This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Rejecting Ignorance: Advice and Sources Promoting a Well-Rounded, Rational World View

This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, Chelsea is a graduate student in International Relations. She is enthusiastic about maintaining a global connection while in Vermont by being a volunteer for VCWA, contributing to the organization’s blog and other projects.


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With all that is going on around the world-- an increase in lone-wolf terror attacks; the refugee crisis in Europe; heightened tension in the South China Sea; and seemingly never-ending conflict in the Middle East-- it is important to be literate in the constantly evolving international climate. Geographically distant news likely has a much stronger impact on our lives than we expect, and staying informed in a way that is rational and fact-based is crucial. This is why I am writing this post: to help you become knowledgeable about how to responsibly consume news media, as well as by providing credible source options covering international events.


Now, I know there is no such thing as a truly objective perspective-- as much of an effort as an outlet makes, the news will always have at least a minimal slant, and people will always have their beliefs and biases-- but we can do our best to gather as much factual information as possible from various less-biased news outlets. This information will allow us to make informed opinions, affording us a rational understanding of how world affairs affect our nation and its citizens. With the upcoming presidential election, this topic is more salient than ever.


This year, the United States was ranked number 41 in the World Press Freedom Index, which (if you couldn’t guess by the name) ranks the freedom of the press in each nation around the world. The U.S. ranking isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. Unfortunately, access to uncensored news is not as simple as tuning the TV to your favorite network station. Americans who want to be informed and desire a well rounded perspective need to do a bit more legwork than say, someone from Finland (ranked #1) or a citizen of Uruguay (ranked #20).


I’ve made it a bit easier for you to go about what may seem like a daunting task of untangling credible sources and assessing and analysing them in a way that will allow you to garner a full perspective of events going on in our world. Below you will find some tips on being a responsible news consumer, followed by suggestions of credible and fact-based sources that I recommend.


Tips on How to Responsibly Consume News:


It is incredibly important to consciously gather information from multiple news sources. I know it’s easy to tune to the same station on TV every day,  or get sucked into news that pops up on our sidebar on Facebook. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing to watch these channels or read these articles, but two things should be noted:


1. There is probably a lot more to the story that you’re seeing or reading, and there is definitely an angle imposed by the source that it comes from. Ask yourself: ‘Is there an agenda that this outlet/company/organization is trying to push? Is it associated with a specific political party or financial interest?’ It’s alright if the answer is yes, but being aware of the leaning of the story will give you a more critical eye to assess from, resulting in you gaining a more in depth knowledge of the issue. And if the topic of the story strongly impassions you, look for other sources that maybe come at it from a different direction; sources that delve a bit deeper with the research on the issue in question.


                                                                                               
2. This brings me to my next point: We may think we are getting the whole picture when watch our favorite anchor on network TV or scroll through our social media feeds and click on news links from sources or friends we follow, but the truth is, everything we see is tailored to what we are already interested in. What appears to us only reinforces our current beliefs and tells us things we already know. This might make us feel better about the way we think, but it certainly isn’t teaching us anything, or even giving us the chance to credibly solidify our views.


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I challenge you to step outside of this personally curated swathe of information that pats us on the back for regurgitating incessantly repeated talking points, perpetuating apathy and ignorance surrounding critical events in our world. Take an hour a week to watch a news network that features programming from the other side. Follow someone you ardently disagree with. Their content may enrage you, but by creating time to read, dissect, and criticize a piece of media will better prepare you to argue your position when you inevitably cross into the taboo dinner table discussion of politics at your next family gathering. The content you consume may even challenge and effectively change your beliefs, and that is ok. More powerful and more impressive than a loud voice echoing soundbites that everyone has heard a million times is a passionate voice sharing well thought out and fact based arguments that make others stop and think, and reassess their own positions.


If you’re really ready to take the dive into rejecting the ignorance flowing from mainstream media, you can start by checking out the list of sources I’ve compiled below. The stories are generally meatier, supported by experts in the field, and either do not take a position, or allow for multiple perspectives on a topic, avoiding giving weight to one view over another.


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Credible Sources:


  1. PBS Newshour (available on TV, for online streaming, and in podcast form)
  • This is my personal favorite; I watch it pretty much every day. It’s a great overview of the day’s most important national and international news, and also features series of investigative reporting by award-winning journalists. A huge perk for me is that because it’s publicly funded, it’s commercial-free! Check your local PBS station for air-times. You can also live stream it online but if you miss it, you can always watch the previous episodes on their website, or listen to the podcast (links above) which are posted the day after airing.


  • Another one of my favorites, CFR is a nonpartisan organization, think tank, and publisher. It’s worth taking some time to explore the different parts of the website, which include background information on issues around the world with links to external sources, reports by senior fellows on important topics, and an interactive Conflict Tracker, which tracks conflict around the world based on its influence on the U.S.


  1. Al Jazeera (on TV and online)
  • One of the more mainstream news sources on this list, Al Jazeera is probably one of the least biased stations you can tune into on your TV, and their website covers many global topics, including an entire tab dedicated to ‘Human Rights”.


  • It should be noted that CSIS does have a specifically pro-U.S. leaning, but keeping that in mind, it is a bi-partisan policy research organization. The topics covered by the Center range from defense and security, to energy and sustainability, to human rights. You can find info through events analysis and commentary, expert reports, or even twelve individual podcast options, ranging from Russia, to terrorism, to energy and the environment.


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  1. Reuters (online)


  • An independent organization dedicated to exposing human rights abuses around the globe, HRW is an impact-focused group. One of their more recent accomplishments was their significant role in investigating and assigning responsibility to the Syrian regime in the 2013 chemical attacks on its own people (watch the video showing how they did it here). It can be counted on to call out governments, leaders, organizations, and any other entity equally in an attempt to push for change towards a more just world.


This is just a shortlist of some of what I consider to be the most credible sources for the American consumer of international news, and I’m sure there are several more. Feel free to post in the comments if you have any others that you rely on!


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I’m hoping that the information and suggestions I’ve provided here will encourage you to branch out from your go-to sources that may be restricting your knowledge and understanding of world affairs. Informed people become engaged people, and engaged citizens foster a healthy democracy, which in turn benefits the people. What’s not to love about that?

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