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The Big Answer


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Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload

a book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel

(our site's book review)

A Pragmatic Guide to Navigating the Twenty-First Century Media Terrain

Amid the hand-wringing over the death of "true journalism" in the Internet Age-the din of bloggers, the echo chamber of Twitter, the superficialities of Facebook, and the predominance of Wikipedia-veteran journalists, media critics Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have written a pragmatic guide to navigating the twenty-first century media terrain. Yes, old authorities are being dismantled, new ones created, and the very nature of knowledge has changed. But seeking the truth remains the purpose of journalism. How can we figure out what is reliable? Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload provides a road map, or more specifically, reveals the craft that has been used in newsrooms by the very best journalists for getting at the truth. In an age when the line between citizen and journalist is becoming increasingly blurred, Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload is a vital guide for those who want to know what's true.

"Kovach and Rosenstiel provide a roadmap for maintaining a steady course through our messy media landscape. As the authors entertainingly define and deconstruct the journalism of verification, assertion, affirmation, and interest group news, readers gain the analytical skills necessary for understanding this new terrain. 'The real information gap in the 21st century is not who has access to the Internet and who does not. It is the gap between people who have the skills to create knowledge and those who are simply in a process of affirming preconceptions without growing and learning.'"—Publishers Weekly

[The authors] "offer examples of how reporters typically verify information in contexts from covering wars to politics. They break down the process by emphasizing the kind of information content (news versus commentary); its completeness, source, and tested evidence; and, finally, what readers are learning from what they read. Applying their criteria, the authors analyze several instances of news reporting, commentary, talk-show haggling, and blogging to discern how readers, listeners, and viewers can sort through the cloud of information."—Booklist


Journalism of Affirmation Versus Journalism of Verification

Talk shows are virtually always journalism of affirmation, not verification—the only thing that gets verified is that the more cacophony and sensationalism, the better ratings they get
Talk shows are virtually always journalism of affirmation, not verification—the only thing that gets verified is that the more cacophony and sensationalism, the better ratings they get

The authors make a thoughtful case for why we need more "journalism of verification"—as well as more news literacy education. This insightful book articulates very well the values promoted by the best news sites. It offers a similar checklist for evaluating information quality, the differences between various types of journalism, and the importance of civic literacy and separating fact from fiction. See Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market.


Is the Constitutionally Guaranteed Free Press Dead?

If we are supposed to have a free press that utilizes investigative journalism and tells us the truth, but the shadow government gained control of the mainstream media and now we get only propaganda-laced infotainment, does that mean the Constitutionally guaranteed free press is dead? No—not dead, just marginalized into List of alternative media (U.S. political left). See Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.

Journalists have been under attack in the United States—their first amendment rights have been violated and their status as the watchdogs of democracy, dismissed
Journalists have been under attack in the United States—their first amendment rights have been violated and their status as the watchdogs of democracy, dismissed


Mainstream journalists have been bought and paid for by the shadow government so they are NOT watchdogs—they are lapdogs
Mainstream journalists have been bought and paid for by the shadow government so they are NOT watchdogs—they are lapdogs


Investigative journalists can help by providing a counterweight by actually doing the kind of real journalism they used to do
Investigative journalists can help by providing a counterweight by actually doing the kind of real journalism they used to do

Investigative journalists can help by providing a counterweight, as can watchdog organizations, by actually doing the kind of investigative journalism they used to do much much more of. Many of us are aware that what at first blush appears to be journalistic laziness is in reality instructions from bosses who get CIA-filtered talking point memos from the administration (which they've admited), and investigative journalism would not pass these filters so it's been abandoned in the areas of foreign policy and international relations and military affairs. However, investigative journalism still occurs for matters that don't count, like fluff news, movie stars, local news pieces, sports, etc. This isn't what investigative journalism used to be, but the corporatocracy and shadow elite run the show, and, for better or for worse, that's the current "show" in America.

