HOW TO READ A NEWSPAPER


OUR ORGANIC WORLD


Why do you read the news? Why should you? Where do I read the news? It may sound facetious, but what IS the news? In all of its glory, "news" presents with its etymology:

news (n.)

late 14c., "new things," plural of new (n.) "new thing" (see new (adj.)); after French nouvelles, which was used in Bible translations to render Medieval Latin nova (neuter plural) "news," literally "new things."

The English word was construed as singular at least from the 1560s, but it sometimes still was regarded as plural 17c.-19c. The odd and doubtful construction probably accounts for the absurd folk-etymology (attested by 1640 but originally, and in 18c. usually, in jest-books) that claims it to be an abbreviation of north east south west, as though "information from all quarters of the compass."

Meaning "tidings, intelligence of something that has lately taken place" is from early 15c. Meaning "radio or television program presenting current events" is from 1923. Bad news in the extended sense of "unpleasant person or situation" is from 1926. Expression no news, good news can be traced to 1640s. Expression news to me "something I did not know" is from 1889.


"Event" is somewhat ambiguous; it may refer to a one-time occurrence or an ongoing situation. That which new (coming into the here and now) assumes the plural, as in a "new" (single event) regarded with others, collectively known as "news". Technically, any emerging situation different from the current one can be "news", but we are referring normally to the extraordinary. A malfunctioning traffic light is newsworthy to the maintenance crew and to motorists taking or planning to take the street having the light. Of course, it usually does not have the significance of events sparking world wars, although, who would have thought that the assassination of Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo would lead to World War I?


When I was a senior in high school - 1963, a Portland (Maine) Press Herald newspaper reporter spoke to a Friday afternoon assembly. It takes a lot to influence me, and I am very bad at names, but this reporter set in motion a critical way of thinking which I have incorporated into my very being. He read some relatively minor item in the paper and related it ultimately to the 72-point banner headline. U.S. Senator Politico was killed in a traffic accident on Portland's Main Street yesterday. His was to be the critical vote on legislation raising tariffs on machine parts, making it impossible for some US industries to survive. The resulting unemployment will stress state budgets, some states already at the edge of bankruptcy …. etc., etc., etc.

Everything is interrelated in a web:


For a real-life event, on 23 March 2021 the 400 meter-long cargo ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal and threatens complete blockage for weeks, halting the transport of vital supplies, including oil. You take it from here, and think of the implications.


Somewhere in the social web is you. A small activity on your part can eventually affect someone else on the other side of the planet, even fatally. This seems to be rather farfetched, but like the Portland Press Herald reporter, think how a seemingly innocent conversation can influence a person to vote for a candidate, who gets elected to Congress, and this Congressperson casts a deciding vote for a piece of trade legislation, that legislation causing tariffs to rise to the point where someone in a different country cannot afford to buy a product, thus not getting enough income to feed her/his family. Chaos theorists call this the "butterfly effect", a butterfly flapping its wings on a plant in Brazil can bring about a tornado in Texas. Recall:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Want_of_a_Nail]


A society can be a family or all persons on Earth (United Nations). For you, planning for events possibly affecting your integrity is essential. In turn, what are the events shaping society's direction? It may be something simple like a weather forecast, an approaching storm preventing your going out. An aggressive country's attack on another could signal a world war, like Hitler's 1 September 1939 invasion of Poland.


Look at the overall social context, that web. Press down on one intersection point, or node, and the whole web moves. In an earlier edition of The Reformationist, I discussed "interdisciplinary", a seemingly abstruse academic term, scholars drawing from diverse subject areas to synthesize ideas. Biophysics, for example, incorporates physics and biology to explain organisms having physical processes. Think prosthetic devices, like artificial limbs or even microchips implanted in the brain.


We live in a fragile environment, but it is deteriorating to what many scientists refer to as the "Holocene Extinction". Global warming is only one aspect, resource depletion, overpopulation, and pollution contributing to the problem. Yet, everything is so interdependent it takes only one relatively small breakdown in a critical area to discombobulate a whole system or web. Think of the electrical grid. I remember several cases where a poorly programmed protective relay shut down the whole US northeast in 1965.


