Sources for News

Research conducted by the Media Insight Project — an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reports: “Contrary to the conventional wisdom about media consumption dividing along generational or political lines, a new survey finds that the nature of the news itself — the topic and speed of the story — largely determines where people go to learn about events and the path they take to get there. The findings also suggest that some long-held beliefs about people relying on just a few primary sources for news are now obsolete. In contrast to the idea that one generation tends to rely on print, another on television and still another the web, the majority of Americans across generations now combine a mix of sources and technologies to get their news each week, according to the survey.

 Where people go for news, moreover, depends significantly on the topic of the story — whether it is sports or science, politics or weather, health or arts — and on the nature of the story — whether it is a fast-moving event, a slower-moving trend, or an issue that the person follows passionately.

 The data also challenge another popular idea about the digital age, the notion that, with limitless choices, people follow only a few subjects in which they are interested and only from sources with which they agree — the idea of the so-called ‘filter bubble.’ There are relatively few differences by generation, party, or socioeconomic status in the level of interest with which people report following different topics. (These are some of the findings of the nationally representative telephone survey of 1,492 adults conducted from January 9 through February 16, 2014.)

The data from the survey, which was designed to probe what adults distinguish most in their news consumption in the digital age, offer a portrait of Americans becoming increasingly comfortable using technology in ways that take advantage of the strengths of each medium and each device.

There are five devices or technologies that majorities of Americans use to get news in a given week. The average American adult uses four different devices or technologies for news. Three-quarters of Americans get news at least daily, including 6 out of 10 adults under age 30. Nearly half of Americans with internet access have signed up for news alerts.

The rapid growth in mobile technology is changing the mix. Among smartphone owners, 78 percent report using their device to get news in the last week. More than 73 percent of tablet owners use their device to get news. And people with more devices tend to enjoy following the news more. News consumers who use more technology are more likely to report that they enjoy keeping up with the news and are more likely to say that it’s easier to keep up with the news today than it was five years ago.

At the same time, these tech-savvy news consumers continue to use traditional platforms as well. For example, they are no more or less likely than everyone else to use print publications, television, or radio to access the news.

But there is a strong correlation between mobile technology and social media and various other digital activities. Smartphone owners, for instance, are two and half times as likely to get news through social media as those without smartphones, twice as likely to use search engines and aggregators for news and to get news alerts, and more than twice as likely to share news. Patterns are similar for tablet owners as well.

 Not only do people consume news from many different devices, nearly half say they have no one preferred means of doing so. Furthermore, people access different reporting sources on a regular basis. When asked about their use of eight different reporting sources in the last week, Americans report using an average of between four and five sources. That contrasts starkly with the long-held idea that news habits are strictly ingrained and often limited to a few primary sources.

 Similarly, there are only small differences across age, political party, or socioeconomic status in the news topics people follow. For example, the percentage of people who say they follow news about local affairs, business and the economy, health and medicine, schools and education, and social issues, among other topics, differs little by generation. And, even for topics where younger news consumers are less avid followers than their elders, they still report high levels of interest. Adults age 18–29, for instance, are less inclined than those 60 and over to follow news about national government (57 percent vs. 79 percent) or foreign affairs (59 percent vs. 79 percent overall), but majorities of both age groups still do so.

Another striking finding is that how Americans seek out the news changes markedly with the subject matter. When asked where they go for news on each topic, people are most likely to use specialized sources now to learn about 4 of the 15 topics probed: sports, entertainment, science and technology, and lifestyle news. They are most likely to turn to local TV for weather, traffic, crime, and health news.

People turn to newspapers, whether in print or online, more than any other source specified, and in relatively high numbers for a wide range of topics (double-digit percentages for 11 of the 15 topics discussed). But they are most likely to turn to newspaper media for news about their local town or city, for news about arts and culture, and for news about schools and education.

The 24-hour cable channels, by contrast, have little draw for some topics — such as health, arts, sports, or science. But they are the source most often cited for four of the topics probed: politics, international news, business and the economy, and social issues.”

This is where intentional bias presented as unbiased content is most effective (nee dangerous) for consumers entering the public square, who also dabble in predominantly subjective sources in their private reality. The “truth detectors” for these consumers are not attuned to unrepentant bias on the three major networks and in the major newspapers and wire services (to a much lesser extent on FoxNews if viewed objectively).

Since data suggest that these younger consumers seek out social media sites based upon how comfortable they feel in that community – whether or not their views and opinions correspond favorably with the group – would they not also seek out “comfortable” communities for their information about politics, international news, business and the economy, and social issues? And if they are on university campuses, is there any doubt where they would feel most “comfortable” and in tune with their professors and peers?