When corporatocracy prevails, democracy takes it on the chin
When corporatocracy prevails, democracy takes it on the chin

Affirming the Preconceptions of the Audience Gets the Best Ratings—Audiences Tune in to Get Validated, Not to Learn

"There's a whole bunch of journalism out there that's a kind of neo-partisan press. A lot of talk show hosts ... particularly on cable, and some of the traditional radio political talk show hosts [engage] in what I call the 'journalism of affirmation.' And the reason I call it that is because they make their money and assemble their crowd — their audience — by affirming the preconceptions that the audience brings to the newscast. . . . One of the things that the Internet makes possible is for the people who make the news to create their own journalism ... whether it's corporations or trade associations or interest groups. We live in a world of spin and marketing . . . It's not enough for you, the journalist, to simply tell me what you heard. You have a bigger responsibility now to tell me, 'of the things that I've heard as a member of the public, which ones are true? And which ones are not? Help me authenticate the things that are already out there.'" (Source: As Media Lines 'Blur,' We All Become Editors, Neal Conan, NPR)

“Insightful... Offers step-by-step analysis of the processes by which the best journalists practice their craft and can have their work evaluated by consumers slogging their way through the mire of available information.”—Kirkus


The Authors Argue Persuasively for the Virtues of Traditional Journalism

Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload is an impassioned and practical brief for what its authors call ‘verification’—the effort by journalists and others who publicly exchange information about public affairs to examine evidence and test the truth value of the assertions they and others are making. It argues persuasively for the virtues of traditional journalism without in any way resisting the sweeping changes the Internet has brought to the profession. It’s hard to imagine a more urgently necessary task, for journalism and for democratic societies, than the one Kovach and Rosenstiel have taken on.”—Nicholas Lemann, Dean, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

“Two trailblazing newspapermen make a powerful case that with information reaching us at warp speed, Americans can—and must—learn the tough-minded skepticism that drove the country’s great journalists. Kovach and Rosenstiel’s riveting, terse book shows how citizens can gauge fact from fiction, discern neutral sources from interested parties, and parse the news as American journalism goes through its big upheaval.”—Dean Baquet, Washington Bureau Chief, New York Times

The authors say that "In the eight months since the first edition of Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload was published, we have received some familiar questions at almost every event where we have talked about the book. On balance, do these new technologies and tools make the truth easier to get or harder? Are we becoming more informed or more confused? To what extent does the information revolution have anything to do with the enormous new levels of political polarization and incivility in our public discourse? The answer to all these questions, we believe, is the same: The answer to whether things are better or worse is yes, both. We can be better informed than ever before and also more confused; the truth is easier to see and also harder. And yes, the new technology contributes to political polarization. But it does so only because it feeds divides that already exist."


The New Technology Contributes to Political Polarization, But Only Because It Feeds Divides That Already Exist

NOMINATE polarization
The new technology contributes to political polarization, but it does so only because it feeds divides that already exist

Six Essential Tools for Interpreting the News

  1. What kind of content am I encountering?
  2. Is the information complete? If not, what's missing?
  3. Who or what are the sources and why should I believe them?
  4. What evidence is presented and how was it tested or vetted?
  5. What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?
  6. Am I learning what I need?


If Good Journalism Doesn't Survive, Then the Whole Notion of Democracy Begins to Disintegrate

Kovach says: "Journalism of verification is a news system that provides citizens documented information on which they can make informed decisions in the social, political and economic marketplaces that they live in. That’s the purpose of journalism. It is to have citizens make the kinds of informed decisions that they need to make. If that does not survive, then the whole notion of democracy begins to disintegrate.” See Democracy—an American Delusion.

The whole notion of public opinion on which democracy is based grew out of the invention of the printing press.  That, for the first time, gave ordinary people information about the behavior of people in the institutions that had power of their lives.
The whole notion of public opinion on which democracy is based grew out of the invention of the printing press. That, for the first time, gave ordinary people information about the behavior of people in the institutions that had power of their lives.

Kovach says that “Democracy is based on an informed citizen, an informed collective. The whole notion of public opinion on which democracy is based grew out of the invention of the printing press. That, for the first time, gave ordinary people information about the behavior of people in the institutions that had power of their lives. Once they had that information, they had a chance to have a voice on how those people in those institutions behaved. That’s what created public opinion, that’s what created democracy. The two were born together, the two will die together. In that sense, journalism of verification is the key to the survival of democracy.” But since the journalism of verification is happening less and less and the journalism of affirmation is happening more and more, as is fake news, one could make the case that the authors are shutting the barn door after the horse escaped.