Natural resources are no different; think of the U.S.'s critical dependence on rare Earths, a set of elements easily researchable on the web. We depend upon them for our electronics, as in cell phones, lasers, and computers. Because of the rapid growth of the electronics industry, many countries, including the U.S. are facing shortages, but the anarchy of their socio-economic systems threatens to put their electronics manufacturing in jeopardy.


Rubber is another essential natural resource, but the ubiquitous tires, rubber bands, and medical equipment lulls us into thinking the supply is endless. This morning (13 March 2021), I read on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Website, "Climate change, capitalism and disease are threatening to strike a mortal blow to the world's rubber trees." Believe me, the BBC is no advocate for any alternative economic system than capitalist-based, and its pointing a finger directly to capitalism is telling. The article explains, "Millions of these workers tend to plantations in Thailand, Indonesia, China and West Africa" and disease, climate change, increased demand, and low prices are reducing the world supply of rubber to critical points. For this last, low prices, "The price of rubber is set by the distant Shanghai Futures Exchange, where brokers speculate on value of this material alongside gold, aluminium, and fuel.". Because of the low prices, no incentive exists to plant more rubber trees. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is winding down, there will be even more demand. Revealingly, "...shortages are the result of deep structural problems that aren't easy to fix.", but the article quickly diverts to "solutions" like rubber alternatives, sporadic attempts at reforms like "campaigning to introduce a fixed minimum price for rubber", and the usual panoply of liberal-democratic shoulds, oughts, mights, and musts, all the while not addressing the inherent parasitism, anarchy, and anti-social/anti-environmental nature of the whole capitalist system.


The object lesson here is to locate events that could have such a cascading effect, asking about causes, as well as alternative circumstances probably could have prevented the problems. Reading for relevance and significance should be the main focus of newspaper reading. Global warming and its effects, resource depletion, overpopulation, technological complexity, widening income disparities, crumbling infrastructure, and environmental contamination represent subjects requiring reportage. Back in those youthful days, I remember the New York Times' "All the news that is fit to print" and "The newspaper of record". While it is impossible to write about everything in a newspaper, we should expect the major events getting recognition but, again, the significant ones affecting us especially on the front page.

  1. THE PROBLEM

  2. News and "news"

What also is worrying overall is the obsession with identity politics, as these samples illustrate from 19 March 2021 – a date taken at random:

It would be an interesting exercise to take an actual count over a period of time – months, even years – to record the identity politics items, but from my standpoint, I have observed the mounting frequency and regularity for some time, and my background as an old reporter tells me it is excessive, reflecting a larger social problem, not necessarily of persons being discriminated against – though that is happening – but a) the obsession with the problem, and b) the apparent inability to grapple with it. For this latter part, especially, notably absent from the MSM is a discussion about the "why", as in how large corporations and these multi-billionaires are symptomatic of the overarching predatory and materialistic ethos dominating society. This is the discussion that needs to take center stage in these periodicals, but since the MSM is run by these large corporations, do not expect any change from the current modus operandi.


Of course, any civilized person with high-road values does not condone discrimination based on melanin content in the skins, physical appearance, ethnicity, and so forth. If such discrimination predominates, the question front and center should be why are so many persons having problems with their identity, apparently feeling that theirs is threatened and attacking others. There are two reasons this identity politics obsession exists.


First, deep down inside, I suspect there may be a hidden guilt the writers of these articles experience in being effete and exclusionary, their prostrating themselves before the whole world in attempting to atone their sins.


Second, it does not take a Ph.D. in socioeconomics to observe the growing income stratification, where workers have had over the years their labor power being expropriated, not being duly compensated for it. As a thought, the Zuckerbergs and Bezos of the world did not acquire their wealth by working in the mines, factories, or fields. Elsewhere, I have written in The Reformationist of identity politics and its reasons: "You and the other" and "The George Floyd protests and the rage of identity politics". More articles surely will come down the road.


