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Can we live without mainstream media?

Lately, I have been wondering if it is possible for someone in the West to completely boycott the mainstream media. Obviously, the goal is to be more informed afterwards. For those of you don’t think you are in the ‘West,’ feel free to chime in too. Any of you out there feel you are informed and without the mainstream media? This post is meant to solicit discussion, and I hope we can come up with a reasonable answer. Perhaps complete boycott is not possible, but still, even a partial one would be improvement in my opinion.

I suppose I should pick a topic area. In my particular case in the U.S. where I spend a significant amount of time looking at the China relationship, I used to subscribe to the ‘China’ RSS feeds from the NYT, WSJ, and the BBC. I’ve never bothered to read CNN or Fox. So, lately, I have decided to remove them altogether.

Of course, there is always the danger of finding media only one agrees with. Logically, that cannot be the basis for being informed. My first instinct is to go more directly to the important sources. This means subscribing to the White House and Department of State blogs. I plan to search for a good source of U.N. coverage. I like Charlie Rose, because you get to hear from his guests directly and at length. Perhaps more books from authoritative figures, like ‘On China’ by Henry Kissinger.

Bear in mind though, I already have China Daily, NHK, Russia Today, and couple more of non-Western media subscribed.

What other sources should I be looking at? What is your strategy to rid of the mainstream media? How would you go about it?

[Update July 11, 2011]

Jxie left these comments below today I thought very insightful:

A couple belated cents of mine.

First, you ought to ask yourself, what’s the point of even reading/watching from news media? In my case, I want to seek the truths, and gain a better understanding of the world surrounding me, for the purpose of making better and informed decisions, which shall in the long run allow me to live a more fulfilling life.

a. My prior knowledge and understanding may be false given the latest information, assuming I am examining it dispassionately. I need to be perfectly willing to give up my confirmation bias.

b. Most people are wrong, often.

Second, Dr. Stephen Covey’s 5th habit, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Sometimes 2 competing narratives can be both right. We ought to listen carefully to the other narrative, and put ourselves into the other side’s shoes to see the whole picture.

Third, the power of switching the channel, and flipping to the next page. No media outlet is perfect. My own mainstream Western media list is, WSJ, Forbes, Bloomberg TV (often), Financial Times, and Economist (occasional). For example, when I read Forbes, I tend to skip Paul Johnson’s commentaries, and Gary Shilling’s predictions (historically proven far more wrong than right). This piece may get you mad, to me it was a WTF and flipping to the next page.

Forth, follow the ones who have proven themselves. Jim Rogers, Bill Gross, George Soros, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs… pay attention to what they have to say. Opinions are like ass — everybody has got one. Most people are lemmings, and most opinions are worthless.

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  1. colin
    June 21st, 2011 at 23:42 | #1

    I’ve effectively avoided mainstream media both intentionally and unintentionally. I’m so busy that i just don’t have much time to watch tv or read newspapers/magazine in the first place. When I do watch tv and read, I actively avoid mainstream sources like NYT/WSJ/CNN etc. And I don’t miss them at all. Good riddance. After all, most news is actually useless noise. I stay up to date via RSS readers of sources I find more legitimate and provide more honest commentary, including this site.

    I have to make my point again, that I think the american psyche is dangerously ignorant of the challenge China, as well as other developing countries, are going to pose. You can thank the mainstream media for that.

  2. xian
    June 22nd, 2011 at 03:39 | #2

    Interesting, but how do we define mainstream? China Daily, NHK, RT are mainstream in other countries. If it is viewed by a large majority of people, does that make it mainstream? I don’t think there is a scenario where everyone just relies on witness/independent reporting, not to mention those are rife with bias as well. There will always be a niche for “mainstream” media, whether filled by corporations or the state. I believe it’s best to simply read from a diverse array of news outlets, then decide on the truth yourself.

  3. June 22nd, 2011 at 11:52 | #3

    @xian
    colin used the terms I was looking for: “useless noise.”

    Perhaps I should drop the idea of ‘mainstream media’ altogether. If one wants to cut through the noise and get at the truth about our world as efficient as possible, what would his or her media choices be?

    I like what you said, “read from a diverse array of news outlets, then decide on the truth yourself.”

    But that is not practical for many people. Most people are not willing to do that on topics they are only moderately interested.

    For example, I recently read an article about some elections in India by the Economist. First of all, the Economist is a trash magazine as far as China reporting goes. I suspect their Indian reporting is of the same nonsense. But I was left with the impression of how gimmicky, disorderly, and ugly the elections are in India. It might be the truth, but may be not, and I just don’t have the interest to read another source about that topic.

    So, I guess it comes down to how efficient we are in making use of our limited time. Can we be smarter in our media choices?

