Where do you get your information?



Studying any social science relies on the knowledge you have about the world around you, and much of this comes to you every day in the form of news feeds or information that you select, or which targets you because of your online profile.  Much of the information that bombards you every day is carefully calculated to make you do something: buy a product, support a cause, or seize your attention in order to allow someone else to sell you something or influence you.

  1. Pick your own news sources carefully and check them regularly.

  2. Ask yourself if you are being manipulated.

  3. Is there an orchestrated attack on mainstream media?

  4. THE SHATTERED MIRROR: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age investigates the major shifts and disruptors in news and journalism – the broken business model, under-development of digital-only news providers and consolidation of digital distribution revenues by Google and Facebook....The title ‘The Shattered Mirror’ pays homage to the 1970 groundbreaking Senate report on the mass media called The Uncertain Mirror.” (Public Policy Forum)

  5. The media you select will PRIME you to accept a certain view of the world, FRAME the stories you read, and SET THE AGENDA for what you discuss. To test this, look at the top stories on any three of the links below and consider how that would affect your world view.

As a professional, or as a student, your time is limited, and you need to choose your information sources carefully in order to maximize your ability to understand the world around you, and limit the extent to which you are an unwitting dupe of the “Attention Merchants” trying to manipulate your time and attention for commercial purposes.

Don’t be a consumer drone; determine your information flow for yourself. Select credible, reliable, and diverse sources to check daily and/or weekly:

  1. credible sources are believable; they are unlikely to spread fake news, because they check sources and value their reputation for accuracy;

  2. Fake news is widespread and profitable and often confuses even seasoned readers, but it is primarily motivated by profit - purveyors earn advertising revenue for each click. When you click on an outrageous story or cute cat video, you give advertising revenue to the source.

  3. Propaganda, agitprop, and information operations, both national and commercial, also shape our information landscape. These represent paid content, developed and targeted for a purpose, although the meanings of these words has changed over time. Hollywood (America), Bollywood (India), Nollywood (Nigeria), and the growing Chinese film industry are all influenced by competing government and commercial pressures - some positive (e.g. public health messages) and some less so. If an information source is not making money, and you are not paying for it, who is?

  4. reliable sources are likely to be consistently of good quality; they are likely to cover important stories over time.  Start with mainstream and non-commercial journalism (see below) to maximize trust and reliability.

  5. Diverse sources vary the perspectives to which you are exposed. Not all perspectives are worth following, but it is important not to limit your news intake to perspectives that you find agreeable; not agreeing with a story isn’t the same as rejecting its credibility.

There aren’t many independent newspapers left with national and international coverage, and few of you will line up at a kiosk every day to select the Weekly World News or the Kingston Whig Standard.

National broadcast services - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA) - are supported by tax payers in the public interest, but operate at arms distance from individual governments, so they are not generally biased about specific stories or events. Over time, however, they may take on the flavour of a particular order, because they may tend to hire like-minded journalists.  This was certainly a Conservative critique of Canada’s CBC, justifying a politically-led assault on the perception of mainstream liberal (if not Liberal Party) bias in the CBC.

Non-profit, non-commercial broadcasting services include  National Public Radio (NPR)  in the US, and Public Radio International (PIR).

Mainstream traditional media in the form of newspapers, television programs, and radio with commercial focus has become increasingly concentrated, and the concentration often entails commercial motivation and sponsorships. Concentration of media ownership in Canada is among the worst in developed countries, so unless you branch out beyond mainstream Canadian news services, don’t expect a lot of diversity in coverage.

You can branch out to international commercial and non-profit news services:

  1. Al Jazeera - underwritten by public funding from Qatar, this maintains a generally high standard of journalism, but has been criticized for having different content in Arabic and English to cater to different audience expectations

  2. The Guardian - a pillar of independent journalism for two centuries, now supported by an independent foundation

  3. The New York Times - mainstream, big money, funds its own journalists, investigations and some independent correspondents

  4. RT - often criticized as an organ of Russian propaganda, be cautious what you believe, but then that’s true of every news source.

Direct lines to Canadian news online

  1. For a fairly comprehensive list of resources compiled by the Nelson Political Science Guide, see the POE205 resources site

  2. Globe and Mail - national news, based in Toronto

  3. Toronto Star - national news, based in Toronto

  4. National Post - national news, based in Toronto

  5. The Tyee - small, subscriber-based, independent, Canadian

You can go direct to news feeds, but be warned that the full news feeds are subscriber services and these are expensive.

  1. Reuters

  2. Associated Press

  3. Canadian Press

  4. Economist Intelligence Unit

One news feed to be aware of is SOMNIA, a spotlight on Canadian military news and international affairs prepared by DND Public Affairs officers and linked to the Canadian Forces College web site. This is the modern equivalent of the press cutting service that used to send photocopied news stories around the offices of each department. For reasons explained above, the volume may be larger, but the variety of perspectives may have shrunken.

Some of you will rely on Facebook, Google or Apple news services. Each of these services allows you to adjust your news feed,

  1. Facebook

  2. Apple

  3. Google

But beware that if you allow news services like Google or Facebook to adjust your newsfeed according to ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ it will show you the image of the world that you want to see. This is a major reason for the shock about the results of the 2016 US presidential election--‘red’ and ‘blue’ voters were seeing very different pictures of the electoral landscape based on their Facebook news feeds.

There are also a lot of other news digests, like the big ones provided by Facebook, Apple, or Google, but with a more focused readership and often with an editorial slant. All these can now be seen as digital media competing with mainstream electronic and print media.  They may be satirical or entertaining in order to attract attention as part of their business model

  1. Huffington Post (Canada)

  2. Rebel Media

  3. Huffington Post (world)

  4. BuzzFeed

  5. The Onion

  6. The Daily Beast


Choose carefully the information to which you are exposed every day

Your ability to understand and apply credible academic theories about how the world works depends partly on the information you absorb every day from the world around you