’s why the footprint of print media is decreasing, along, it’s presumed, with advertising dollars. But a careful analysis of established media leads to some revealing realities. First, the industry is adjusting to years of bloat engendered by easy dominance in the field of information, a fact the industry has come to painfully recognize and adjust to. Downsizing is often part of that adjustment. Another reality coming to light is that continuous reduction of expenses can help, but that doesn’t generate revenue. A key conclusion to that fact is that, as Editor & Publisher magazine reported in a recent issue, the industry needs to freshly realize it is its content that makes it indispensable, regardless of the form—print or digital—that content takes, and that realization can lead to enhanced revenues. The magazine considered some good reasons why that content is indispensable, but we’ll take it to the context we’ve examined here.

Particularly in this age, good news gathering and reporting helps serve as an aid to society’s neocortex. It helps us take cognitive control of the riptides of information around us. One reaches this conclusion readily when we consider how much of that ocean of information turns out to be accurate. And that is why it’s critically important to want the truth, whatever it is. How we feel about that truth and what we do about it are entirely different considerations, but they are firmly shaped by the accuracy of what we react to and act upon.

There will always be enough people who care about conscious control of information to make good news reporting thrive, in new modalities along with the traditional. (Another fact, based on clear and prediction-defying trends of the last 15 years, is that print media is not going to disappear entirely in the immediate coming decades.) And the reality as well is that digital subscriptions to established media—including this one—have been climbing remarkably in recent years. That’s a good thing.

Do we always get the news right? I wish, and it’s always painful (as it should be) when we don’t. But when we’re doing our job right, we don’t care what the truth is. We only care that, whatever it is and wherever it leads, it’s true. That, too, is a good thing and will earn its keep.

 

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