Regardless of the initial source of news, social media governs the follow-on discussion because news sources, under pressure to provide new content to fill the 24-hour news cycle, move on from a story quickly, while consumers may not be through with it yet. If a consumer is in a “comfortable” social media site, a chat-room, for instance – the dominant template of that site will begin to force individual opinions through an ideological filter.

“The survey sought to examine whether people distinguish between a reporting source — that is, the news organization that gathered the news — from the means by which they discovered the news — social media or a search engine, for instance — and what device they used — for example, print publications or smartphones.

When asked to volunteer how they came to the news, people tend to think less about the device than the news gathering source and the means of discovery (social media or search). Taken in combination, the findings suggest that people make conscious choices about where they get their news and how they get it, using whatever technology is convenient at the moment.”

What the survey failed to incorporate was the level of comprehension of issues covered by the various news outlets popular with the users of the different devices. Late-night television “man-in-the-street” interviews about current news topics seem to indicate that there is an appalling lack of understanding of current events or the familiarity with basic history that would provide the most basic context for all but the most seasoned generations.

“Overall, for instance, social media is becoming an important tool for people across all generations to discover news—but hardly the only one, even for the youngest adults. Fully 4 in 10 Americans say they got news in the last week from social media, through platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.

The use of social media does vary by age group: 7 in 10 adults under age 30 say they learned news through social media in the last week, 6 in 10 of those, age 30-39, 4 in 10 age 40-59 and 1 in 5 for those 60 or older [again, those with the highest comprehension]. Social media, in other words, has become a significant part of the news consumption habits for many Americans across generations.

Yet social media appears to be largely adding to, rather than replacing, other ways that people get news. At the same time that 4 in 10 now use social media, more than 80 percent of Americans say they also got news in the last week by going directly to a news organization in some manner—and that was consistent across generations.

Even for the youngest adults, age 18-29, social media and the web in general have hardly replaced more traditional ways of getting the news. Nearly half of the youngest adults also read news in print during the last week, 3 in 4 watched news on television, and just over half listened to it on the radio.

People also view these different ways of learning the news with varied levels of skepticism. Americans of all generations are nearly three times as likely to express high levels of trust about what they learn directly from a news organization [although only 32 percent say they trust it mostly or completely] as they are to trust what they discovered through social media (15 percent of those who used it to get news say they had high levels of trust in what they learned). And those numbers about trust for different ways of discovering the news do not vary much by generation. [Significantly, the same data show that 57 percent do not trust news organizations mostly or completely but, recent Gallup polls show the level of trust in the main-stream media continuing to sink to all-time lows of about 30 percent.]

The survey also probed whether people learned about different kinds of stories — breaking news, for instance, versus slower-moving trends — differently, or whether they tend to rely on the same sources and platforms regardless of the type of story. Much as people tailor how they find out about news and their go-to sources depending on the topic, they also adjust their behavior for the type of news they are following. For example, half of news consumers recalling a breaking news story they followed recently said they first heard about it on TV. About half of the people following a breaking news story report actively trying to learn more about that breaking news story. At that point, however, more people turned to the internet to follow the story than TV.”

Keep in mind that the dominant presence on the internet for news is Facebook – a strong supporter of the PLDC – whose manipulation of real and imagined news is legendary.

“TV news reporting organizations are the most common source mentioned across all types of news, but especially so for breaking news, with 61 percent noting some type of TV news organization — including cable news, local news, or broadcast networks — as the source where they first heard about the last breaking news story they followed. For slower-moving news, there is more diversity in go-to news sources, with more frequent mentions of newspapers and specialty media.

Patterns of news consumption also vary little by political affiliation. Partisans act more like each other in terms of attentiveness to the news relative to independents. But, partisans do differ from each other when it comes to the types of news reporting sources they say they trust. Democrats are more trusting of news from the three broadcast networks and the newswires, while Republicans are more trusting of news from cable [specifically, FoxNews. But, more than twice as many independents watch FoxNews than its nearest competitor, CNN.]

The generational breakdowns do indicate the path of future change. Younger adults are more likely to find news through web-based media. Younger people are three times more likely to discover news through social media than adults age 60 and older. Similarly, people under 40 are more likely than those 40 and over to discover news through internet searches and online news aggregators.

But people across all generations are most likely to discover news by going directly to a news organization, rather than letting the news come to them. Younger adults are more likely to express a preference for social media as a means of discovery. Fully 13 percent of adults under age 30 cite social media as their preferred way to find news, compared to 3 percent or less for all other age groups. For all groups, however, hearing directly from the reporting source is preferred.”

