Book Review: Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload

Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload is a dense look at how journalism is changing and how consumers can utilize journalistic skills to understand the news and information around them. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel discuss the challenges facing anyone who is trying to determine the truth of what they are reading online, the different types of journalism that you are likely to encounter, and how to identify not just the reliable sources but, on any given news-related Web site, the types of content that require more or less additional skepticism.

Although this book is placed under the journalism subject heading, it is perfect for just about anyone who spends time reading news and opinion content online. Kovach and Rosenstiel write engagingly, and any jargon is clearly explained both in general terms but also by providing context through examples. This makes the text accessible and they further break down the process – using the clever term, tradecraft of verification – to enable any information consumer to create the habits necessary to look at online information with the appropriate level of skepticism.

I read Blur during a week when the Pew Research Center for the People & Press report on news media was released (66% of Americans say news stories are often inaccurate, overall performance grows more negative) and the satirical news Web site, the Onion, was dealing with a Twitter post that had caused strong negative opinion because some people had been unable to identify it as fake news ( Slate, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Mediaite, and the Atlantic Wire, for starters). The lessons to be learned from Blur make these sorts of stories more relevant and underscore the need for more people to be increasingly curious about their information sources and what those sources say.

The authors are not saying that everyone can be a journalist, or that everyone is. Instead, they highlight techniques that journalists use and explain how the average reader can use the same methods to identify the fact and fiction of what they read online.

The paperback edition has an afterword and has clearly been updated to incorporate examples from 2010, making the book feel very timely. But the underlying tips and guidance that the authors provide are timeless in an age where trust in the news and news organizations is lower and when nearly anyone can publish information online.

Excellent read. I would especially recommend this for anyone who deals with information – lawyers and other professions, librarians, business leaders – and who may need these sorts of tools when they research outside their own content area.