Evolving Media & News Sources

Competing against sensationalist and polarized content

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    46,218 news transcripts show ideologically extreme politicians get more airtime

    [full story]


    We research how changes in the media have shifted the incentives of elected officials and the considerations of voters, and what that means for American democracy.

    In recent work, we showed that extremely conservative and extremely liberal legislators receive far more airtime on cable and broadcast news than their moderate counterparts.

    Robust local news outlets once held legislators to account by covering whether they delivered for their districts. But as local news has declined, voters are turning to national media outlets for their political news. There, ideological outliers now set the tone of the debate, distorting perceptions of the important issues and warping Americans’ views of their political options.



    Increasingly over the last decade I’ve been feeling my news is held hostage by click bait. It’s not an indictment of reporters, but the way news is run as a business results in business models that do their best to supply the products people demand. And the product people demand first and foremost is probably quick emotional gratification.

    I’ve been wondering what the feedback loops look like for content creation and consumption. People are conditioned to some extent by the media they read. And media is conditioned to create content that gets good conversion rates. People treat it like it’s some big liberal or conservative conspiracy—and admittedly, there definitely are media moguls with strong agendas—, but a lot of it seems to stem from our own behavioural patterns as readers.

    I google Trump when I want to see a train wreck in motion. I google someone like Barbara Kay when I want to feel smugly righteous and indignant.

    But most of the time I scratch my head at contemporary reporting and how it feels like it is reducing certain types of literacy (e.g. scientific, political etc.) when we live in an era where it should be increasing it more than ever.

    I suppose the upshot is the sensationalism seems to have prompted more and more people to get more curious about fact-checking and promoting stories which are salient yet getting buried by the overhyped drama of the day. Just, on balance I can never tell if things are getting better or worse. In light of the story in the op, leaning worse, I guess.



    I have been getting my news mostly from BBC, PBS, and my favorite source is Bloomberg business news. Anytime I have attempted to see what is going on with FOX, I feel physically ill within minutes.



    Robert, watching Fox news for two minutes is extremely nauseating. Though I have to admit, watching MSNBC can be equally aggravating. While I may agree with much of their content, I find their bias is proudly on display. One big difference is MSNBC is far less likely to outright lie, distort facts and knowing manipulate on a significant scale, but it doesn’t mean that MSNBC doesn’t do it to a limited extent. If we should call out Fox news for it, I think we ought to also call out places like MSNBC. I have always very much enjoyed listening to the National Services of other countries (including their podcasts) like the BBC, CBC, RTVE, Deutsche Welle, Dutch NPO etc (several countries offer an English language one hour broadcast each day). But I was really surprised to discover that America’s NPR has some really great content including good podcasts. Why is it that the BBC and CBC etc. are so loved but that PBS and NPR are virtually ignored by most Americans (or even detested?).


    I agree with you Davis about NPR.  I check it everyday. It also has a good news app that I listen to (Alexa “NPR NEWS”). It is a source for Sunday School too.

    Al Jazeera too is worth a dig. (or Digg even).



    My vague impression is that CBC in particular has earthier roots than either PBS or NPR. It’s older than either of them, and its existence as a national broadcaster in Canada established it as an essential Canadian voice in media as an alternative to more regionalized offerings, or American media.

    Originally, it probably grabbed a much bigger market and established itself with a sense of tradition. In particular, it had programming like Hockey Night in Canada which means even people who conventionally might not love the more NPR style programming in other parts of CBC’s offerings still have certain associations.

    By contrast, PBS and NPR come off as esoteric (despite the fact that they really aren’t) which is probably alienating to Canadian and American traditions of anti-intellectualism spanning at least my entire lifetime.



    Try this guy for a non-corporate level-headed take on the news:

    Here is his post for today:

    If you like, skip past the 7 or 8 minutes of pre-show to where the show itself really begins.



    In light of the story in the op, leaning worse, I guess.

    I see the world today in terms of constantly increasing virulence of social networking. Institutions and commercial media have been adopting technology to broadcast propaganda and buzz ever since the printing press was invented. It started slowly, with local, then wider read newspapers, to radio, then tv, then more interactive radio (e.g. call-in shows), adding instant, passionate, two-way exchanges, for better and for worse, e.g. Rush Limbaugh style. Live shows on national tv, from Oprah to Maury Povich and other tabloid or sensationalist/reality shows. [Povich has been around for decades. DON’T watch it, ok? 🙁 ]

    Then came the internet, interactive forums, social networking, viral social movements and fads… IMO, the one technology consistently underestimated and unpredictable for decades has been the networking of the human race. Thirty-five years ago or so I likened computers and networking to cars and highways: The more cars/computers there are, the more roads/networking we need, then the more cars/computers there will be to use the highways/networks, and so on. (I was the first person to put a modem number in the yellow pages in Silicon Valley, knowing this would be a trend — at least for technically oriented people — back when the publisher of the yellow pages was asking me “what’s a modem”. I had the right idea but failed because I was so socially retarded, but that’s a different, sad story. And then the real internet started taking off.)