  4. colin
    June 22nd, 2011 at 13:20 | #4

    Let me clarity. I meant mainstream western media, especially on their coverage of China. Ignorant, xenophobic, fear mongering, lazy, and often blatent lies and half truths. You can not take any coverage of china from NYT, WSJ, CNN at face value. They might even have real facts or stats in an article, but spin it in such a way to give opposite and dishonest impressions. That is what I avoid when I try to avoid western mainstream media coverage of china.

    Not saying other media outlets are not without their own problems, but that’s my take on specifically western mainstream media.

  5. June 24th, 2011 at 08:42 | #5

    Just read Brasilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and SouthAfrican news on the internet.
    All western media is biased towards all non-western/coloured people and societies, we do not need the
    western biased so called ‘news”!

    Too bad that westerners mostly think that everything in the western media is true… this has led to a completely false and distorted idea of the world with westerners and will at the end of the day lead to War between the West and The rest of Humanity!!

  6. Shylock
    June 24th, 2011 at 23:09 | #6

    If you want to live as a “FREE” individual, mainstream media should be digested with caution. Take 6 mins of your time to watch these videos:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq9Fz8EYtgM&feature=channel_video_title

    Perhaps, the 911 theory that planes hitting the WTC were in fact holograms.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXny6hmuOfU

  7. June 28th, 2011 at 14:20 | #7

    Now that I’ve stopped reading the NYT and WSJ, I feel less bothered. I wonder why did I subject myself to such nonsense for so long.

  8. raventhorn2000
    June 29th, 2011 at 11:30 | #8

    If I have time, I will write a longer post on this topic.

    *But I would say that Fox News is merely the inevitable result of the “Free media”.

    I was talking to my young American friend today, and I was amused by his seeming self-validated distinction between what he saw as the “liberal bias opinion” in some US media, and Fox News’ blatant outright lies and distortions about “facts”.

    Playing devil’s advocate, I asked what’s the difference?

    “Opinions”, even if biased, can be challenged and criticized. Facts can’t be criticized. – he replied simply.

    I then stomped him with a simple logical analysis: “Then, if you don’t bother to challenge biased opinions, aren’t you holding onto those opinions ASIF they are FACTS?”

    He got the point of where I was going for, (even though I didn’t realize my own point until I made the above analysis).

    *Whether by accident or not, the point and FACT is, Western Media distort facts and opinions, or make ridiculous assumptions (especially about China).

    When Western audiences do not challenge the opinions, they are holding onto the biases ASIF they are FACTS.

    Fox News is the inevitable result, because Fox (Murdoch) simply realized the inevitable logical conclusion from a simple straight FACT about the audience.

    (1) The Audience/populous are too lazy to challenge biases in opinions (at least the majority are too lazy).

    Conclusion: The Audience would also be too lazy to challenge outright LIES about facts.

    *
    The success of Fox News ONLY proved that Fox/Murdoch’s conclusions about Western media audiences are very correct (thus making Fox extremely profitable).

    The success of Fox News does NOT prove how much better the other Western media are (by contrast).

    On the Contrary, it proves ONLY how terribly biased Western Media was to start with. That the Western Populous have gotten USED to biases and distortions, and that created a corrupt atmosphere in which Fox News’ LIES came to thrive and benefit from.

    If the Western Populous had enough sense to challenge their own biases, Fox could not have possibly profited.

    Conclusion: It further proves that the system of “Free Media” simply does not work. There is no counter balance of biased opinions, there is ONLY mud slinging.

    *

    Another point/analogy: Remember the old story of the “Emperor Has No Cloths”? It applies so well here.

    The Emperor/government is not the one who invented the Lies about his invisible cloths. He is the ultimately the fool who bought the lie.

    The Liar is tailor, who sold the lie to the Emperor and the Nobles.

    But this story is not just about the Hubris of power.

    Hubris of Power is equally applicable to the People of “democracy” who think they have the Power.

    The Emperor Might as well be the ignorant masses. The People are being constantly sold the invisible cloths by the “Free Media”, and yet they in their Hubris, refuse to acknowledge the fault of the system.

    Instead, they all walk around NUDE, laughing at each other’s “invisible cloths”, instead of their own.

  9. Neretva’43
    June 29th, 2011 at 19:17 | #9

    I am East European, but (unfortunately) living in the West.

    I believe it is by now like 6-7 years that I do not watch TV. I do not have one. It is very difficult to me to believe that anyone can watch Fox, CNN, BBC, etc. I do not read Corporate Government Newspapers – this include papers like the Guardian or Independent, or Mother Jones. Nor so-called progressive outlets which are financed by various foundations. I used to use the term “noise”, but it doesn’t convey and depict the real meaning of their work – which is pure propaganda, i.e. cover for: medieval crusade of West Europeans, 18th century colonial and 20th century Nazi-fascist imperial conquests. And/or the (finance) war(s) which ruling class is conducting against own population regardless of geographical location.