Since the journalism of verification is happening less and less and the journalism of affirmation is happening more and more, as is fake news, one could make the case that the authors are shutting the barn door after the horse escaped
Since the journalism of verification is happening less and less and the journalism of affirmation is happening more and more, as is fake news, one could make the case that the authors are shutting the barn door after the horse escaped

The Lack of the Journalism of Verification Led to the Iraq War Fiasco

The lack of the journalism of verification in this massive, unforgiveable sell-out ('Saddam has WMDs') due to political pressures from warmongers had immense and horrible consequences
The lack of the journalism of verification in this massive, unforgiveable sell-out ('Saddam has WMDs') due to political pressures from warmongers had immense and horrible consequences

He goes on: “The journalism of assertion is fine because it [IDEALLY] has journalism of verification embedded in it. It is reporting—cable TV is the example. It is reporting, but it is also opinion journalism. It is also an event announced, a fact announced, before the truth is known. It’s all about speed.”

The claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is an example. It was propaganda to inspire support for an unprovoked attack on Iraq so Bush could get his hands on their oil and Cheney could enrich his Halliburton rebuilding a U.S.-wrecked Iraq. It was self serving lies with greedy motives of neocon empire building. The U.S. media was responsible to check out and confirm these WMD claims, but they failed. They were a country mile from the journalism of verification in this massive, unforgiveable sell-out due to political pressures from warmongers. Massive political pressure indicates someone has something to hide. The situation epitomizes the type of events that should trigger massive investigative journalism, not token gestures and cowardly caving in. They took the easy way out, and it's cost our nation trillions of dollars, our international reputation, and thousands of American lives, and now we are in eternal wars we cannot afford with no end in sight.

Kovach wonders if, in these polarized days, reality to many is just a matter of belief, not verifiable or quantifiable or objective—there is blue truth and red truth
Kovach wonders if, in these polarized days, reality to many is just a matter of belief, not verifiable or quantifiable or objective—there is blue truth and red truth

Is Reality Just a Matter of Belief, Not Verifiable or Quantifiable or Objective?

But, overall, the journalism of verification is “the one we’re most concerned about,” Kovach said. He wonders if these days, reality to many is just a matter of belief, not verifiable or quantifiable or objective. There is blue truth and red truth. (And Trump truth, which is whatever he says—everything else is fake news.) Each side lives in its own reality, never hearing the other side, never taking them seriously since they spew alternative facts and fake news. They don't seem aware that there are no such things as alternative facts. There are the real, true, verifiable facts, and then there are lies, misinformation, and propaganda—like the ludicrous nonsense the G.O.P. spreads in their climate change denialism. But facts are facts and there are no such things as alternative facts in THIS universe. But in an alternate universe, there CAN be alternative facts.

Facts are facts and there are no such things as alternative facts in THIS universe, but in an alternate universe, there CAN be alternative facts
Facts are facts and there are no such things as alternative facts in THIS universe, but in an alternate universe, there CAN be alternative facts


There is blue truth and red truth. (And Trump truth, which is whatever he says—everything else is fake news.)
There is blue truth and red truth. (And Trump truth, which is whatever he says—everything else is fake news.)

Real News or Fake News?—the Authors Give Us the Verification Tools We Need

In summary, the authors tackle an important subject and the evidence of its importance is the mess the Internet and the media are in currently. Half the sources give us the right side and the other half give us the left side. The more reporters tell us they're fair and balanced, the less they are. The public is almost totally unable to distinguish between real news and fake news. The authors give us the verification tools we need in Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload. The Iraq War and ISIS were the preventable, horrid consequences of ignorance and/or cowardice about verification. See The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote, Fake News in Real Context, Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era, and Fake News: How Propaganda Influenced the 2016 Election, A Historical Comparison to 1930's Germany.