Alternate facts are the new baloney served up in the information age
My brother is a computer programmer by trade. He took to it more than 30 years ago like a nerd to comic book collecting. Writing long strings of binary code is effortless to him; his brain just works that way.
Because he was born with this computer-like brain, he tends to think it's no big deal. Or put another way, he gets frustrated by we mere mortals who find ways of bogging down and crashing our operating systems without even trying.
Recently, it occurred to me that a similar disconnect is happening in mass communication, although in reverse, where many of us over a certain age have an advantage I'm not sure we're aware of.
When it comes to technology and devices that keep us connected, our kids and grandkids might be able to run figure-eights around us while we're still stumbling across email and social media platforms, but we've got most of them hands down in the information department. Make that too much information.
They may have been born to the technology but we are a generation that cut its teeth on hard-hitting, factual journalism delivered without bias and minus commentary. In depth analysis and opinion was a platform set apart on broadcasts such as "Face The Nation" and "Meet The Press," or in newspaper editorials. Even then, only those with credentials and expertise on the subject at hand ventured into that arena, and still with a certain amount of reserve.
Oh for the days of not having a clue as to the political leanings of the news source, let alone the absence of a multitude of celebrity opinion-generators posing as a journalists. Instead we have 24/7 cable news networks churning out a steady stream of commentary offered up by talking heads chosen more for a particular profile they fit than for their informed or unbiased reporting.
Because it comes easily to us from past exposure, much like my brother who doesn't get that he has a narrow skill set, we don't quite get it when people believe obviously fake news, or when they say they don't know which news sources to trust anymore.
We are living in a dangerous time when anybody who can figure out how to put up a website that passes for a legitimate news organization can churn out biased reports filled with misinformation and outright lies. Now, more than ever, we must find a way to ensure that we all recognize the hallmarks of responsible journalism in order to make informed decisions in our own best interests.
So my question is this: Shouldn't our public school system be teaching a full course on journalism, right alongside math, science and reading? I'm not talking about a one-unit and done deal, but a fully structured, multi grade-level course with common outcomes for students to be able to discern the difference between responsible practices and questionable reporting.
Just as we are not all going to be scientists, novelist or essayists, or number crunchers, yet still must study those basic skills from K-12, hasn't a deeper understanding of journalism become a necessary life skill, even though we won't all become journalists?
In other words, now, in this very age of information, aren't we obligated to teach responsible, discerning consumption of the information itself?