And That’s the Waaaayyyy the News Goes

Nick Papageorge (2L)

Everything is fine. There’s an infinite number of realities, Morty.

As we descend further into absurdity, I find myself taking greater solace in the world of Rick and Morty—a world where absurdity is the lone constant. If only we were fortunate enough to live in their world: if your current reality doesn’t quite suit you, just fire your portal gun and hop on over to a more palatable existence.  

However, an infinite number of realities sounds less like an enticing reverie and more like an accurate description of the world we’re hopelessly tethered to. Plenty of ink has been spilt lamenting our collective retreat into intellectual bubbles. To make matters worse, these bubbles have now been overrun, whether in jest or otherwise, by Orwellian terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts.” False is true. Small is big. War is peace.

But I digress. As Marie Henein most eloquently put it, “the Orwellian analogies seem to write themselves these days.”* Yet this very fact—the idea that the twenty-first century is so much like Orwell’s dystopia that it goes without saying—is truly disconcerting. Even more unsettling is the realization that the common citizen and the career newsperson are equally paralyzed by this absurdist onslaught.

In the pages of this paper, we’ve tried to tackle that most persistent question: What is to be done? Those were big-picture ruminations for a big-picture question. However, as a newspaper, I believe we must also address this paralysis at a more technical level. We must say a word or two about how to approach the unending, confounding flow of (dis)information.

Call it as you see it: we used to have more descriptive words for “fake news” and “alternative facts.” We called this sort of drivel misinformation and propaganda, respectively. It seems we ought to return to these characterizations; the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” have already become so trite that they’re nothing more than late-night television fodder. More precise and withering terms for this nonsense are needed in order to push back against it.

Be your own gatekeeper: it used to be that a venerable name atop the page—The New York Times, The Globe and Mail—meant you were getting the highest quality scoop. No more. Prestige can no longer be equated with accuracy. These days, if you want reliable (or even passable) information, you need to go searching for it—and probably in multiple locations, some well known, others less so. If you think this sounds like being forced to do the publisher’s duty, you’re not wrong, but they’re now derelict. You can either pick up the slack or be left behind.  

Know who’s speaking: this goes together with being your own gatekeeper. Newspapers today have a tendency to disclose minimal details about the backgrounds of their authors and contributors. Yet the work of these writers is invariably coloured by the think-tanks and political parties they are affiliated with and actively bolstering. It now falls to the reader to look further into the author’s background, especially when coming across what looks like an anodyne opinion piece. Luckily, we live in an age where this sort of background takes little time to unearth.

Disconnect: but not in a defeatist way. Being interminably bombarded with information is exhausting, and at some point it is more harmful than helpful. Take a break. Sit back and think about the merits of all those evanescent news-bites rather than clicking on the next one. Or, better yet, curl up with a book or two (I concede that this is something of a luxury for law students) for a more masterly take on whatever modish topics you’ve been reading about. Chances are this minor act is more than some of the hacks churning out those news-bites have done.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. And, for some readers, it may be nothing new. But it is an essential starting point as we embark on what feels like a journey into an alternate, nonsensical reality. Wubba lubba dub dub.

Author’s Note: For more on this theme, see Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

*Editor’s Note: this quote is taken from an article that appeared in The Globe and Mail on 31 January 2017 under the title “We need more facts, less extreme vetting.”