Cybernaut 

News by popular demand

During the Iraq war it became abundantly clear that news – defined as an impartial account of current events – is hard to come by. So many filters are placed on news by the people who selectively dish it out and spin it, and by a public that doesn’t seem to want to hear the truth if it’s bad, that the media is no longer trustworthy.

The fact is that even with half a dozen 24-hour news stations, news radio, magazines, newspapers, and hundreds of online news sources at our disposal, we know less than ever before.

In the U.S. polls show that the majority of Americans still believe that Iraq was at least partially responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, even though no links have ever been established, and that claim was publicly refuted by the president and his secretary of defense. Still, the president and his administration at least implied the link on several occasions, and that was good enough to make up the minds of most people.

We also live in a day and age where commentary is king, and most people get their news through radio and television talk show hosts that have strong and biased opinions of their own.

For the time being, the Internet is the foil that keeps opinions from owning the news – there’s just too much of it out there to filter it all. You may have to go looking for it, but it’s there.

Then there are the Web technologies out there that allow news content to be customized to readers, and not always with the readers’ knowledge. For example, if a reader tends to focus on sports then the coverage he receives will emphasize the sports stories. That makes it harder for the sports fanatic to find the other important news stories that could pique his or her interest from day to day.

As a result of this obfuscation of the news, more and more people are visiting alternate news Web sites, and using services like Google and various news blogs to get a bigger, broader and more accurate picture of world events.

But even these sources are subjective in the sense that they have to select and rank stories somehow, and that brings in an element of subjectivity.

Blogs are personal, and updated only when the blogger has the time. Alternative news is alternative, and news often comes loaded with perspective, days after the actual event.

Even the Google news service, which searches 4,500 news sources for news and is updated every half hour, is imperfect. For one thing, the top stories are generally regional. For another, Google also selects and ranks stories based on where they appear on various leading news pages. Because leading news pages are almost universally guilty of using filters, that can also skew the news presentation.

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