However, the bias that exists in the mainstream news also exists on the internet – only in more subtle ways. For instance, the “David” of news – FoxNews, going up against the “Goliath” of news – the three networks, also has to fight the “lords of the internet”. For example, when one Googles “FoxNews”, the only type of reference for pages are negative references to FoxNews, criticism of their on-air personnel, charges of bias, scandals, etc., as if any other news organization is without stain. You won’t find the same character assassination if you Google any other news organization.

“In other ways, gender is a more significant determinant of news habits than age. Women, for instance, are more likely to share news and get it through social media, and to follow news about schools and health and lifestyle. Men are more likely to watch cable news and follow different subjects, including sports and foreign affairs.

In addition, many of the broad findings discussed in this report hold true across racial and ethnic groups. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans across all ethnic groups get news at least several times a week and enjoy following the news at similar levels.

Now, back to the freedom of the press issue.

“The Hutchins Commission (whose official name was the Commission on Freedom of the Press) was formed during World War II, when Henry Luce (publisher of Time and Life magazines) asked Robert Hutchins (president of the University of Chicago) to recruit a commission to inquire into the proper function of the media in a modern democracy.

After deliberating for four years, the Commission came to this conclusion in 1947: ‘…the press plays an important role in the development and stability of modern society and, as such, it is imperative that a commitment of social responsibility be imposed on mass media. According to this social responsibility theory, the press has a moral obligation to consider the overall needs of society when making journalistic decisions in order to produce the greatest good.

[Consider during this discussion the exclusion – by the media in the 70 years since the Hutchins report – of the white, male, straight, employed, Christian members of society from a “favorable” status and their relegation to being the source of all evil in American society. What societal need did that fill?]

Though there had been a journalism “codes of ethics” for decades, the Commission’s report was considered landmark by some scholars; they believed it was a pivotal reassertion of modern media’s role in a democratic society.

Social-responsibility theory was born at a time (just after Franklin Roosevelt’s death) when large and powerful publishers were unpopular with the public, and when the public had a high degree of suspicions about the motivations and objectives of the press. The press had mushroomed into an unwieldy and powerful entity, and criticism of the Fourth Estate was widespread. Critics contended that the media had monopolistic tendencies; that corporate owners were not concerned with the rights or interests of those unlike themselves; and that commercialization produced a debased culture as well as dangerously selfish politics. [All were, and continue to be, valid concerns.]

Perhaps the most valuable tool a journalist has at his or her disposal, in the role of “watchdog over government”, was and is, the ‘confidential source’ and protecting the identity of such a source became the cause célèbre in the debate about the role of the press in modern society.”

For purposes of this discussion, a ‘journalist’ is: “a person, employed or self-employed, or legal entity which regularly and directly contributes to the collection, editorial composition, production and distribution of information to the public through a particular medium.” An ‘editorial collaborator’: “is interpreted as being a person other than a journalist who, because of his or her professional activity, is aware of information that might lead to the identification of an information source.”

By modern convention, editors have an obligation to know the identity of confidential and unnamed sources used in a story, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess the appropriateness of using them. The source for anything that appears in the story will be known to at least one editor. That source must understand this rule. If the source refuses to accept this rule, the reporter should refuse to accept information from the source.

In the case of exceptionally sensitive reporting, the reporter may request that the source’s identity be given solely to the editor-in-chief. In any case, the editor to whom the information is provided must be able to evaluate the credibility of the source – and must be prepared to protect the source’s identity.

An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity. Readers and viewers should know why it has been decided to grant anonymity to a source. The reporter and editor must be satisfied that the source has a sound factual basis for his or her assertions. We, as consumers of news, should recognize that some sources quoted anonymously might tend to exaggerate or overreach precisely because they will not be named.

As might be imagined, any “rights and responsibilities of a free press” issue is not always black and white. A recent case is instructive. A federal appeals court ruled that The New York Times journalist James Risen must testify in the trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency officer accused of leaking classified national defense information to the media. A lower court ruled previously that Risen could protect the source responsible for sharing intelligence about a CIA operation discussed in his writing, but the US Court of Appeals from the Fourth Circuit reversed that decision.

 “The reporter must appear and give testimony just as every other citizen must. We are not at liberty to conclude otherwise,” Chief Judge William Traxler Jr. wrote for the majority opinion.

 The appeal panel’s decision came just days after United States Attorney General Eric Holder presented President Barack Obama with a proposal that would re-shape current law as it applies to journalists in order to more greatly ensure that reporters aren’t targeted during investigations unless [all] other routes are exhausted first. That maneuver came on the heels of two highly public Justice Department scandals in which the White House was revealed to have subpoenaed the phone records for several Associated Press offices and the email history of FoxNews reporter James Rosen. [Curious, no? Could politics and “activist” judges have anything to do with this decision?]