As a "social doctor", I'd say these are symptomatic of a much deeper crises of a country's citizens not sure of whom they are, let alone know their core values. Such a wandering population knows little of where they want to be headed nor what is significant in reaching their goals. Such anarchy helps explain why the MSM cannot seem to locate what truly is important in the world.

  1. The ugly

Controversy abounds about US newspapers' reading level, commonly-bandied about unsourced figures from 6th to 8th grade. One claim, appearing specious and as an outlier, is that the average newspaper is written at the 11.63 grade level. I search all over the internet and find the usual empty-headed sloppiness in not giving sources, but the figure "10" comes up frequently for The New York Times, and one (though dated - 2008 - 2010) even generously giving it a Lexile score of 1380, translating into over the 11th-grade level. Of course, it depends upon how complex the content is in contributing to reading level, as well as the sentence structure, among other factors. It is debatable at best if intricate ideas in science can be expressed in grade school language. If a person does not have sufficient knowledge in the area, it is surely the case that a few newspaper articles will not be able to convey the true essence of the event. Lest we become complacent and write about anything, pay close attention to the following that should be on roadside signs and in front of periodicals everywhere, memorize it, and internalize the fact:

Half of all US adults cannot read past the eighth grade!

Repeat this as as Eastern philosopher would a mantra. Meditate on it, and think of the implications. Tattoo it on your forehead, if necessary, so the next time you look into the mirror and get weird ideas of publishing great truths to the masses, you'll be reminded of this salient fact. Remember, too, it is nigh impossible for them to read much about real and meaningful events affecting their lives. I constantly have to remind my colleagues when they have their flights of fancy about how to transform the world. It stands to reason that the MSM either panders to the masses or publishes so they cannot read. Here is some simple logic.


If it is true the average newspaper is written anywhere near the 12th grade, it is surely the case the average US adult normally will not be able to read it. On the other hand, if the average reading level is between the 6th and 8th grade, such demonstrates either how poor the US school system is or the adults simply not being able to understand (cognitive deficiencies, substance abuse, mental disorders, etc.). With respect to grade level competences, think of what the average US high school graduate had to learn a few decades ago and course requirements now. I remember in 1960 core requirements of separate courses of biology, chemistry, and physics, history (US and world), English, and a foreign language. A person not able to read at or near grade level simply did not get a high school diploma but received a certificate of attendance.


Critical thinking requires not only techniques of "processing" information but adequate schooling in basic subjects, such as history, science, and social science. Our survey of front-page newspaper content points to the average reader not oriented towards the more important events of the day requiring these thought processes, but their wanting more to be entertained and soothed by those "human interest stories", albeit relishing Yellow-Sheet excursions.


And, there is the outright propaganda and even fake news. Helen Buyniski wrote


Six media companies are almost entirely responsible for crafting consensus reality in the West. But their laziness is such that they're now seeking legal remedies in Congress as an alternative to raising the quality of their work.


When one hears the ‘papers of record’ lamenting the rising tide of ‘fake news’ and ‘disinformation,’ one is listening to these corporations complaining about the need to bolster the quality of their output, as if it’s an unthinkable chore to actually deliver good work, check facts and confirm sources. Why bother with accuracy or utility when one’s government benefactors are willing to step in at the last minute and throw the competition under the bus?


Russiaphobia, Sinophobia, and identity politics dominate the MSM, hardly a day passing when CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times seem compelled to run at least one front-page story on these subjects. Any competent demagogue heading a failing society requires a boogeyman to scare the masses into accepting the prevailing order. For the other "news", much of the rest is reporters' "filler" and those "human interest" items. One only needs to look at the coverage of Britain's royalty as an example, wondering if these so-called newspapers are British government agencies, like the British Broadcasting Corporation. How shallow it is to tell the world, "Prince Harry has spoken to his brother, William, and his father, Charles, since Oprah Winfrey's interview with the Sussexes aired,", as CNN did in its umpteenth nauseating coverage. Oprah Winfrey has about as much credibility as Larry King or any of these other television "celebrities". Then, we see CNN covering Saturday Night Live, as if comedy should assume a level of importance with real events affecting all of us. These are "plugs", advertisements, just as are stories of "wondrous" development of Eon Musk's Tesla, or Space-X launches, testaments to how the US panders to the military-industrial complex and how shameful the U.S. relies on business for what used to be national pride.