    We evolved to have face-to-face relationships, limited to only dozens or scores of other humans. What seems natural now, really isn’t “natural”. The most powerful political, religious, and commercial institutions define us now, and I’m sorry, but I predict those kinds of pervasive and persuasive powers will increase. Back on topic, the healthiest sources of news and social interaction seem to be non-profit and ngo. With that in mind, this would be a good place to recommend PublicRadioFan, even with its significant percentage out of date entries. It’s been up since 2001, and I’ve found no other comparable, huge source of public radio program lists and internet radio links. I’m trying to think of ways to help this guy, like with more advanced crowdsourcing built into the website.



    Anytime I have attempted to see what is going on with FOX, I feel physically ill within minutes.

    I gave them a look during the siege on the capitol, and was favorably impressed. But that’s it, I’m afraid to see what they’re saying about CPAC.



    Why is it that the BBC and CBC etc. are so loved but that PBS and NPR are virtually ignored by most Americans (or even detested?).

    I don’t know for sure, but think it’s just because of the polarization here, each side so anxious to demonize the other. I don’t watch MSNBC. But I’ll show my colors here and admit to believing that conservative politics has a lot less shame than progressives when it comes to demonizing each other.

    IMO their success in demonization tactics started with talk radio shows. The progressive Air America though they could successfully counter it, but (also just IMO) I don’t think the progressive audience that could appreciate that kind of demonization was as large.

    Religion is more of their kind of holier-than-thou weapon, too. Not that progressives can’t act holier-than-thou, but (IMO) they don’t push it to such personalized levels of shaming and name-calling. (Trump is the prime hero/example of that.)



    We evolved to have face-to-face relationships, limited to only dozens or scores of other humans. What seems natural now, really isn’t “natural”.

    For me the heyday of the internet was in the early 2000s. Back then, the internet afforded you a way to find communities you may have other wise been cut off from allowing the non-normals to find their/ our kin, and normals to expand their/ our horizons. We used to go on climbing trips to backwoods Kentucky as far back as the mid 90s, and satellite internet really seemed to expand the worlds of the people there in a fairly short period of time.

    It was also a time where internet communities felt smaller and more localized within their netspace. Entertainment-content-on-demand could only go so far for keeping you occupied before you resorted to using the internet to learn things instead of an endless parade of time sucks.

    But it was still a time where we still referred to life outside the internet as ‘the real world’ where most of our personhood happened. And there is something to be said for dealing with people when you cannot perpetually swipe left, or just move on to the next group out of an inexhaustible supply of cliques or transient connections. To some extent, you have to take people as they are because who the fuck else is there if you’re not ready to be a hermit?

    But increasingly, internet communities became those hubs where we could get constant fixes of neurotransmitter activity. Whatever type of interaction sets off what we’ve become hooked on, we can probably search it out and provoke it over and over and over until something inside breaks. It’s sadly very exploitable.

    Seems like more and more people I know have stepped away from online media and social media in particular because of the anonymity the flesh and bone world has. I mean, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to tweet about it, did it happen? You can just experience things for yourself in physical reality needing to be a whole thing with reactions and opinions and politicization and making a production of it.

    This time last year, I was so broken I barely noticed covid happening. I was entering a period where I would barely leave bed for about three months. Ghosted all of my friends, my family, and as much as possible, the person I was living with. Everything I could see was broken, and the internet kept reflecting that back to me over and over and over. Granted, there are many things that are worse now than when I was younger; however, I couldn’t even really see the literal physical world around me.

    The cause, of course, wasn’t the internet, but it definitely acted like a drug sinking me deeper and deeper into a skewed mindset. Fortunately, the internet couldn’t keep up with providing me whatever it is I wanted out of it, so I stepped back. And then I stepped away from pretty much anything.

    Lately, I actually feel kind of antsy to get vaccinated so I can do meetup groups or something. Be around people in small doses, even if I don’t really like a lot of them all that much (though I rarely dislike anyone one-on-one, face-to-face). It’s not that I want to numb myself to the idea that the world is burning. Literally, this summer a lot of the world will probably end up on actual fire. But I don’t know. I’m one human. No matter how globally I think, my world of experience is actually pretty small. And I’m tired of how desaturated everything feels with how inundated we are by the world constantly trying to provoke us into short term emotional reactions that are scarcely anchored to anything tangible anymore.

    I’m not anti-internet or anything, but I sure hope people figure out how to keep what’s good about it without crashing and burning on what’s bad. I’m trying for myself, but heck, sometimes I get cravings for the most insipid types of online stimulation.


    Simon Paynton

    The internet has been mainly fun for me, except for one face-reddening incident where I didn’t understand how Facebook worked.  I’ve had fun making a website (now gone) and posting my mixtapes and mp3s, and seeing the results.  I’ve fallen in love at least once.  I’m pretty sure that the locals keep a Whatsapp group about me and monitor my Facebook feed (public at least) because I’m a potential danger to the community.  How could I mind?  It’s better to be talked about than ignored.  Also, it’s rational for them to do that.  And yes (don’t hate me, woke people) I was on the Jordan Peterson Facebook frontline savaging his opponents.  To be fair, if they stood up to that, I gave them the full time of day and listened to what they had to say.  Also, the rule was to be civil to everybody.



    I was 16 when I first had real access to the internet (a regular connection and not just the text based internet). I used AOL which was a truly fantastic place to discover the online world. There was a large selection of chat rooms and back then chatting was really fun. There were very few trolls (they were quickly kicked out of the rooms). Everyone had a sort of profile and you could search people for common interests. Back then yahoo had a “category” where you could browse websites based on interests (it was a pretty low number of websites back then) and there was a “ring” of sites where you could jump from one thematic page to the next. MSN had a great game community (cards, backgammon) that had night time tournaments with lots of chatting in between. I was also browsing university websites from all over the world wondering where I would study. I really loved how new everything felt, how generally pleasant people were online and the feeling of connection. Much of that was quickly lost as the internet developed and the really fun days ended when social media and smart phone chat apps began.

    I honestly believe that social media and comment sections are responsible for the majority of the toxicity of the internet and the spreading of brain viruses. Google and facebook in particular (and all their subsidiaries) are behind some appallingly unethical and socially damaging phenomena and it is beyond my comprehension why governments aren’t heavily (if not brutally) regulating them.

    I worry about the youngest generation and how much of their identity and self-worth is shaped by social media and how easily disinformation spreads (and how susceptible they are to it). I swear they should spend 20 minutes every day in school gaining the skills necessary to cope with internet disinformation, online toxicity and bullying and a healthy use of social media and technology.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 12 months ago by  Davis.


     And yes (don’t hate me, woke people) I was on the Jordan Peterson Facebook frontline savaging his opponents.

    Germane to the thread, for a time he represented the brokenness of the internet and contemporary media. Peterson has things to account for. For a man who was ‘silenced’ (the claim of some of his fans) his voice became the single loudest voice on a topic he knew little about. He spread misinformation and stirred up a lot of antipathy toward trans people with a bullshit argument. And we’re just talking about the start of his rise to fame. I was never able to follow all of the controversies that came to pass because frankly I didn’t find Peterson all that interesting to listen to. I think I’m supposed to make a lobster joke here now.

    It strange how much stress one obscure university professor managed to cause from across the nation just by shooting his mouth off on youtube (though the blame cannot reside wholly with him—he wasn’t the source of the issue, imo). Whatever earned him loyalty with his fans and sympathizers is not for me to say, but what thrust him into media relevance was sensationalism and how polarizing the conversation surrounding him was.

    When it came to C-16 in any academic or politically relevant sense, he was a nobody, yet he dominated headlines for months. I was searching daily for updates on the legislation, and at one point whether I sorted results for “C-16” by relevance or date, over 70% of the articles on the first few results pages were about him.

    But the need to take down Peterson extended to unhealthy levels. Demonstrating against him publicly was one thing, but firing an airhorn off in his ear is assault. I know there were other incidents that were extreme, and I am certain—like nearly all public figures—there were death threats. There are always death threats these days.

    Why should I talk shit about 12 Rules? I never read it. I have no clue if it was insipid, but even if so, a lot of people said it helped them. A lot of moms said it helped their sons in particular. That’s a good thing.

    Why should I want to stop him from speaking at the National Gallery of Canada on religious symbolism in art (or whatever it was). To my knowledge, that’s a topic he actually knew something about.

    And certainly, why should I wish any of the shit that happened to him on him? His wife’s illness. His severe addiction. Covid in eastern Europe after being in a medically induced coma (or something of that nature).

    There are plenty of things to criticize the man for, but it was sort of an all or nothing proposition for a time there. What bothered me about Peterson first and foremost was that his rise to fame happened because Canadian media loves drama, and that’s fundamentally fucked up.

    And the conversation surrounding him still seems to be a bit warped. There was some minor issue about the publishing house for his book. There was a somewhat complicated issue regarding staff views on how Peterson fit with the publisher’s values and commitments. When some of the staff spoke, they talked about life experiences and why it mattered to them whether Peterson remained part of the publisher’s portfolio or not.

    People interpreted that as snowflakes crying over his book being published by their employer. But the actual story seems to be that they were revealing very personal stories including facing discrimination and being disowned etc. and that’s what brought up painful emotions.

    The point here is just that narratives have been spun on top of narratives and we’ve increasingly become a nation of armchair quarterbacks looking for some sort of bizarre validation or vindication even for relatively small events that don’t impact us all that much. It’s weird and not healthy, imo.


    Here is an article about Jordan Peterson from a Vancouver interview about JP on religion.

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