Overload: Finding the Truth in Today's Deluge of News by Bob Schieffer
Fairness Is The Realistic Goal To Which All Of Us In Journalism Must Strive
In OVERLOAD, I was delighted to find that Bob Schieffer really does provide an independent look at the media and news events. It is such a nice change to read something that is NOT a partisan slam of one side or the other.
The author draws on his “Long Life in Journalism” to give us his take on what in the world is happening to news media. Bob gives an overview of the state of American media, and how it relates to politics, with special attention to the most recent presidential election. A large section is devoted to polls, and why they have turned out to be so wrong in recent years.
The author sees a major problem with both the quantity and quality of information; we are indeed “overloaded” with information. Many folks have trouble figuring out what is true and what is not:
“Americans are so overwhelmed by information in the digital era they cannot process it.”
One interesting chapter provides a guide to the most popular news web sites. Bob calls this, “Journalism’s New Digital Wave: A Guide to Digitally Native News Websites.” For each site, there is a brief background on the organization, including how it got started, major figures, and the political leanings. I found this chapter insightful—I had no idea how these web sites got started, but Bob knows.
In “The Awful State Of American Politics,” the author notes that many bright people are repelled by the dirty business of politics:
“We have allowed the path to public office to become such an unpleasant and revolting exercise that too many times our best and brightest want no part of it.”
Throughout the book, Mr. Schieffer points out lots of interesting facts I didn’t know. I had no idea, for example, that cable news viewers are older: “The median viewer age for Fox is sixty-six, sixty-three for MSNBC, and sixty-one for CNN.”
The very last chapter of the book gives the author’s conclusions. Bob notes that he wanted to have the readers make up their own minds before giving his opinion. Some of his key points:
- Greater reliance on mobile phones makes polling less reliable;
- Fake news poses a growing and dangerous threat;
- Declining advertising revenue has put many local newspapers into desperate straits;
- Our electoral system is broken.
Bob encourages politicians to have courage and stand up for principle:
“America needs more than political reform is political courage— candidates and politicians who are not afraid to risk losing the office they hold to accomplish the greater good.”
The author also suggests a revamp of campaign spending, and a bipartisan effort to “end gerrymandering of congressional districts.”
The author provides an example of what is considers stellar journalism. He reprints the report by David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, who “got the dreary assignment of investigating Donald J. Trump’s often cited charitable activities.” This account relates how Mr. Fahrenthold dug into all the claimed donations, to see if in fact they were genuine.
So all in all, I found OVERLOAD to be a solid, well-written book, in the spirit of non-partisan journalism. The author comes across as a decent person, without an axe to grind. I enjoyed reading Mr. Schieffer’s perspective on the state of journalism today, and the chapters that focus on prominent journalists and newspapers.
I thought this one sentence summed up the author’s hope for America:
“The greatest and most effective reform, however, will be to convince young people that holding elective office is an honorable and needed pursuit.”