Aside from the shallowness, common among writers is the failure to provide references. From where did the information come, and how was it created, identified, or researched? I have written elsewhere [The Reformationist, No. 11] about these issues, as in "The bifurcated pandemic", explaining how the rise of poor information quality is threatening the integrity of society.


  1. WHAT DO YOU DO?

  2. Locating importance

Importance is relative, according to how events affects a person's ethos. True, but I wrote about the scope of events and how we live in an integrated and interdependent world. Recall the web. This is generically the case, but the problem remains in locating reportage of importance in the newspapers … or elsewhere (which I will get to shortly, as newspapers are not the only source of news).

Inasmuch as editors, especially the US and British press, have largely chosen banal writing over reporting the real news, what do you do? Surely the news is out there.


Often, searching for a newspaper and going to the suggested location will bring up a "splash page" designed more as an advertisement rather than a real news page. It is to titillate low-brow or gutter tastes – sensationalism – sex, violence, "fun", technological cleverness (wow, gee, etc.), sports, and "business". Occasionally, real news will creep in. In any web-based newspapers, first click on "news". While sports, entertainment, fashion, arts, style, and all of that have no place on the front page of a real newspaper, it does not mean a newspaper should not have these things, but the main function of a NEWSpaper is … well, to report the news, front and center. Aside from the areas to be covered, news stories should be just that, news, the facts. Opinions and interpretations are reserved for the opinion, or editorial pages.


Examine your own situation. You need to be able to discern what is meaningful. What is your schooling background, both educational and technical? What is your occupation? What are your individual (as in health) and social responsibilities? What do you really want in life? Above all, what are your core values? This is not an exhaustive list but gets you started in thinking more broadly and in an interdisciplinary way.


Identifying important events comes partially by looking at several mainstream sources but varied ones, often foreign. The second is following professional literature, as in reading science or sociology journals. Admittedly, this is a much more tortuous and laborious route. I go so far as reading French and Spanish-language papers. If I find multiple sources covering an event, then, it is safe to assume it is significant, at least to a number of editors. However, just because an event is being reported, it doesn't mean that it really is so. You have to think of those interrelationships discussed above, asking what would be the likelihood of it affecting others in a wider scope of events. For example, a fire is a fire and a fire. No, this is not a typographical error. A large fire, while perhaps lighting up the sky for miles around may or may not have major effects. If it is a petroleum refinery fire consuming facilities making a critical fluid that already is in short supply, it is not difficult to see the slam-on events that probably will follow, such as a whole transportation sectors being affected. Or, think of a US warship sinking an Iranian tanker right in the middle of the Strait of Hormuz. That would be a "wow" event. My educational background orients me towards the science, philosophy, history, and sociology. One of my favorites is phys.org. Of course, I can't be reading everything, but at least can sample these publications to see what the newspapers are picking up.

While seemingly obvious, the way news is written nowadays belies the obvious, i.e., it is written more as entertainment and that "child rescued from the well" story, rather than telling you events around which you need to plan. There are distant events, like the US aggression against Syria and elsewhere, these chaining together to help create a bellicose environment leading to a full-scale conflagration. A small incursion here, a ship sailing into waters zealously guarded by trigger-happy solders easily could be sufficient provocation for a massive response. Closer events, like the fire demand attention. Overall, we refer to "situational awareness", news vital to helping us maintain our awareness. Locally, think of someone warning you of an oncoming car or a railroad crossing alarm telling you about an approaching train. A newspaper failing to report the real news is like the railroad crossing alarm not functioning properly. It is THAT serious.

