When We Value Brand Loyalty Over News Content, Our Worlds Become Smaller

How to be media savvy? Sample ideas you disagree with, and be duly skeptical of celebrity journalists.

Matthew Hiltzik: One of the great things about our country and the way our Constitution was established is that we have a marketplace of ideas. That means that people can shop for those ideas that they want to hear. My hope is that more people would want to shop for a variety of products; ones that come from a lot of different suppliers, ones that have a lot of different ideas and perceptions and perspectives and facts and experiences that are shared.

But we live in a country where you're free to get whatever you want. And if you want to shop on a side where it's only one type of product that's giving you one vision, you have the right to do that and that's not for me to tell anyone not to do that. It would be unfortunate, I think, if people limit themselves because they do care and are interested in the consumption of news. I think it's really important to try to be able to search for different outlets and for different opportunities to learn more and to educate yourselves.

One of the things with our practice over the years has been working with clients who have very different political views. They weren't necessarily mine; I have clients who are way more liberal than me and I have clients who are way more conservative than me. We only work on things politically that we agree with, but we work with clients whose politics we may not, because being around people and having discussions and learning about them and appreciating and respecting the points of view that they have, is really valuable for us to understand how to reach people, how to understand things, and truthfully I think it makes us better people—a little bit—by the fact that we try it. It doesn't mean you're a bad person if you don't, but I think that the more understanding you have of your neighbor the more you have the ability to find common interests.

And if you can find those common interests then you'll have a lot more respect for the differences afterwards, and hopefully when you do go shopping you can find at least a few things on that shopping list that your neighbor, who may have different politics than you, would agree with, at least find a few things they agree with because that could then help you talk about the things you disagree with. And at least if we could start somewhere the same and then build out from there—and in order to do that you have to sometimes taste-test some things that you may not be used to tasting.

We live in an era where individuals are brands of themselves and that does not just apply to athletes or to actors, it also applies to journalists. And we've come into an era with celebrity journalists who are journalists who are more trusted, especially in days where people have questions about some things about the media. And one of the things that you've seen in the past was that people would specifically just want a story based on what publication had the story as opposed to necessarily who was going to write it. Now, because we have journalists who are more trusted, who do have Twitter followers, who do have larger influence and a way to be able to be followed potentially by others, there's going to be a consideration about that reach that goes beyond simply the outlet, it goes to the individual.

In addition, the standards that an individual reporter may have may be higher or lower than that of the publication for which they're working. In some cases the reporter, as I mentioned, is above the standards of the publication that they work for, if it's a more tabloid-type environment where the standards are a little bit different, and others where you even have the highest and most respected publications—sometimes their standards aren't exactly what you think they are, and the reporters who approach things aren't up to those standards and so you just need to be careful and consider both.

When PR strategist Matthew Hiltzik visited our video studio, he framed the world as a marketplace of ideas, and the US as a fortunate country whose citizens have a multitude of voices and perspectives—both traditional and revolutionary—to learn from. So are we exercising that luxury, or are we staying loyal to one or two key news sources that comfortably align with our worldview, even our self-identity. What is the cost of that? We may be limiting our own education and cementing arguments instead of working toward resolutions. Hiltzik suggests that there are opportunities and benefits to listening to a wide variety of news sources, even ones that present ideas you may not be accustomed to, and that doing so could help bridge the divides in modern America: "The more understanding you have of your neighbor the more you have the ability to find common interests," he says. If the world is a marketplace of ideas, buy into them carefully, Hiltzik says, but sample them broadly and skeptically, especially in an era of celebrity journalism and see-sawing journalistic standards.

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