In Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News (Roman & Littlefield, Oct.), veteran reporter Schieffer examines the current state of news media.
How do shortened attention spans affect how stories are told?
We have more information at our disposal than at any time in the history of the world. Nobody is able to process the amount of information available today. That’s the role of journalists and it’s more important than ever. Evan Smith, the editor of the Texas Tribune, said that our job in journalism is to say, “Stop! This is important,” and try to get people’s attention when we think we have something they ought to know about.
How can reporters and media outlets deal with “fake news”?
Joe Nye, a national security expert at Harvard, says the way you deal with this is not by trying to answer each lie that pops up but by warning people ahead of time. Tell them what’s coming. Tell them what people are doing. Not just the Russians, but others who are trying to circulate false news. We’re only beginning to realize how serious all this is. We can’t have a democracy like we have now if the only source of reliable news is the government.
Many newspapers are cutting staff. What are the repercussions of this at the local level?
Not only is there no more investigative reporting, there’s no beat reporting. If you send a reporter to cover the city-council meeting, but you don’t send him down to city hall every day, you’ll only get the tip of the iceberg, which is true in many [areas of news coverage]. If we don’t have some entity that assumes the responsibility to do what local newspapers have done in the past, we’ll have corruption in this country at a level we’ve never experienced before.
What are some of the most promising and the most frustrating changes you’ve seen in the news industry?
The most hopeful sign is Jeff Bezos coming to the Washington Post. For all his accomplishments, he may well be remembered as the man who saved American newspapers. The competition that has emerged between the Washington Post and the New York Times is an old-fashioned newspaper war in the best sense of the word. The people who benefit from that are those of us who read these papers.
The thing we need to figure out is how to get the news to people in the lower classes. If they’re having a hard time putting food on the table for their families, it may well be that their only connection to news is whatever their browsers kick up. It’s not a question of biased news in the rust belt; it’s a question of no news. They’re just not getting any news unless they get it by accident.
What advice would you give to the public to make sure they’re getting the information they need?
Don’t depend on one source for your news. We’re in a “buyer beware” era when it comes to information, and you have to consult a variety of sources before you can make an intelligent conclusion about almost anything.