It's not just sensationalism that I worry about. It's the (apparent) inability of journalists to report accurately and completely about anything. How many have ever read an article about a technical subject in the mainstream press and said "boy did they screw that up"? I can spot those mistakes and laugh because I know enough to filter out the obvious inaccuracies.
But it's not as if international politics are simpler than circuit design. Economics is nearly as foreign to me as organic chemistry is to the average Joe. If I am going to rely on somebody else's expertise to help me make sense of the world, I had better be able to trust the individual and/or organization. If I read the Metropolis Daily News and page 7 warns that your microwave oven might give you cancer and page 9 says that Iraq may supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, what am I supposed to think? I am instantly skeptical to the point of outright dismissal of page 7, but maybe page 9 doesn't trigger any alarms. Is that because the page 9 news is so much more accurate or because I don't know well enough to be skeptical in the first place?
The few times I have had personal knowledge of events that later became local television and newspaper "news," I was dumbfounded by how poorly the facts were reported even though they were readily available. One of my friends died for a short time on a field trip with his school when he was 10. He fell into an icy river and his heart was stopped for a minute or so before he was revived. He still has newspaper clippings saved about the event. One of them quotes him saying something like "I'm glad to be alive and back with my family," but he never talked to anybody from the media! The quote was pulled from the reporter's own ass.
Another time a friend of mine severely injured himself with some homemade explosives he had made that he was trying to adopt for theatrical purposes at our (private, in case you're wondering how this ever happened) school. One news station reported him dead before they found out that, no, he'd lost a hand but was still very alive. One of the newspaper articles that came out claimed that he'd found his explosive "recipes" on the Internet (they were actually from the public library). The same article also painted him as the innocent victim of the Big Bad Internet, when in reality he was well aware of the hazardous nature of the compounds he was using and didn't even look for explosives information on the net until he was cooped up at home, healing.
I went to SIGGRAPH this year and was amazed at some of the sketches and applications sessions. Hollywood has been good at making illusions for some time, but usually you can spot the digital fakery if you know what to look for. This year I saw animated simulations of humans and natural phenomena that I couldn't have picked out as fake even were I single-stepping through the frames. The camera has always been a liar, but it can be a very, very sophisticated liar now.
I missed one of the more impressive technologies at SIGGRAPH until I was browsing through my course notes at home. Trainable Videorealistic Speech Animation allows the creation of very believable video footage of anybody saying anything, so long as you have a large enough training sample of video to begin with. As the authors note, "The recorded subjects can be regular people, celebrities, ex-presidents, or infamous terrorists." I don't like conspiracy theories, but I am going to have a very hard time accepting even well-documented events in the future unless I have firsthand knowledge of them. I can't trust news organizations to pick the important stories. I can't trust journalists to bring any research skills or personal integrity to their reporting. And now I can't even trust my own eyes when TV shows damning video evidence of Whatever.
I'm really stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I approach the news uncritically, picking it apart only when I happen to notice something funny? Do I approach the news with maximum skepticism, wondering whether each video was faked, each pithy quote distorted, each factoid made up on the spot? I can't be an expert on everything, so I can't do my own fact checking for every news story. Kuro5hin and other community-oriented sites help, but I don't really have any way of verifying my fellow posters' credentials. Once trust breaks down it's hard to restore.
It's not a just, good idea; it's the law.