1.22 Nutritious News
INTRO: Welcome to the BiCurean podcast. Where we explore and embrace the seeming contradictions of life. What actually is BiCurean you ask? What's happening right now in terms of the divisions between us is a focus on that which is different. And lack of understanding and empathy for people's beliefs is no longer an excuse. And it is in the differences we carry in ourselves that we find the BiCurean moment. When you really dig into something you are going to see some depth to it. It's not just a race thing, it's not just a conservation thing. It's letting go of the 'or' to make room for the 'and'. We embrace all of you. Welcome to the BiCurean.
A: Hi! I'm Aicila.
E: And I am Erik. And this week's show we have a pretty unique treat. I remember a few years ago when the twenty sixteen elections were going on. There was a media bias chart that showed up. And we were presented with a rare opportunity.
A: I'm very excited to be introducing our guest this week. Vanessa Otero, founder of Adfontes Media and creator of the media bias chart.
V: Thanks so much for having me.
A: Thanks for being here.
E: So ... a little bit of background. I remember finding that chart. uh It showed up on Facebook. Got passed around. Much controversy happened ...
A: On Facebook, there was controversy?
E: Yeah, exactly. ... But I I really appreciated that so ... maybe you can tell us about yourself and how that whole project came along.
V: Sure. So and I'm a a patent attorney. I'm actually still a full time pricing patent attorney here in Colorado. And in twenty sixteen during the election I just started getting alarmed about the kind of news sources people were sharing. And you know fake news is one problem but ... people would argue with each other on Facebook. I'm sure you're aware. But they'd - what they' d use to support their arguments were things of really questionable quality and ... extreme biased. And they'd wonder why they couldn't convince people on the other side. ... And yeah it was really shocking to me that people who were fairly intelligent I thought couldn't still distinguish between news that was good quality news or if it was bad quality. So I came up with the idea of laying this out on like visual grid because of people like to see things visually. ... The media landscape is a complex topic. And one of the things I do as a patent attorney is explain complex topics through pictures and descriptions. ... But the pictures are the things that really help people. So I actually just ... made it to generate discussion with my friends to facilitate that on Facebook. And I shared it. And you know a few people shared it first and I thought that was a lot. But then you know it just kind of went viral and crazy. And so that was ... two thousand sixteen. And here I am now ... I've made a company out of it.
A: Wow. That's really awesome. So I- I saw that you had done or were doing an indigogo to increase the sort of depth of the- How did that go? And and what's your goals there?
V: Well that went really great. ... You know what in the immediate aftermath of that first media bias chart people would start asking me like oh this is this is excellent can I use, teachers would ask me can I use this in my classrooms? And ... people would ask me what my methodology was in my data. And they just assumed I had all this. And you know I had you know done a lot of reading of all these articles. But really was just me your- your rating them according to ... you know certain criteria that I had set out. And I felt like ... the responsible thing to do was to make sure this information was as accurate as I could make it. And I can only do so much you know by myself in that regard because to really rate ... media is a big task. It's complex. ... Not very many people are doing it because there's a couple things about it that are very hard. ... You know notwithstanding the volume ... of content that's out there. That's a big challenge. But yet I expanded the chart myself over a couple of years but this crowd funding campaign ... the idea was to generate a really big data set and make an interactive dynamic version of the of the chart so wouldn't just be static. So people could go to the site ... find the sources that they wanted to find. And be able to click through it and see all the different articles that I not only I had rated but a team of people with different political views had rated. And so the crowd funding campaign went really well. We raised over thirty thousand dollars. It ended last week. And ... we could really do a lot with that. In in terms of putting out the initial media bias chart interactive version that we plan ... as well as getting a ton of data that people can really dig into to see why we rank sources like we do.
E: So yeah the and -and that's great. Actually you you mentioned your methodology. ... Maybe can expand on what your original methodology is and how you're kind of ... approaching that now.