  1. What is in a well-written news article?

  2. The ordering

Once you have honed your general critical thinking skills and have affirmed your core values, then, it is time to apply this knowledge to newspaper articles, themselves. What should you find in a well-written account? When school standards were higher than they are now, a cub reporter was told that within the first few paragraphs (usually up to seven), the reader should know:

  • Who was involved?

  • What happened basically – a summary?

  • When did the event occur?

  • Where did it occur?

  • How did the event come about (describing the sequence of events)?

  • Why (cause) did the event happen?

Donald Trump and Kamala Harris robbed the Sunnyside branch of the Parasite National Bank on Poverty Avenue late Wednesday night.

Neighbors of the surrounding reported a tank driven by the two bandit coming up to the front door and blowing it open with a bazooka and using dynamite to open the safe.

The following day the two were caught five miles outside of town on the 1800 block of 36the Avenue with the tank and weapons, along with $5 million of cash.

Inside the tank were found bundles of leaflets urging people to join the terrorist Front for Liberation.

After graduating from The Johns Hopkins University in 1967, I worked for a small town Connecticut newspaper, its senior editor selecting a number of well-written stories, cutting them up into paragraphs, scrambling the pieces, and instructing me to arrange them in order of how the story should be written.

  1. Its placement shaping the content

Tabloid newspapers were designed specifically to accommodate the 5-W/H format, where people could stand in a small space (typically in cities, as in riding on a subway on the way to work in the morning) and opening the pages without having to bump into an adjacent person, as would be the case with a regular foldout newspaper. Yet, any newsworthy reputations the early tabloid were gaining for their crisp presentation of events was quickly overshadowed by the rise of sensationalist publications like the National Enquirer reporting on UFOs, ghosts, and just plain nonsense for popular consumption. I often have thought the editors knew perfectly well what they were doing – comedy and satire. Sadly, with school standards so low, let alone reading levels, it is a shock to the educated person how many persons believe the fantasy. Q-Anon represents how fantasy can translate to social destruction, its propaganda helping to incite mob violence, as in the 6 January 2021 riot on Capitol Hill.


When I was a teenager, I worked as a floor person for the Manchester Union Leader, bringing copy from the teletype machines to the editorial desks, writing obituaries, and some bit writing. Bringing the Union Leader constantly into the limelight of controversy was its repeated front-page editorials lambasting whatever irked the publisher, William Loeb. It was "common knowledge" that you separated the news from opinion, and any paper that ran opinion on the front page could not be trusted for objectivity. We all know now that human bias cannot be avoided, such as in selecting what to report, but the editor's responsibility is attempting to separate fact from interpretation much as possible.


Now, it is the "human interest story", a trend starting around about the mid to latter 1970s, just about the time the US school system had gotten a good start on its decline. Rather than focusing on news affecting everyone, editors started to entertain, diverting peoples' attention from what really was happening.

  1. Motivations shaping the content

Now that you are oriented more to specifics, think out identifying events germane to your background to anticipate how they may influence your decisions. In MSM sources, examine the particular areas, especially in science and technology. While many, if not most, articles are poorly written in terms of the six Ws and one H, still the headline, followed by the first few paragraphs, usually will tell you enough to read further or move on. Lot of this should be common knowledge, but where do you go, other than MSM?

Unfortunately, a prime motivation for MSM is profit, and this means, and advertising appeals to the masses, and the masses like sensationalism. The problem is not new, as a search for "Yellow Sheet journalism" will demonstrate. For example, the William Randolph Hearst newspapers gained notoriety and popularity by reporting that the USS Maine was sunk by the Spanish in Havana Harbor in February 1898. It turns out that it wasn't the Spanish but munitions accidentally being set off by spontaneous combustion of methane emitted by a coal bunker. Yellow sheet journalism lives on and with a vengeance. Such should tell you that looking to profit-driven publications will often be fruitless if it is truth that you are searching for.

