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Good News and Bad News

February 13, 2019

Melissa Bean Sterzick

I was looking at parking headlines searching for inspiration for this column. In half a second, I found about 159,000,000 of them.


No, Police Officers Don’t Pay for Parking in Sioux Falls


Argusleader.com


City of Ames Warns of Parking Ticket System Data Breach
Desmoinesregister.com


Parking Lot Could Soon be Home to Downtown Santa Fe restrooms


Santafenewmexican.com


PSU Tickets to Cost more; Game Day Parking to Change


altooonamirror.com


Chicago’s Winter Overnight Parking Ban Goes into Effect Saturday


Abc7chicago.com


In LA, Land Dedicated to Parking is Larger than Manhattan


La.curbed.com


So much news – so much information and so many perspectives. I could read all day every day and never come close to reading it all.


I wouldn’t get political in Parking Today. But I have a lot to say about the “news.”


Everything I learned as a journalism student and as a journalist points to one immutable purpose for journalism – to provide the general public with information that is true. Why were we journalists? To share the truth. Why do we share the truth? Because every individual has a need for and the right to correct information. And based on the responsibility and ramifications of spreading information, any dishonesty in publishing is not only unethical, but illegal.


These days I see “newscasters” sharing opinions, “news channels” taking sides and “newspapers” using their online presence to emphasize one point of view over another. 


That’s not news – none of it. If a news source offers opinions without explicitly stating that the information they present is based on opinion, then it has disqualified itself as a news source.


This column is not news. It’s my opinion. 


The news has no opinion. Information is not a gray area. Truth has no variable. Facts are absolute. Interpretations are subjective. Opinion can be uninformed. Propaganda is arbitrary. We need to know how to define what we are reading and watching.


A man named Alex Edmans says it another way: “A story is not fact, because it may not be true. A fact is not data, it may not be representative if it’s only one data point. And data is not evidence -- it may not be supportive if it’s consistent with rival theories…. So, we must ensure that we have the very best evidence to guide us. Only if it’s true can it be fact. Only if it’s representative can it be data. Only if it’s supportive can it be evidence. And only with evidence can we move from a post-truth world to a pro-truth world.”


Edmans recommends we challenge our own opinions by subjecting them to doubt. He advises three strategies:


1. Talk to people you don’t agree with. Listen with the intent to understand. Don’t sit around forming your rebuttal.


2. Seek out the best evidence and be willing to accept whatever conclusion it establishes. Entertain the idea that you might be wrong.


3. Don’t share any information that you haven’t vetted first. Remember, a lot of “news” sources are telling stories – not presenting facts. 


My parents and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum on how we view current events. It would be easy to say we just won’t ever talk about it, and that works for some people. But for us, the silence creates tension. We love each other, so we need to hear each other. 


It is hard to listen to opinions that are so dramatically different from mine. But as I listen and practice deep diaphragmatic breathing, I hear fear, pride, hope, confusion and good sense. My opinion doesn’t change, but I understood why we do not agree and that makes it less painful. 


On the other side of the family dynamic are two children who will grow up to be consumers of information. Two beautiful people who are coming of age in an information climate that is violent, unpredictable and overwhelming. It is up to me to teach them how to recognize the truth and locate good news sources. 


Maybe we aren’t all going to subscribe to academic journals, but we can start by consuming news from at least two different sources, one, preferably, that doesn’t exactly jibe with our point of view. 


Another step in the right direction is to avoid “news” providers with more extreme positions. (If you don’t know if your “news” source is extreme, ask your closest friend who disagrees with you politically.)


If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s OK, but see No. 1 and consider my statements anyway.


Happy News Year to all. 



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