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Be a better media consumer

I recently spent some time with a friend who was outraged by Jim Cramer, host of the CNBC show “Mad Money” which has been described as, “[Occupying] some sort of netherworld between sheer entertainment and useful financial advice,” by Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz who profiled Cramer in his book The Fortune Tellers.

Appearing on a very heated episode of the Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” (clip here), the discussion with Cramer focused on whether he put entertainment before journalism and whether that was irresponsible, given the financial mess we’re in now. Of course, Cramer is no schlub when it comes to investing — his net worth lies somewhere between $50 and $100 million — but some say his advice unsound and that he knew the financial meltdown was on the horizon. But, in my mind, that’s not the real issue.

Don’t slap me when I say that one good thing to come of this financial mess is that we’re starting to question the media, whether we can trust the millionaires to tell us what to buy, and whether we can trust these age-old financial institutions to keep our best interests in mind. We are now reading the fine print.

To my friend I said, “Well, do you think everything you see on TV and read online is true?” She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow and I could tell she was wondering if it was a trick question. “No, of course not,” she said. And, I pose the same question to you.

Let me ask it in another way: do you buy everything that someone tries to sell you? If you want to buy a digital camera, do you purchase the first one a salesperson shows you without asking some questions or inspecting it thoroughly? Just as you wouldn’t blindly buy a digital camera, you must be a judicious consumer of information and news. Ask: What are the biases? Is there a political agenda? Who are the advertisers? Even objective journalists cannot be completely objective. (One of the first lessons learned in journalism school is that there is no such thing as objectivity in journalism.)

So as a consumer of the media, don’t be afraid to do a little fact checking. And, get a second opinion while you’re at it. It might just save you money and heartache down the road.

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Filed under: journalism101, stories, , ,

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