My penchant for reading began at a young age. I devoured my American Girl books the same as I did our small daily paper, hungry for information and stories to inspire playtime in the yard or discussions at the dinner table.
When the terrorist attacks of September 11th hit however, reading the news became more of an obsessive habit. It became available more frequently, and I clung to every update I could. I think many people did. I don’t know if “knowledge was power” in this instance, but it sure was cathartic. I felt a bit more at ease…thinking I knew everything the moment someone with authority did.
As I went on to major in American Studies at college, I was able to re-read our nation’s history with a more careful eye. And as smartphones and social media were disrupting current news consumption at the same time, it was interesting to absorb it with continuous, and varying viewpoints.
But it took awhile to realize that headlines could betray me.
I had always placed a great deal of faith in reporters—believing that they were conduits of fact-based storytelling. Honestly, they mostly still are…but today too much opinion permeates that initial hook.
For instance, this past weekend, a news story in McKinney, TX took center stage a mere six weeks after rioting in Baltimore had quelled.
If you read only headlines, here’s what you might see:
- Texas pool party officer ‘stressed not racist’
- VIDEO EMERGES OF VIOLENCE AT ‘INNOCENT POOL PARTY’ IN MCKINNEY, TEXAS
- Texas pool party video leads to social media attacks
- How black kids like the ones in McKinney, Texas, can stay safe around cops: stop being black
Each article from a different outlet took different perspectives, and if you read further, you’d glean different information. But you still wouldn’t know it all. And you’d perpetuate a dangerous cycle of incomplete information if you took those headlines and chimed into a conversation.
Understanding the news, and the world, takes practice.
It goes beyond skimming headlines. You must read the stories, detect the nuances, ask the questions.
There’s a good reason why communications professionals start their days by reading news from multiple sources. The willingness to listen to and try to understand people with differing opinions (or your competitors) can be hard work, but it’s the foundation of a strong platform (personally and professionally).
As Doug Larson said best, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”
I still love reading the news; I just don’t follow the headlines blindly.
*If you don’t know where to turn for a broader perspective, try news aggregators like Google News, or Feedly; turn to international news outlets like BBC or Al Jazeera to see how they report U.S. news; or, try newer sources like BuzzFeed or Huffington Post.