    So, in conclusion I’ve found long ago the media (any regime’s media) are extremely toxic and oppresive for the brain, nervous system and general health as well.

  10. kvs
    June 30th, 2011 at 07:54 | #10

    I think something to bear in mind when consuming news sources are what people’s ideologies and incentives are.

    Everyone who is over the age of two has an ideology. Even if that ideology is “I am ideology free”. In fact those people are probably the most likely to taint their news with their ideology because they are least alert to what their own ideologies are. If you can gain an insight into someone’s back-story, then you can work out some of the filters you need to apply or some of the areas where they have been less likely to be thinking critically themselves.

    As for incentives, I tend to assume that mass-produced media is the least well-thought-through. Anyone with a 24 hour news channel to fill, or word counts to meet, or daily print deadlines to hit, is probably engaged in some level of factory content generation or aggregation with some reliance on “accepted wisdom” when it comes to fact-checking. In most cases they will have their well that they go to to gather leads or quick comments in order to meet whatever deadline or KPI they’re being measured on. KPIs could be newspaper circulation, advertising clicks, votes for their paternalistic MP, notoriety or kudos from God in the afterlife.

    These are the reasons why academics frown upon anything that is single-source researched, uses unverifiable sources, uses known-to-be-suspect sources or does not have a smattering of primary sources. It does not render the content untrue, but it does mean that there is a higher likelihood of untruth involved.

    Finally, don’t just be aware of the ideology of the content source, you also need to be aware of your own. That will help you to find things that you should be questioning that you are accepting at face value. If you want to be informed, it’s got to start with your own critical thinking. You have to make it add up rather than say “yeah, that sounds about right”.

    So in conclusion, I think I’ve said “everyone has an agenda, everything is clouded, trust no-one, follow the money and question yourself…” Have I ruled out every single source of news yet?

    Sports! I think you can still trust sporting results.

    Being well informed is bloody hard work.

  11. jxie
    July 11th, 2011 at 17:57 | #11

    A couple belated cents of mine.

    First, you ought to ask yourself, what’s the point of even reading/watching from news media? In my case, I want to seek the truths, and gain a better understanding of the world surrounding me, for the purpose of making better and informed decisions, which shall in the long run allow me to live a more fulfilling life.

    a. My prior knowledge and understanding may be false given the latest information, assuming I am examining it dispassionately. I need to be perfectly willing to give up my confirmation bias.

    b. Most people are wrong, often.

    Second, Dr. Stephen Covey’s 5th habit, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Sometimes 2 competing narratives can be both right. We ought to listen carefully to the other narrative, and put ourselves into the other side’s shoes to see the whole picture.

    Third, the power of switching the channel, and flipping to the next page. No media outlet is perfect. My own mainstream Western media list is, WSJ, Forbes, Bloomberg TV (often), Financial Times, and Economist (occasional). For example, when I read Forbes, I tend to skip Paul Johnson’s commentaries, and Gary Shilling’s predictions (historically proven far more wrong than right). This piece may get you mad, to me it was a WTF and flipping to the next page.

    Forth, follow the ones who have proven themselves. Jim Rogers, Bill Gross, George Soros, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs… pay attention to what they have to say. Opinions are like ass — everybody has got one. Most people are lemmings, and most opinions are worthless.

  12. July 11th, 2011 at 18:02 | #12

    jxie,

    I am a fan of yours. Allow me to quote.

  13. xian
    July 13th, 2011 at 13:11 | #13

    @jxie
    Agreed wholeheartedly with this. I too find finance news to be the fairest. Bloomberg is the best, although not so much the Economist. Caijing works for the Chinese side as well.

  14. February 28th, 2012 at 21:10 | #14

    I am reminded by this University of Southern California (USC) Public Diplomacy criticism of no coverage by U.S. media about the Beijing mayor, Guo Jinlong’s 500-strong delegation in Taiwan this past week. Not a peep in the U.S. press. Westerners are censored by their media as to what’s happening around the world. USC PD gave a good example.

    http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/china-taiwan_pd_milestone_goes_unnoticed_in_us_media/

  15. Charles Liu
    February 29th, 2012 at 01:45 | #15

    That’s what happens when alternative voice is drown out in a sea of voices, which is in reality a form of censorship.

    Look at 6/4, Tibet, year after year the Western narrative hardly changed, even after facts come to light.

  16. Charles Liu
    February 29th, 2012 at 13:09 | #16

    Take this example about the Egyptian government’s investigation of US-government sponsored groups in fluencing Egypt’s domestic politics:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-17210327

    It mentions these linked to US government as “activists”, and completely failed their financial tie to US government entities.

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