V: Yes. So that- when I first looked at it. You know there are the things- there's so many things we take in as humans ... when judging the quality and bias of something. Especially you know given the news. I mean we're all biased ourselves. We have our own personal experiences that are unique from everybody else. ... But there are there certain things that ... that most of us look at as good indicators. And that that stuff ... some of that stuff is measurable. A lot of that stuff is measurable. It's the content of the actual ... the pieces you're looking at. It's the headlines. It's the graphics. It's the leads. It's the individual sentences. So i- initially started you know there's a lot of things that make news good. And there's a lot of things that make news bad. ... There is a lot of things that make things more biased than not. But ... I find that you know ... relying on you know whether a source has been around for a long time or whether it has a lot of journalists, you know those kind of things can give you some indication. But the better indication is actually indication is actually looking at the content itself and rating it on like a rubric like you would for an A. P. test or a bar exam.
A: That makes sense. .... So you shared of blog post that you had done that I thought was really quite clever and helpful. And you seem - you shared it with that knowledge. You were like, that this is something that really is helpful. So I was wondering if you would be willing to talk a little bit about ... junk news and labeling news with "nutritious values" cause I thought that was a really intriguing approach.
V: Yeah. So the idea came to me thinking about ... the idea of a nutrition label for food. ... Nutrition labels didn't used to exist. Those ... a fairly recent phenomena within the last ... thirty to forty years. And the standards have changed over time. ... When a lot of junk food processed food and fast food first came on the scene in the fifties and sixties initially it seemed like a great idea. But then we realize that there were a bad health effects from consuming too much about stuff like fat and salt and sugar. But people didn't really understand that. ... And one of the ways to help people understand that was nut- was nutrition labels. And ... providing information to people does help. It does make a difference. People still hav- can still make bad choices and can still decide to consume a lot of unhealthy food but at least I have an option. So that's kind of the same way with the ... with the information and news industry. ... We've had this explosion of information sources available to us in the last five years, ten years. Just because of the availability of the internet and social media. And so not all that is good quality. Some of it, a lot of it, is junk food. And it's hard for people to tell what's in it. ... So that's what we're trying to do is doing a content analysis telling ... folks look look we looked at this and that there are certain things that we can measure and tell you that are in there. Like this is the number of fact statements that are in here. These are the number statements that are expressed as opinion. These are the number of things that are not necessarily verifiable. And so if people have that kind of information, I think they can make better choices about the ah news they consume. And my chart itself, if you don't have in front of you, if you haven't seen it before. It's two dimensional and the vertical axis is quality. And the left to right axis- the horizontal access is bias. And it ... the good- the good sources ah the best sources, the best news, are at the top. And then there's a lot of stuff that kind of flows down from there that's of lesser and lesser quality. So if you make comparis- if you wanna make comparisons to food, you know the stuff at the top is the stuff that you ... you should mostly have in your diet- like lean meats and vegetables and whole grains. And then ... the stuff down a little bit lower than that some of it still fine ah like white bread and pasta but you want to kind of have that in moderation. In this analogy that's like analysis. ... We - we consume a ton of opinion and analysis. Especially in TV. So like CNN, MSNBC and FOX are all just so much analysis all day long. It's kind of like sitting there and eating French fries all day. You know, it just- it's not that great for you.
E: Yeah that's a that's a great analogy. And it makes sense I think. I I feel like I've watched CNN, especially, move to even more analysis. I remember in twenty sixteen and it seems like their response been called fake news all the time by the president has been to ... pretty much try to pick him apart all the time. And and do you feel like things like CNN have decreased in their function overtime? In their usefulness?