  1. Whom to rely on for truth

Right out of the box, your source should be intelligent, well-educated, experienced, ethical, peer-reviewed, and not mentally disordered. You may laugh at this last item, but many a person who fulfills the previous criteria has vetted erroneous and even harmful information because of a mental disorder. One example I know of personally was a Columbia University Ph.D./M.D. with over 100 peer-reviewed presentations promoting US FDA -banned medical devices, making absurd health claims, and hiring "teachers" with dubious credentials for his health institute. I used this example in my critical thinking classes, and the astute nursing students suggested the man had a psychotic break, indicated by the slew of his most recently published and non -peer-reviewed articles.


Mexico's president is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a populist with an undergraduate degree in political science and public administration. The COVID-19 pandemic has raged out of control and vaccine development and distribution has been nothing short of anarchy, due largely to the failings of liberal democracy and its demagoguery. Obrador has refused to wear a mask and stymied efforts to test and do contact tracing (measures epidemiologists say are essential in helping to control the spread of the virus). Comes Dr. Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, Ph.D. in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins University (2006) and Master of Medical Science in 2000 from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, easily arguable that it is equal to Harvard Medical School. His dozens of peer-reviewed publications are easily accessible online. That is, his experience and credentials are at least equal to those of the U.S.'s Dr. Anthony Stephen Fauci, physician-scientist and immunologist, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. My simple question is, "Whom are you going to listen to first, a peer-reviewed scientist or populist demagogue appealing to the lowest common denominator in the masses not observing even the most elementary health protocols?". Frankly, I don't care two hoots (and this is being generous) about Obrador and his crew says about anything, except insofar as how his gibberish affects me. For example, how are his low-brow policies going to affect my leaving my house in terms of the overall infection rate?


Let's look at Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, producing what Al Gore accurately characterized a "mediocre software". I worked for Microsoft and saw its playboy atmosphere and security holes as wide as a barn door. So many times I saw "get it out there to beat the competition" the governing criterion. "Gates left Harvard after two years", and while he may have been technologically bright, and he did pinpoint (perhaps) some failings of academia not addressing technical applications of theory very well, his profit motive drives him to call for others to go to college, not the value of learning for learning's sake.


Again, I question the value of Gates saying much of anything, as in how to manage the pandemic. Nonetheless, in logic, the fallacy "ad hominem" means argument against the person, rather than the content of what is being said. This not mean any statement from someone with no professional background, that is, education/training and peer-reviewed publications and experience, should avoid scrutiny, especially if there are no scholarly sources backing the claims. Sentiment is insufficient. Yes, experts can be wrong, but the probability of "getting it right" is with a person who has had – again with emphasis - the education/training and peer-reviewed publications, high ethos, sanity, and experience.


Along with our evaluation, we need to ask about motivations. The Gates and other "entrepreneurs" often are revered as "successful", the flawed reasoning they must be experts in health or social policy. Multi-billionaire Mark Elliot Zuckerberg of Facebook notoriety is another college dropout, very similar to Gates. His cleverness and resulting popularity rocketed him to the social forefront until today, billions of persons have become dependent on social media. His accumulation of wealth is more than that of many countries with no restraints on his power.


Other "entrepreneurs" like multi-billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos did graduate, but it seems that hedonism and lust for wealth predominated their life's priorities, ethics (like not living off the labor power of others) not a part of any curriculum they internalized.

  1. How to assess claims

We hear of "facts" and "fact checking". "Facts" fit into a larger context, that is, the data, information, knowledge, wisdom pyramid (DIKW), a convenient way to describe the range from raw phenomena through how we think about it. Various interpretations exist, and there are criticisms, but the basic model is pictorialized by Wikipedia as:

The pyramid tells us there are stages in processing what we receive with our senses and experience (philosophically known as "empiricism") and ultimately winding up how we reflect on the meaning of life.


Data is equivalent to unevaluated phenomena, such as numbers, images, symbols, and any other thing that stimulates the senses. Information is an arrangement of data according to some scheme. Knowledge is evaluated information, according to an epistemology, or justified belief. How we apply that knowledge determines wisdom. The "fact" is evaluated information. A fact is an evaluated communicated (written, oral, etc.) assertion. The communication about the phenomenon represents accurately the phenomenon, itself. Peer-review – evaluated by experts helps establish agreement of authenticity, experimental science, for example, confirming independently original results. Wisdom stems from an ethos, i.e., how one uses that knowledge. While the DIKW pyramid amplifies our thinking about facts, be aware the boundaries are not always sharp, because classification standards often are biased and not well-defined. Traveling the high-road ethos means that we process each piece of data into information and sort it as knowledge or junk.


