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A society that isn’t sure what’s true can’t function, but increasingly we no longer seem to know who or what to believe. We’re barraged by a torrent of lies, half-truths and propaganda: how do we even identify good journalism any more?
At a moment of existential crisis for the news industry, in our age of information chaos, News and How to Use It shows us how. From Bias to Snopes, from Clickbait to TL;DR, and from Fact-Checkers to the Lamestream Media, here is a definitive user’s guide for how to stay informed, tell truth from fiction and hold those in power accountable in the modern age.
Former Guardian editor Rusbridger (Breaking News) delivers a brisk and well-informed study of the issues affecting journalism in the form of a dictionary. Noting that public trust in the U.K. press plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, Rusbridger blames controversies such as the 2011 phone-hacking scandal, when it was revealed that British journalists had illegally accessed the voice messages of public figures; journalism's struggle "to describe itself honestly, if at all"; and a flood of "politically motivated" disinformation. Throughout, he explains how the rise of the internet and social media disrupted print journalism, discussing, for instance, how allowing content to appear on news aggregators such as Facebook and Apple News has its pluses ("traffic, marketing, visibility") and minuses ("cannibalisation, lack of transparency and data, loss of direct relationship with the reader"). He also contends that British newspaper owners' business interests affected their journalists' coverage of Brexit, and critiques media figures including Daily Telegraph opinion writer Christopher Brooks, who was lauded as a "Fleet Street titan" even though his columns were riddled with factual errors and "thuggish attacks on climate scientists with whom he disagreed." Though Rusbridger's diagnoses are keen, his prescriptions are less persuasive; at one point, he suggests it's up to the public to develop "a herd immunity to false information." Still, this a rich compendium of the tensions roiling journalism in Britain and the U.S.