Most highly rated media is objective

Ski lifts are pretty weird. If you’re not with friends, more often than not, you find yourself trapped in a confined space with a stranger you’ll never see again. The conversation often revolves around three things: the snow, how great your day is and what you do for living.

And this weekend, over and over again, I found out through ski lift conversation that most people think journalists are evil and have an agenda.

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Early season skiers and snowboarders aren’t the only ones. According to an article in the American Journalism Review, only 25 percent of those surveyed in a poll by the Pew Research Center thought that the media mostly accurate, and 66 percent of those surveyed thought the media is “often inaccurate.”

In addition, 87 percent of respondents to a national survey conducted by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. said they don’t believe the media is objective.

In the same survey, 41.9 percent of respondents claimed that the New York Times had a liberal bias, 44.9 percent thought CNN was liberally slanted and only 48.7 percent thought Fox News had a conservative bent (more shockingly, 22.3 percent of respondents thought it was more liberal).

Fox News also led all major broadcast outlets in “trust for most accurate reporting,” with 27 percent of respondents claiming that it was their most trusted news source, compared to 14.6 percent who favored CNN.

The media as a whole, according to an article in Poynter, has a lower approval rating than Congress.

There’s an old adage that no one likes their local newspaper. But if these numbers are telling the truth, I’d argue that no one particularly likes any newspaper, TV outlet or news website… or at least thinks that any of them are objective.

Part of this perception comes from the fact that objective news reporting is no longer the norm. Both Fox News and MSNBC have fairly obvious ideological bents, and most of the unique news sites on the internet very clearly lean to one side of the aisle.

Hell, “The Newsroom,” Aaron Sorkin’s HBO opus about the state of modern American media, touted its protagonist’s shift away from an attempt at objectivity as the most courageous thing that has ever happened in the history of journalism.

And consumers like it. Fox News dominated the top 10 slots for most-watched cable news shows in the third quarter of 2012, and MSNBC made steady enough gains to lead its rivals in coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and even topped Fox News in viewers for an entire week, according to an Oct. 3 article in the Huffington Post.

CNN’s ratings, meanwhile, have been in rapid decline, as have most network nightly news shows, according to a June article in the New York Times.

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And let’s not even talk about how the newspaper business is doing financially. I don’t even need to cite a source for this; it’s just common knowledge at this point.

More locally, here at the Collegian, our columns, not our news stories, often generate the largest web audience.

Clearly, opinion, not objectivity, is what sells in today’s media landscape. And like it or not, most mainstream news organizations out there need to remain financially viable.

So, in response to the people who I met on the ski lift this weekend, I’d agree that yes, most of the journalism that you’re probably reading or watching does have an agenda. But that’s motivated, largely, by consumer tastes.

Should the fourth estate be dictated by consumers, rather than the need to keep an eye on the government? That’s a column for a different day.

There’s plenty of good journalism out there, and I’d argue that a vast majority of it is both objective and factually accurate. More people just need to see it. And if I think that happened, hopefully journalists would at least have a higher approval rating than Congress.