V: Yeah I think so I'm I'm fairly critical of ... CNN and the other ah TV networks ... the network cable news. Because the format is twenty four hours of well what they call it news programming but it's not necessarily news. I mean if you know I actually have sub charts that rank the individual shows for MSNBC and CNN and FOX news. ... Those are my site as well. They're really interesting because some of them like for example early morning shows ah tend to be like it more like your local news but on a national level. Like your twelve stories of things happened. It's like a fire here, a crime there, an international story, a political story, you know a bunch of different things. ... But then in the middle the day, in the afternoon especially, especially going into prime time, most of it is just four stories. They're all with the political happenings of the day. It's like three things Trump did and the fire. Or three things Trump did and a hurricane, like those are the stories. Every- every single hour it's same ones. But they'll have ten guests- up to ten guests on a show- come talk about it to death. And I I think that's not ... that's not healthy. I don't- I think that doesn't serve the ... the population very well. Because it tends to drive the impression, I mean if the three stories are about the political happenings of the day it tends to drive the impression that they're biased. They may say- be saying truthful things and you know not be actually fake news but the extreme focus on analyzing and picking something apart tends to make people think that it's more biased. You know people think CNN has moved more left. You know because it you could argue that because of the topic focus ... but that's ... you have all three networks are focusing on the political stories of the day.
E: Yeah and I and and I agree. I I think CNN does look a lot more left right now. Because they're constantly in a attack defense position against like Trump and ... the cur- the current leadership of the country. So in a lot of regards whether they mean to or not it does look that way. I I completely agree. One other quick question, I had. Have you gotten any feedback from any media sources? I mean any of the media outlets contacted you and been like this is useful or we wish you wouldn't have done this or?
V: Yeah. So I I've gotten complaints from both the bottom corners. So that's ... which is totally understandable. ... I find it like more reputable sources tend to not you know comment about their own criticism. Which I think is ah helpful because .... journalism organizations are kind of like public figures. They're kind of public entities in ... themselves. So they ... kind of expect to be ... you know criticized. ... There have been- yeah I have heard from some organizations- you know mostly from journalists, individual journalists, not necessarily as representatives of the organizations. They don't say, Hey will you come on our show? Talk about .... our ranking or something for you know to boost their own credibility or anything like that. But you know journalist seem to ... to get and appreciate this. Because I rank journalism at the top. It's the top of this news ecosystem. ... Journalists actually going out and finding the news on the ground is the most important part of informing the public. And so I have wire services, like AP and Reuters, and organizations that have a lot of journalists, like The New York Times, Washington Post, ... LA Times, ... up near the top as well. ... Everything - there lots of other sources that have more more writers ... than journalists. So there's analysis and takes of the news that a lot of our information ecosystem is that. And then you know below that there a people who are taking that analysis information, just making a really low quality and biased. But ... so journalists appreciate that. So uh and many of them have said that that is it is useful.
A: We went to a conference a couple weeks ago and actually attended a class that was on media literacy. It was really really good. And the gentleman who was teaching it, recommended that people get three sources. Or was it at least two?
E: Yeah he was saying to look for three sources for any news before you just assume that it's true. ... And he was responding to something. I mean you kind of brought it up cause fake news. Before that became the the phrase Trump uses all the time, there was actually something that was coming out around the election because people were you know there is literally like these shell corporations or or even a just a shell website with a news article on it being posted up as like this is now a fact. And he was he was showing ... some new technology. There's ..
A: Deep fake.
E: Deep fake. Which you can now basically animate in somebody and so somebody could do a voice behind of the actual look and feel of a person. Saying anything and making it look like Obama could be saying anything or whoever. And so you know like that was that was all the thing. And he was bringing up that you know, vetting your news sources. But I think your chart actually-
A: Makes that more possible was I was thinking.
E: Right. Yeah the the chart's kind of a key ingredient in getting three sources. Because if you pick three sources down in like you said the bottom corners ... you're not likely to, you you're probably gonna get some confirmation bias going on there. Just a bit.
A: Well and he was recommending you look for one that leans sort of not your direction. So if you tend to lean left. look for one that leans right. And then for one that is more news, like you were talking about, more unbiased. .... I don't think he was suggesting actually three. I think this is it. You are the third anchor in that. So if you lean left, find a source leans right. And then find a source that's technically as much news as possible.
E: Yes. So you're-
A: That's how you triangulate your information.
E: Right. So your your your your measurement of journalism I think comes in there too. You know.
E: Don't necessarily assume Info Wars was accurate.
