Trouble Right Here …

… in River City.  I actually know all the words, but that’s COMPLETELY another post.

I read today a Rassmussen Report that every journalist in the country should read.  And I mean EVERY journalist.  The lead paragraph says it all. (which, of course, it should)

Just 17% of voters nationwide believe that most reporters try to offer unbiased coverage of election campaigns. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that four times as many—68%–believe most reporters try to help the candidate that they want to win.

Now, this is not about whether or not it’s actually true.  It’s about the perception.  About what people believe.   If you’re a journalist, and this doesn’t bother you, I think maybe you’re in the wrong business.

How have we, as an industry, fallen so far?  I’d really like to believe that, no matter what my personal beliefs, I could be objective in my reporting of the news.  Notice, I said reporting, not analysis.  And maybe this is where the perception has become so problematic.

The question here is, do media consumers make a differentiation between “news”, “analysis” and “opinion”?  CNN, MSNBC, and Fox all hold themselves up as “News” channels, and yet so much of their prime time programming is devoted to endless talking heads, many with strong opinions and biases.  Journalists appear on those programs as guests, people who have supposedly observed and researched and written about the campaign, but who, try as they might, allow their personal feelings to creep into the conversations.  It’s human nature, I suppose, for that to happen.  And the hosts don’t do anything to discourage it, as near as I can tell.

When you add to that the endless stream of surrogates, pollsters, campaign workers, etc, etc, etc that also appear on such shows, can the casual media consumer tell the difference between the partisans and the journalists?  Is there always much of a difference? 

Now, there is no distinction in this report drawn between broadcast television, cable television, newspapers, radio, internet, (I don’t know why spell checkers always insist that intenet be capitalized, but no other form of media) or what have you.  It does say “Reporters”, and that’s particularly troubling.  Reporters should report.  “Just the facts, ma’am”.  But somehow, the overwhelming perception of a large majority of news consumers is that reporters let their biases influence their stories.  And that, frankly, is frightening, and disheartening.  The story makes no mention of “Liberal” or “Conservative” reporters.  It paints us all with a very broad brush.

I think even more troubling is that there is very little that can be done about it, particularly in the short term.  Credibility is hard-won and quickly lost.  And once lost, it’s even more difficult to win it back. 

Probably 99% of reporters who might read this post or that report will probably think “oh, that’s all those other guys … not me”.  I know it’s what crossed my mind.  I’m not involved in day-to-day reporting any longer.  But as the host of a local public affairs “talking heads” show that invites journalist as panelists to reflect on issues including politics … and interviews local politicians and newsmakers … this is a major concern to me. 

So yes, it should be required reading, IMHO.  Whether the perception actually reflects reality is almost moot in this case.   It’s a perception, which means that nearly 70% of news consumers BELEIVE reporters actively write stories that they think will help the candidate they want to win.  The only thing that can begin to change that perception is solid, factual reporting that tells the good and the bad.  Reporters and editors alike need to look far more carefully at how news is presented.  Back in the day, you used to know what was analysis or opinion because they told you so.  Maybe that bright line should again be drawn.

All I know is, we’ve got a long road ahead of us, and a long campaign.  I hope we can do better.





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Filed under Media, News, Politics, Radio, Television, Thoughts

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