Non-profit organizations, while they too can be biased if they are cause-driven, at least won't be as prone to pander for money. Science organizations and governments like the AAAS, NASA, the European Space Agency, World Health Organization, phys.org, or IEEE are good beginnings. Scientific American, Live Science, and peer-reviewed professional journals, while often commercial (dot com) usually are more accurate than the lesser-trained newspaper reporter's account of events.

In academia, knowledge quality procedures have the researcher first review the original, or prime sources of information. This includes governments, research teams (archaeologists, laboratory research, scientific expeditions, space agency exploration, etc.), and initial statement of a claim, book, article, finding, or other assertion. Don't just accept these as incontrovertible fact. These need critiques. Error and even maliciousness may (and often does) creep in. When doing my Master's work in the late 1960s, I relied solely on the works of the social philosopher Oswald Spengler to write my paper, that is, prime sources. My instructor did not give me an "A", because he thought I should have also used some secondary sources, such as scholarly analyses of Spengler's works.


In the realm of public information, the public has been beset with “fake news” and false claims (intentionally introducing lies or omitting vital information) designed to promote a specific agenda. In critical arenas, such as health, it is unconscionable to a civilized person. In particular, advertisements promoting “cures” or medicines often entice the viewer to questionable or costly practices. Lives can be lost. Of course, absent the State, the social environment truly is a jungle, predators lurking everywhere, social Darwinism at its finest.


The scope of knowledge quality is wide, my best way of helping you by saying to sort through data and information so you can convert it into knowledge. Of course, you need to distinguish knowledge from information by critical thinking.


For transforming information into knowledge requires epistemology, or how we know. For this, see my:

Besides searching for the phrase "critical thinking", three very valuable websites come to mind:

Two critical thinking self-assessments are valuable:

Now that you have a better idea of how to read the news, go back to the first part of this essay – relating the items to each other in the web. A major stumbling block to reading the news is managing the enormous detail presented by the individual articles. Look for an overall drift of events. Global warming, evidenced by increasing polar icecap melting, raises sea levels, in turn causing population shifts, stressing newly populated areas, and leading to violent conflict. The news stories generally will focus specifically on each of these, often not discussing the overall context or how it affects other events. This is where you come in making sense of it all.

So, let's put it all together.

  • Realize we live in an interconnected and integrated world, a web, where one intersection point representing things or events can affect not only the adjacent nodes but those extending to every part of the web.

  • Larger problems, such as global warming, are the culmination of many smaller events. A problem can feed upon itself to become larger. Wasteful energy practices lead to more carbon dioxide release, exacerbating global warming, leading to industries requiring more energy to produce alternatives to fossil fuels, but a number of these manufactures themselves cause further problems (batteries, electronics for solar cells causing pollution), meaning further countermeasures.

  • Personal values assessment is critical. What is your ethos? What is important to you?

  • A good half of even front-page newspaper content is shallow, more entertainment than enlightening, and often inaccurate or incomplete. Old and solid guidelines for writing a news item – the 5 Ws and H, have been discarded for "human interest" stories sloughed off as news, thus requiring the reader to filter the content.

  • Newspapers are not the only source of news. Professional publications – preferably, peer-reviewed, often are better sources, although much more work is required to read this vast array of publications. Too, these demand a more specific and advanced educational background. Some sources, though, are quite valuable, as in Scientific American, Live Science, National Geographic, Psychology Today, and phys.org. Government websites also are valuable, as in NASA, the European Space Agency, and the US National Institutes of Health, but always read these with critical thinking. Foreign newspapers also are a valuable adjunct.

  • In the end, it is philosophy and critical thinking that will bring out the valuable content I publications. Of course, all other forms of communication follow the same guidelines.



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