V: Right. You know it that's it it's a great point. And a comparison is actually the most useful tool to distinguish media bias. Especially distinguishing things ... for someone who's maybe new at a figuring out the information landscape. And I say new because it's not necessarily a person that's young ... it certainly can be. But somebody that's just unfamiliar with you know vetting sources. ... You you can rely on the media eco system as a whole because the media ecosystem tends to do a good job of telling you the truth. So you know people will say I have a source it's the you know ranked very high like The New York Times or something. And then they'll make a mistake. Which all organizations make mistakes. And then they'll say Oh, I can't trust anybody you know. But ... the reason you know that the New York times or another reputable publication made a mistake is because it's a field. Journalism is a field where it's immediately peer reviewed by people whose job it is to write about it. So they will it it's looked at from all of the angles. So you want to find out where the mistake was. You know this is this is one reason why ... you know we can we have tools against things like deep fake and ... like the
A.I. video with a president Obama saying a bunch of stuff. That was crazy right?
E: That's the deep fake.
E: But that could be used in other ways and it's coming like the technology's free.
V: Yeah. So ... so that and the another big concern was the Sinclair bought a lot of the local news stations and there is a script that ran across like seven hundred news stations. But and that was disturbing to people. But what we should take hope in is the fact that the reason we knew about it is because a reporter went and did that work to compare all across the spectrum and show these videos. And so we became informed because we were able to find information from across the media spectrum. So when you look at multiple sources ... that's that's our our best defense because that the ecosystem as a whole does do a really good job we are very lucky here in the United States to have freedom of the press. And we can rely on that.
A: It's a really good point.
E: Yeah absolutely. ... So you know on our on our show we do encourage a lot of participation. ... This is already great because I think you know a lot of our listeners may think about how they're consuming their media ... including ours but other sources from your chart. Do you have any other recommendations? ... I know she mentioned the blog post and I and I saw some stuff in there but maybe give us more recommendations about just in general ways people can avoid just being in consume mode all the time. And and worrying about what they're consuming.
V: Yeah. I mean that pay attention to like how the news is making you feel. ... If it's making you feel angry and sick all the time. You ma- you're likely consuming just so much analysis and opinion that it's ... not helpful anymore. And so I I really encourage people to say stay ... towards the top of the chart. I mean if in this analogy like I said the ... stuff at the top, it gives you what you need. It gives you the information. And it can give you information from things all over the all over the world. ... You know so reading your sources, reading those kind of sources, ... that's it is a self selecting those news- going to those sites instead of passively having the information come to you. This is a less of a problem now because Facebook just shares less news. It's just surfaces less news content. But before when it surfaced a ton of news content. ... It would make people angry. People would just be consuming highly opinionated news. So they just be fed, you know in this analogy, donuts and fries and Cheetos you know on Facebook all day. And then it would make them angry and then make them upset. Twitter is is still like that. Especially if your Twitter feed in your Twitter feed you follow a lot of journalists. And it's just news after news. It amplifies the ah the echo chamber. And it's it's typically a lot of the the hot take industrial complex. You know it's just a ton of analysis. So ... Twitter in this example's like candy. You know it's like little and satisfying ... but if you have too much of it it makes you sick.
A: One of the things they you had in your blog post that I loved was the concept of civic exercise as an antidote. And I thought it was kind of brilliant. Would you be willing to share a little bit about that?
V: Yeah. So you know it what what do we do about the problem of ... you know too much bad food to consume? Well one thing is diet. ... You can eat stuff that's better and not eat the stuff that's bad. But the other thing that you can do is exercise. And that actually has a proactive benefits for your health. So what would civic exercise look like? And that it is that an active form. It's doing something. Doing something that actually makes a difference. So, voting that makes a difference. Volunteering. .... Canvassing. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the political arena. Talking to a person with whom you disagree is another form of civic exercise. ... You know taking in listening to somebody else's point of view. ... You know mending mending bridges that may have been broken because of ... previous ... political disagreements. I know you talked about that in your last a podcast episode. You know those type of things actually make a difference. You know the human relationships make a difference. ... Those are the ways in which you can actually ... change people's minds. Like you can win hearts and minds by doing that. You know nobody gets convinced by ... you know sharing ... being called stupid or wrong on Facebook. Or sharing something like if you if you're extremely right and use share some ... a trying to extreme convince your extremely left friend by sharing your extremely right article or vice versa that just is ineffective. It doesn't help. But having conversation, sharing stories, sharing how you're impacted by a policy or an action or a law ... or something happened to your family. Those things actually move people and ... and win hearts and minds.
