"Gripes about the dismal prospects of the Fourth Estate are probably as old as the printing press itself. News consumers are uninformed and ill served by journalists who focus on the superficial, too often delivering a narrow and inaccurate portrait of the nation’s public affairs, protesters typically declaim."So begins the Harvard Gazette article, recognizing that the critique Thomas Patterson offers in his new book Informing the News is not new and is thus not news to most of us, either. But it is worth thinking about in new ways, because we are in a new communications environment, utterly different from that known to Oscar Wilde or Walter Lippmann or even George Orwell, who maybe came closer (in 1984) to imagining our world of today.
Patterson's critique of superficial, ill-sourced reporting by reporters who don't know anything more about their subjects than what they have read hurriedly from other reporters is surely valid. What I doubt is the relevance of his proposed remedy, "knowledge-based reporting". More rigorous training of journalists won't protect us from those who (deliberately or blindly) mislead us, or from those who claim to know more than they do. There are well-informed and objective reporters, even now, along with the idiot or lazy scriveners and paid propagandists, but it takes practice and good critical judgment to know which reporters and which reports can be trusted.
Our only real protection is, as it always has been, knowledge-based reading. And with today's communications resources, including Google and Wikipedia and our ability to e-mail or Skype anyone we know who might be able to fill us in on something puzzling, the knowledge-base is more accessible. It's up to you and me, pal, to find out enough about what interests us to know whose version is most credible.