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Do Information Sources Matter?

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I don’t know if you spend any time reading political websites, but they do have a bit of a jones on for where a story comes from and its subsequent credibility. The websites on the left won’t countenance anything from right of centre as having any merit, while the websites on the right will regard anything from the left as a possible communist plot. Distrust rules on both sides, and quoting “the enemy” to their opponents means that you’re on a hiding to nothing, as they will never believe anything coming from the other side, even when it is a peace offering.

With elections coming up in the UK, and mid-terms due in the US in November, things are hotting up on either side of the political divide. For the disinterested or impartial reader, choosing which websites to read gets a little complicated. Is Fox News really right-wing or just misunderstood? Is The Guardian still a leftie newspaper or has it succumbed to the pressures of global capitalism? And does any of it really matter?

In terms of quoting sources, I believe it does. No matter how good a relationship you may have with your own readers, choosing to cite a website that they consider to be untrustworthy lowers your own credibility, from their point of view. In their eyes, it can destroy any trust that has previously been built up and colour their views about whatever agenda you yourself might have, even if you don’t. I don’t tend to blog on political matters (well, outside Kenyan politics) because while I am an evil pinko commie liberal, I do read websites from the opposing view, just to see what the opposition are saying. And because I’d rather not give them the traffic, I don’t link to them.

Conversely, I do try to change up my sources for stories when I blog about them here. Anyone who carried out a detailed analysis of the links on this blog would tell you that I’m probably a fully paid-up Guardianista, which is true. Nevertheless, knowing that quoting obsessively from the same paper gets a bit dull, I do try to include other sources, even when I first learn about a story in my cherished newspaper of choice. If anything, it means that I can back up my opinions because I’ll have read the story from a different viewpoint, even if I don’t agree with it.

Occasionally, I do feel that I need to drop — or at least quarantine — a blog or news website while things are a little fraught. I’ve had to do this with a number of websites already. It’s not that I am no longer interested in what they have to say. Rather, it’s because I know what I’m going to see and my blood pressure simply can’t take much more. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’d hope that nobody has done that with this blog. Yet…
It is one of the ironies of the information age that as news has become ever-more accessible to people, it has descended from being the presentation of impartial fact to being a duel between opposing opinions and political affiliations.  As increasing numbers of people choose their news sources according to how well they chime with their on biases, we could eventually see a time where you choose your sources of news according to whether they are on “your” side. I hope this won’t happen for a while yet. Until then, I reserve the freedom to sup from both sides of the divide, as I know that neither truly represents me. At least, not just yet.
[Image by Cameron Maddux]

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