E: Yeah. I'm I'm very happy to hear you say that as you noted in last podcast and something that I've said a lot and Aicila has said a lot. I feel like most people could benefit from getting involved in some way. ... So many of the people we know just feel so helpless right now. And all they're doing is consuming this media that just basically makes us all feel kind of bad. It's like when was the last time you actually went to a city council meeting? Just some thing, just see what your government actually looks like in person.
A: And and get to know the the folks that are doing the the work. You made think of a quote that went around a couple years ago that I wanted to share. Cause I'm actually gonna put it up on Instagram next week but- "Peacemaking doesn't mean passivity is the active interrupting in justice without mirroring injustice." And that's just like what you're saying. Like being able to talk to people without battering them but also that doesn't mean that you're simply you know being battered either. You can stand forward for something and disrupt things without it necessarily being aggressive.
V: Yeah. And I I liked what you talked about in your last episode related to that. You know because I totally believe that. You know ... we're going to have analysts and article article readers that are from different sides of the political spectrum. ... And they may- can have very strong views on a particular policy position that are opposite from somebody else's and still be on our analysts team. Because as long as they're ab- they have the ability to be reasonable and to hear someone else's point of view and to try to be effective in their forms of persuasion that's what that that's really what we're looking for. You know it it's really about being effective. ... That's why I advocate ... you know looking at the perspective of someone else. I think a lot of people are afraid to look at the perspective of some somebody else because they feel like it compromises their own ... personal values and morals and beliefs. I think sometimes people purposely avoid media from the other side because they feel like they'll be indoctrinated or influenced or something. And they'll be betraying as their own values. Like if you're ... especially on something that's like very personal very visceral. You know things like ... you know being ... your pro the pro life or pro choice you know. People feel very strongly about that. And ... they sometimes folks will say ... you know if you're entertaining an argument from the other side ... then you're you don't really believe in what you are advocating. But it's not about that it's about being effective. You can't win over somebody else ... if your arguments are just the same arguments that convinced you. You have to think about arguments that would convince them and those are different arguments.
E: Absolutely. So ... kind of wrapping up here, how can people get involved and support you? ... And and what other kind of projects are you working on?
V: Well so the next phase of the ... media bias chart like I said is going to be the interactive version and ... so what what the project looks like is that we're gonna rate several thousand articles ... across at over a hundred sources mostly the ones that are currently on the chart now. ... And each each article is going to be rated by multiple people who have differing political views. So ... people can ... you know this this is a kind of a like a self funded study. ... We're building this web technology as well ... and so that it is interactive. And you know those things take money. That's why we raised some on the ... with indigo campaign. ... People can on-goingly support us at our site which is: adfontesmedia.com. We want the media bias chart to always be a free resource for consumers. Because people need to be able to go to it and see what you know what kind of news they should be able to rely on. But in order for them to know that they can rely on it, we need the data to back it up. So that so that's what we're working towards. It's Adfontesmedia.com and everyone can follow along with our progress.
E: Excellent. Well this was fascinating. I was really thrilled to have you on. I was really thrilled to hear you were coming on. And we'd love to have you back at some point. So we'll keep in touch and .. go over things as it comes up.
A: Yeah thank you so much for giving us your time tonight. We appreciate it. V: Yeah, thanks for having me.
E: Welcome to the BiCurean moment. So, you first.
A: So I'm going first. I had a BiCurean moment sometime in the beginning of the year around Kyrsten Sinema. And I don't know if I quite fan girl'd but kind of a little around her. And she was running for Senate in Arizona.
