Why not to believe popular media

I recently read a brilliant piece from a fellow substack writer Erik Hoel, about how the popular news and media websites get away with copypasta.

A quick question. Do you believe everything you see and read online? Do you tend to think of stories from popular news websites and companies as trustworthy and better than other outlets?

Erik Hoel gives a very good example of The Guardian, a very popular news website having good credibility in this industry.

The article in question was titled Little evidence that chemical imbalance causes depression, UCL scientists find.

I was curious to see for myself if the claims were indeed true. And turns out that yes, they are pretty much true.

  • The article doesn’t cite anything first of all as he mentioned. And he is the first person I have seen in my life who has questioned a news website not citing their sources. So I can confirm they indeed get away with this tactic.
  • The links in the article take you nowhere. Here is one such link. You would think that those words in red ink would take you to the source but nope. That’s not happening. What is happening is that they will just run the search for the word “NHS” on their website, which would give us other articles having the mention of “NHS”.
Image credit: The Guardian
  • They straight up copy-paste the quotes from other media outlets, mostly smaller as compared to themselves, and don’t give credits. What this does is gives a false sense of belief to the readers that they did all the hard work of getting in touch with those people and got them to say a few words. Moncrieff didn’t say this to the guardian, the guardian picked this up from another news source and copy-pasted it on their website, and didn’t credit the source. The source probably has no problem with this, but that doesn’t matter. It’s vague and the majority doesn’t know about it.
Image credit: The Guardian

General readers don’t care. They want news and they still get it. The thing is, do you want to see an old and popular media and news outlet get away with these practices when all this can be corrected without any hassle?

As Erik mentioned, writers probably are doing all this already. They are following correct practices and crediting and citing the sources and linking properly before submitting their drafts. But by the time those articles are published, the editors have done their job and removed the things which don’t align with the outlet’s writing guidelines.

My guess is, that these things are done because:

  1. Writers need to be quick. And by that I mean really really quick. Every minute is important and the faster you publish stories, the more traffic you are going to collect. Traffic is important. It’s the key to everything in the online world.
  2. It’s hard to credit the sources and get the quotes with those tight time constraints in place. They rather just copy-paste and get away with it. (My suggestion is why don’t they do this after they have published the story? Credit the sources, cite and, link when you have time and have verified them, and update your articles later. I have seen some news websites do this, works fine enough.)
  3. Readers don’t care. The majority will never think the way Erik did, and they will just read and go away. So there is no real motivation for outlets to change their ways.

But what matters is that a piece of writing should try to empower a reader, and the omnipresent lack of outside context indicates that the primary purpose of these websites is not to empower their readers. – Erik Hoel

If you have been following me for some time now, you would know that I always link to anything and everything that has nothing to do with me. I don’t know everything I write about, so I don’t pretend to do that. And as Erik said, big news outlets can get away with it, but independent writers probably won’t. They will be cooked and probably embarrassed about doing something like this.

Over the years I have come to realize that the online news industry hangs on a very thin rope, but the authority and popularity they have balances out their practices of misinformation. Next time you read an online article from a reputable news outlet, watch out. If you find them lacking, the back button should be the next step. They are not empowering you and they don’t care about you.


16 thoughts on “Why not to believe popular media

  1. Oh yeah… I do not trust media at all.

    No straight up news reporting with honesty

    I take all with grain of salt 🧂 meaning don’t believe much- use your own discretion. ✌️

    People should be aware hopefully 🙏

    I don’t read news or watch. Right now I balancing so I just avoid it all for now. ✌️

    Is always same bad stuff – I can probably guess ??

    Let’s see … Putin still being rude and unjust

    There are tons of things that can kill us…

    Many shots to help…

    The government still not handle things properly

    Ugh many things – I bet still same bad things just little different here and there.

    So I had to step away for moment

    News is usually biased and also sensationalized so I can’t for moment

    Plus I can’t listen to everyone’s opinion and sometimes because I step away, I see different

    Is too much stuff and too much chatter to know full truth of news.

    Yes absolutely draw attention because people should think for self and be aware. Be careful of media… whatever kind it is. ✌️😘

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are doing good. People should have their own views and opinions but as media tends to be more biased these days, everything should be taken with a grain of salt. 🙏🏽 And listening to what other people have to say as well. Else we get deep inside in a very small world where we get blinded and blocked from everything.🙏🏽

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think people particularly look for objectivity in the news. They look or something which aligns to the view they already have of the world; look for something that vindicates it. That explains e.g. Fox News in the USA.
    So the Guardian would have published this because the headline findings fit in with its view of the world.
    There’s a general message to beware of anything. Newspapers, tv, anything. It will have been edited before we ever get to see it. Somebody has already decided for us what we see and don’t see.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The last line is very strong. Somebody sitting in front of a computer screen in a two window room deciding what millions see and believe. That’s where everything starts to fall apart. Scary.

      And with all social medias these days, algorithms have taken over. They watch what users like to click more and keep showing them similar results. It’s like never getting to know the views and opinions of a complete different world.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Have a look at the people you follow on here. Broadly, they will be people with whom you share sentiment. I’m absolutely the same. It’s only natural – what I think makes sense so therefore anybody who agrees with me makes sense, too. Approximately, anyhow.
        I think the closest we get to objectivity is when we force ourselves to take on board a range of views, not just our own.
        People will follow what The Guardian says will do so because they agree with the overall sentiment. They won’t necessarily click through as you did.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I tend to look at the source of the online information. If it is from a trusted source, then I largely accept it. Sometimes, if it is something I am really interested in, I will read multiple sources. And I truly appreciate it when someone corrects an error or retracts misinformation.

    Liked by 1 person

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