Book Review: Overload
Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News
by Rebecca Aguilar
One day while walking to my only class on campus at the University of North Texas, I thought of counting all the people who walked by me between the parking lot and the building. I counted thirty-six, and thirty-two of them had their heads buried in their smartphones.
It made me think of the Pew Center’s research that revealed 67% of adults in the U.S. get their news from social media. We are bombarded with news and today it is up to us to figure out what is true and what is not.
Here’s where Bob Schieffer’s book Overload comes in handy. The veteran CBS News correspondent has seen many changes in the media in sixty years as a journalist, but he believes today we are overloaded with news more than ever.
His 204-page book is co-authored with Andrew Schwartz, chief communications officer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Schieffer describes it as “…a series of chapters that examines journalism and those who practice it – how they see their profession, how it has been changed by new technology, and how well they believe they are carrying out their responsibility to provide Americans with the information they need to be good citizens.”
The authors cover several challenges facing the news business today: fake news, 24 hour news cycle, failing newspapers, shrinking newsrooms, and social media deluge. Many are topics already being tackled by journalism professors at universities and news managers in professional newsrooms around the country.
What the authors do well, is to dig deep into topics comparing how journalism was done in the past and how it is done today with social media and digital news in the equation. They analyze how changes have affected the quality of news that consumers get now.
There is also insight and opinions from more than 40 media professionals interviewed for the book. The main question Schieffer and Schwartz tackle is whether today people are more informed, misinformed, or just overwhelmed with too much information.
Journalists who read Overload will be very familiar with the chapters on how news organizations are using new forms like digital news, social media, and podcasts to publish and share information to stay relevant and profitable. Most journalists today know the changes and challenges quite well.
Those outside the news business, will find the information interesting in how news is evolving. David Hendricks reviewed the book for the San Antonio Express News in October, 2017. He said “…It takes a book like ‘Overload” to explain to news consumers what they are faced with in a world exploring with information, some true, some false.”
Along with change comes the shrinking of newsrooms, fewer people doing fewer jobs, and thus the quality of news has been diluted. Schieffer looked at how less positions in newspaper newsrooms has affected the quality of news being published.
Schieffer recalled when he was at a Texas newspaper in the 1960’s. “..at the Fort Worth Star Telegram, at least three people read my story – the city editor, the news editor who decided where to place the story in the newspaper, and a copyeditor who corrected grammar, spelling, facts, and then wrote a headline or the story…”
Today at many newspapers around the country, reporters publish their stories right away on a news website, before they have been proofread by anyone else. “Few editors not only increase the possibility of mistakes but also require individual reporters to be well grounded in libel law and ethics.”
The rise and popularity of news sites like Vox Media, Buzzfeed, and Mic were also part of the conversation. Co-author Andrew Schwartz said, “Websites born on web rather than those who evolved from print are becoming the new normal for new generations.”
Online news sites have become popular with millennials because they have grown up in a world of computers and smartphones. They also want good information given to them in interesting and sometimes entertaining ways. Buzzfeed may have started as a site known for viral videos of cute cats, quizzes on crazy topics, but it has made changes. “..it has also evolved into an award-winning news organization…” said Schwartz.
Schieffer also examined the 2016 presidential election. “Donald Trump was the most unusual candidate I ever covered in the most unusual campaign I can remember in the most unusual year of the more than four decades I spent in Washington.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt used radio, John F. Kennedy used television and Donald Trump used Twitter to get the public’s attention. “Will we look back on the 2016 election and conclude that Trump was the first to understand the power of Twitter?”
Despite all the changes in news, 80-year-old Schieffer is someone all journalists should aspire to be. In six decades, he has adapted to the changes in journalism. He doesn’t whine about it, but has embraced change.
He may not like how some of the changes have hurt the quality of news, but he has made sure his work is still top-notch. “Schieffer maintains an optimistic outlook as he shows the rapid changes in news media” said Publishers Weekly in its review in October, 2017.
Overload is a good book for journalists to get back to basics. It is also good road map for the news consumer. It gives readers, viewers, and listeners information that can get them through the maze of fake news, alternative facts, and journalists wannabes to find quality news in a world oversaturated with information.
Bibliography- Chicago Style
Schieffer, Bob and Andrew Schwartz. Overload (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)
Shearer, Elisa and Jeffrey Gottfried, “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017,” September 7, 2017. Pew Research Center,
Hendricks, David. Book Review: Got News “Overload”? (San Antonio Express News, October 2, 2017)
“Overload: Finding Truth in Today’s Deluge of News.” Publishers Weekly, October 2, 2017.