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law,” Obama said during an address after those scandals first surfaced.

With the ruling, the appeals court weighed whether or not an established precedent would prevent Risen from being asked to disclose the source of his information, but Traxler said, “… so long as the subpoena is issued in good faith and is based on a legitimate need of law enforcement, the government need not make any special showing to obtain evidence of criminal conduct from a reporter in a criminal proceeding.”

Risen would then be expected to testify in the Espionage Act case against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official accused of disclosing details about a Clinton administration plan to provide faulty nuclear weapon blueprints to Iran in an effort to slow down their race to acquire a nuclear weapon, unless, as he previously said, he’d refuse to speak of his source, which would now open up the possibility of being held in contempt of court.

Sterling is one of seven persons accused by President Barack Obama of spying under the Espionage Act, a World War One-era legislation that has previously been used only three times before this administration began targeting leakers.

Judge Roger Gregory, the only justice to vote in the minority, said compelling Risen to testify was a “sad” decision that posed a serious threat to investigative journalism, the Times reported.

Under the majority’s articulation of the reporter’s privilege, or lack thereof, absent a showing of bad faith by the government, a reporter can always be compelled against [his or] her will to reveal her confidential sources in a criminal trial,” Gregory wrote. “The majority exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press, and in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society.”

Judge Traxler disagreed, however, and along with Judge Roger Gregory wrote that even the US Constitution can’t keep Risen from being asked to take the witness stand. Traxler wrote;

There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his source.”.

Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Times he viewed the verdict as “disappointing,” and even suggested it was a step-backwards only so few days after Holder’s alleged effort to ensure the privacy of sources and reporters.

Others contend that ethical commitments to, and legal protections for, journalistic sources are being undercut by surveillance (both mass surveillance and targeted surveillance), and mandatory data retention policies; trumped by national security and anti-terrorism legislation; undermined by the role of third party intermediaries (like social media and search engine companies, telecoms and ISPs), and restricted by overly narrow interpretation of laws designed for an analogue world. So, the attention of investigative journalists and their editors is necessarily turning to risk assessment, self-protection and source education.

The Director of the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) Gerard Ryleis similarly direct. “I’m not confident that there is any protection at all, to be frank…I would say, as a general rule these days, much more than in the past, it’s very difficult to protect sources because of the fact that electronic communications can be back-tracked and people can be found much easier than they may have been found in the past.”

It is true that confidential sources always involve the danger of manipulation by people with an agenda. And the question whether journalists, as employees of commercially driven and increasingly competitive news organizations, are best-placed to make responsible judgment calls about what sources to give a platform and what angle to take on sensitive stories is a fair one.

Many journalists can be tempted by fame, fortune, blind ambition, sensationalism, by what sells and by getting the story out before competitors, leaving them less time, and ethical conflicts, that may hamper a decision to cross-check information and get the information confirmed elsewhere.

Still, in the long-term, the cost of allowing governments to force journalists to reveal their sources, absent some standard due-process construction, may be greater than the cost of some journalists abusing their privilege to protect sources. Legislation uniformly limiting that privilege potentially compromises the security of the People and the journalists investigating sensitive matters. It also compromises their access to sources – and therefore their ability to do their job for the American people.”

In fact, nothing in the 1st Amendment’s guarantees of the rights to free speech and a free press ordain the press with any rights to super-citizenry, i.e. any privileges not enjoyed by every American citizen. In addition, every right bestowed by the Constitution comes with responsibilities. Simply put,inalienable rights come with inalienable responsibilities. These responsibilities include the obligation to protect all the liberties guaranteed in the Great Document. Citizens cannot pick and choose elements of the contract of confederation between the People and the state.

These liberties include a domestic tranquility that enables the pursuit of happiness as one sees that pursuit – with the understanding that one’s pursuit cannot prevent similar or diverse pursuits by other citizens – as well as the liberty conferred by a shared sense of safety at home and security from foreign threats to our collective freedoms.

As such, the press must abide by the same constraints imposed on all citizens to cooperate with officials working within our governmental system and in our national security apparatus. The press cannot hide behind the freedom of the press and speech clauses of the Constitution when a greater good is threatened – as the Hutchins Commission found in 1947.

With a full understanding of the value of confidential sources and the valid information they can and do provide, there must be procedures and officials in place to weigh the value of confidentiality against the value of protecting equally valuable citizen rights and the work of such officials must be respected by the press as having appropriate jurisdiction. Such procedures and people need not be judges with no insight into the workings of a free press or who suffer from the modern judicial ailment of political activism. Next time: Libel and slander.


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