The information age presents news consumers with a paradox. They are living in what must be the easiest and most difficult media environment in history.
It is the easiest, in that news is everywhere and from more sources than ever. You can use your cellphone or your computer screen to get headlines from Boston or Bombay. You can download the news to your iPod. You can read a New York Times article at 9 a.m. and review a blogger's critique of that article at 9:15 a.m. In America, you can watch any one of three 24/7 cable news channels, and more are on the way. And don't forget the countless array of networks, newspapers, and magazines.
In short, you have more choices than ever.
But – and here's the "difficult" part – that choice means more work for you. Outlets have different standards, different focuses, and different agendas. The result is that people have never been more able to get a comprehensive picture of the world, but they also have never been so able to hunker down in a small world of topics and ideas that skews their view of reality. What's more, this explosion of news outlets and availability has come at a time when most people are busier than ever and have less time to carefully sort through their news choices.
When you add up the pluses and minuses of our information saturation, one thing becomes clear: It is vital to understand how the media works – why organizations, producers, editors, reporters, and bloggers, make the choices that they do.
That will be the new focus of this column. Twice a month I will attempt to explain, dissect and/or understand some aspect of the media. This space will look at everything from business concerns to reporting successes and failures to technological changes to the future of media as we have come to know it.
And since we are on the topic of helping people understand the news media, here are a few words about myself to further the cause of media transparency – the effort to make those hidden biases better known.