E: Tell us about her. A: I love that you asked that question. It's like you know me. I Kyrsten Sinema. So I wanna read actually a quote. So she won. She won her Senate seat in Arizona. It was Senator Jeff Flake’s seat. And it hasn't been held by a democratic candidate in thirty years. ... So that's kind of intense. And there is some -I pulled some articles. They they they talked about her and they just- they're so much better than I am about it. So "Sinema is more than two decades younger than the median age in the Senate, which is sixty five. She's forty two. But don't read her youth to mean that she's a novice. Sinema worked away from being homeless as a child to becoming a social worker who eventually went on to earn both a law degree and a PhD. She spent the last five years as a member of the US house of Representatives. She's known for being a centrist Democrat." And then this is a quote from her so her victory speech. She said, "Everyone recognizes that the government is broken. And really we all know the solution. We the citizens of this great country must fix it. We must be an active part of the solution. We must be willing to put down our sticks sharpened for battle. We must be willing to turn to our neighbors and pick [our neighbors] up instead.
E: Yeah she sounds like she's right up our alley.
A: She's right up our alley. She wrote a book called "Unite and Conquer". Which ... she wrote after her first year in the Arizona state house of representatives. Because when she first got elected, this is a story she told in the class I took a class from her. This is how I first got introduced to who she is. And she said when she first got elected she was like I was so righteous. Like I had all the right answers. I was totally ideologically pure. And I spent entire year being in capable of getting anything done. Because it turns out if you aren't willing to meet people where they are; compromise; see their view; then you can't get anything done.
A: And so she had to swallow her pride. She had to go back to the state house the next year and find a way to build bridges with people that she had possibly- I mean having met her and listened to her I don't think she was gentle when she said her opinion. And and that also takes having a lot of bravery to be able to like go and to say well like I screwed up all these things. And then she started getting things done. And she started being effective. And one of the reasons that she- when I asked her like why are you doing this? Why'd you run for office? I at that time was a little more cynical about politicians. And she said cause you can help more people.
A: You know she said basically as a social worker be working with these refugees and these people are homeless. And they couldn't they couldn't get resources that they needed because the system itself was set up to disempower them and and to not be effective. And so she said I needed to I basically I was drawn to this work because of my experiences. Because I wanted to help these people. And so I decided I needed to go. And obviously now she's gone all the way up to Senate. So look at that. And the other thing I did want to say is that both Senator Flake and her opponent ... McMally were so gracious. Like they they they posted tweets about you know being excited for her. Like Senator Flake was like I'm really excited that Kyrsten Sinema's taking my seat. I know she'll do a great job. McMally's concession was, you know this was a great race. Thank you for doing a good job. I know you'll do a good job for Arizona. Like I was just really impressed to see that. That while obviously they were all on their own teams. And wanting things the way they wanted them. Their public expressions of concession and victory were very respectful. And I - I think that that that sets a tone I'm excited to see even just in one place in our country.
E: Yeah that's great. ... Yeah I'm very excited about that. Glad we got to share that. ... My BiCurean moment this ... for this week. I was actually thinking about this. We we live in a world of e-commerce. And I don't know if everybody's been living under a rock but it's the holidays. So it's easy and I would guarantee probably every single ear listening to this right now has probably purchased something online. And I was thinking about it the other day you know. Maybe make some time in the last few days if you need some gifts and stuff go check out some of your local stores in your area, in your neighborhood. These are shops that have survived the e-commerce warfare. And and and been able to stay open. They probably have some interesting things that maybe you don't think about. Maybe it's just a good way to go and kind of experience the neighborhood you live in. .... I know I mean of three or four different little neighborhoods that that I've been poking around in and found the store it's like I gotta go back here. And I think I'm really make a point to try to shop local if I can this year. Just something to think about you know. Way to support the local community and actually enjoy your local community.
A: I think that's a great idea.
E : So thanks for listening. If you have ideas, feedback, thoughts please find us on social media. BiCurean on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or you can always give us a call at 720-507-7309 or email us at podcast at BiCurean dot com. Thanks for listening.
A: And if you like what we're doing, please tell your friends about us. Or share the episodes that you find most interesting. Thank you.