By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

I’ve watched the recent political conventions and have been listening to the sound bites one hears on the radio and television news shows. The speakers and newscasters all sound intelligent and righteous and in command of “facts.” However, as we’ve learned from the widespread public misunderstanding of many aspects of the Affordable Care Act, it takes some deeper digging to know what’s “spin” versus what’s fact. (Indeed, fact-checking has become its own political issue, as it seems both parties have been playing a bit loose when it suits their messaging.)

I wonder how many people actually take the time to validate what they hear on the radio or television. Do most people take what they hear at face value? Will many people vote based only on what they heard from the convention coverage or in 30-second news clips (or worse, in the barrage of advertising paid for by the PACs, many of which are quietly funded by industries or wealthy individuals with a stake in who gets elected)?

It occurred to me that I’ve never seen my youngest son or nieces and nephews read a newspaper, yet they seem well-informed about the political issues. I asked my son where he gets his information. He said, “Well, there’s something called RSS feeds . . . .” (He was surprised that I not only knew what they were, but that I use them!) (RSS stands for really simple syndication.  For information on how to use RSS feeds, see our article. The illustration on the right is from it.)

He says most of his friends use these feeds—managed through such simple tools as Google Reader—to track content they want. The feeds are automatically updated, delivering new content right to his email or to the type of RSS feed reader he prefers. When he wants more information, he turns to Google and YouTube. All one needs to be smart is a smart phone.

Querying Google about an issue (say, “Romney Medicare cuts”) will yield far more information than I will get from my usual two daily newspapers. Up will pop articles from multiple newspapers, news outlets, and opinion sources: in addition to Mr. Romney’s Web site, Bloomberg News,  the Washington Post, New York Times, ABC and CBS news, Huffington Post, LA Times, and many more bona fide sites. (Of course, as with newspapers, some sites are more reliable than others and vet their content more closely or present a more balanced picture.)

From scanning the various articles (and blogs and other Web sites), one can sometimes get a better view of all the “angles” of a story than just by reading one or two sources. And then, you can often go to YouTube to view a newscast or a taped video of the actual event. Not too bad—and here I’d thought these “young’uns” weren’t plugged in.

But a caveat: this method of keeping up with the news only delivers what each person has already marked as areas of interest—it’s easy to miss out on the broader news pieces that may be truly important, or on perspectives that might cast your beliefs into a new light. When I read the newspaper (whether print or online), I’ll read interesting articles that I might never find in a targeted Web search. Because it’s right there in front of me, I may read it—and it will give me a broader view of the world.

How do you get your news?  Do you read only what’s on your “like” list, or do you cast a wider net?

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