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Choose Some News That Doesn’t Fit

Where do you get your news, and why?

Do you like the ease of TV, the speed of online sites, or the feel of a newspaper in your hands? Maybe you like the slant your outlet puts on the news because it matches your own values.

I spent 25 years as a journalist, 26 if you count the year I delivered Newsday on a green Schwinn rigged with a basket that looked like a mini-shopping cart.

We needed those jumbo baskets. Newspapers then were fat with news and ads, plus people had fewer options. There was no Internet, and TV meant seven channels and two colors, black and white, same as the newspaper.

Flash way forward.

Today’s technology has made possible a menu so diverse that people can actually pick news outlets that cater to their ideological point of view. I wonder sometimes if less was more.

It turns out that more than one in four of us choose news that fits our beliefs, says a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Dig deeper and you’ll find that Republicans prefer Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, and Democrats lean to Rachel Maddow, Hardball and the New York Times.

That’s no surprise, but it speaks to two concerns. First, when news outlets intentionally cater to a particular viewpoint, ostensibly to drive market share and revenue, they’re breaking the rules taught by every J-school in the nation.

The journalists’ code of ethics (yes, there is one, though violations carry no penalty beyond a damaged rep) says that reporters should “examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.” The code also says news outlets should:

–       Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

–       Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

The second issue is a less informed public. If you’re only getting the side that affirms your point of view, you’re not listening, let alone hearing. And of course that leads to less understanding and tolerance.

Hemingway said, “I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

I think back to wrestling those old Newsdays into thirds and securing them with thick rubber bands. I remember how unwieldy all that newsprint made the bike feel at the start, and how easy peddling became after I had flung the last paper and the wire basket was empty.

What’s being delivered today? Are we demanding enough of those in charge of delivering the news? Perhaps most important, are we being selective as news consumers, or sitting quietly in the choir, swallowing every word as the gospel?

Pew Survey: http://stateofthemedia.org/

Journalists’ Code of Ethics: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent.