A couple weeks ago, the New York Times released a fascinating article, where one of their reporters documented their experience entirely avoiding social media and technology news. They got their news only from three newspapers they chose: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Economist.

The idea was simple: can you control for, and understand better, technology's impact on how we receive news by eliminating real-time, often inaccurate analysis and replacing it with four distinct viewpoints from reputable news organizations? The Times (liberal), Journal (conservative), Chronicle (local), and Economist (moderate, weekly), each provide a different perspective on the news, yet they are all similar in that their paper versions are repeatedly edited and checked for errors and are free of the immediate, first to post biases that affect technology news updates.

The reporter wrote that the experience improved his ability to analyze events, reduced the impact of news on his explicit and implicit biases, and reduced his stress levels.

When you sit back and think about it, while technology's up to the minute news has its benefits - and I am a very enthusiastic web news user - this analysis makes sense. To take the recent case of the Parkland shoot as an example, much of the first news out was totally incorrect. Moreover, the less accurate and more political the website, the less accurate the immediate reporting was - and the more politically charged. By the time the news stabilized and the full story was more or less out two to three days later, many technology readers' opinions were already hardened - and not always in line with the facts.

This, too, is in line with what we know of human nature. The first thing we hear is often the first thing we believe, and this first mover advantage is hard to break. Further, if the first mover aligns with our tribal instincts and inherent biases - in short if it affirms what we want it to affirm accurate or no - it is even harder to dislodge.

As technology-driven news gets more and more specialized and more quickly delivered, these challenges could exacerbate even further. The key question we will have to answer is: how can we make sure more people get accurate information, without stifling the right to a fully-free press?

Published on: Mar 23, 2018