Monday, September 14, 2009

we've been dissed

Badly. Really, people don't like us. At least that's the message from the latest Pew Research Center for People and the Press. Read the full reporte here.

Among the rock-bottom lows: the public's view of press accuracy has hit a two-decade low; well over half the respondents consider the news biased; and not even a quarter of the respondents consider the news to be independent of powerful influences. From the report:

Just 29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate. In the initial survey in this series about the news media’s performance in 1985, 55% said news stories were accurate while 34% said they were inaccurate. That percentage had fallen sharply by the late 1990s and has remained low over the last decade.

Similarly, only about a quarter (26%) now say that news organizations are careful that their reporting is not politically biased, compared with 60% who say news organizations are politically biased. And the percentages saying that news organizations are independent of powerful people and organizations (20%) or are willing to admit their mistakes (21%) now also match all-time lows.

Is this something a little bit of media literacy can cure? I have a feeling a lot of folks have a hard time distinguishing between commentary and reporting. And if they spend their news dime listening to those right-wing hooligans who bloviate on radio and TV, well, no wonder they consider the news to be biased. And in fact, among those who had the worst impression of the press itself, the majority were Fox News watchers.

Not surprising. Ever since Fox news went on the air pitching itself as "fair and balanced", a lot of people (smart enough to know that the slogan was just a clever name) assumed that every other news source tilted right or left as well, and went looking for it. And as political talk radio has proliferated, I can't help wondering if a good portion of the news audience only listens to he who preaches to the choir. Which also tends to taint your view of journalism. If, in fact, you consider that journalism.

Interestingly, runner-ups who saw bias in the news were those who got their news predominantly from the internet. Again, is it because they can't distinguish real reporting that has been vetted, that is based on objective news-gathering methods, from blogs and opinion essays? Hard to say. My definition of objective journalism is this: No horse in the race. And it has to do with methods, not whatever appears in the finished story. For a reporter -- overworked, underpaid and, see above, clearly unloved -- to purposely tank a story to fit an agenda is like some overpaid tall guy in the NBA purposely missing a layup.

All of which points to another reason why maybe media literacy should be a requisite in college, if not high school. You need to know how much work, and integrity (there, I said it) goes into producing a news story. bk


tk said...

Until people understand that there is such a thing as a fact they will use their own biases to imply a bias in any story that doesn't fit their prejudices. This will take time and devotion to the truth. We cannot continue to say that Copernicus only had a theory and that the other theories (the world is flat and the center of the universe) deserve to be covered as equally true.
Whose obligation is it to make that point? The news media.
It seems that almost all news media, including PBS and NPR, feel compelled to try to find an expert on each side of any issue. STOP IT. Facts do exist and shoud not be conflated with opinions.

Jack said...

It's because we in the press are cowards.

Instead of our covering the news -- including news that people don't trust the news -- we should come out and say, no, you are wrong: We can be trusted; here are the stories we've done well and how we've changed society because of them. And no, Glenn Beck, we're not a bunch of Commies but people who can report and spell -- which is certainly better than you can do.

We are in the midst of a culture war in this country, and journalism is just the next casualty. Civility's already the opening salvo. What's next? Facts. I'm sure those are already under siege, as tk points out.

It reminds me of the same people who criticize The New York Times for being "really liberal," but then few, if any, of those same armchair pundits have never read the Gray Lady.

Jack said...

Oh, yeah -- I should point out that while many seem to bellyache the press can't be trusted (etc.), they not only rely on them for news, it seems -- but also would shed a tear if the press left. It's like saying, I can't stand my uncle at Thanksgiving, but, hey, he's family!