Gallup has posted the results of a recent poll measuring American’s confidence in news reporting. Unsurprisingly, the results show confidence at an all-time low:
I bitch about the media a lot because of their obvious bias. Don’t misunderstand me, bias isn’t bad. And I’m not interested in silencing anyone’s opinion. Opinion is perfectly fine from a columnist or in an editorial or on a blog, or in any other venue where the viewer or reader understands that it’s an opinion piece. The problem is that news reporting isn’t supposed to be opinion. News isn’t supposed to be presented with spin. Reporters aren’t supposed to convey their own feelings and prejudices. But they do, and it’s obvious, and Americans are voting with their remote controls and their subscription dollars.
If I report on Occupy Wall Street, as a reporter, I must be cautious about my adjectives because depending on which I choose, my bias becomes clear. For example, an unbiased report would say something like:
Occupy Wall Street Protesters gathered at City Hall today to protest against the banking industry.
It’s dry, simple and factual: Who, what, where, when and why. Now sprinkle in a few adjectives and spice things up:
Angry and vocal Occupy Wall Street Protesters gathered at City Hall today to vent their frustration with a banking industry that they see as corrupt and fraudulent.
This version is much more descriptive, but still maintains an objective tone. The adjectives describe the group and their mood and the characterization of the banking industry is from the protesters. But only minor modification takes the sentence far into biased territory:
Angry and vocal Occupy Wall Street Protesters valiantly gathered at City Hall today to vent their frustration with a corrupt and fraudulent banking industry.
This is no longer a news report. Describing a group of protesters as “valiant” isn’t objective and describing the banking industry as “Corrupt and fraudulent” isn’t phrased as a report on the protest, but the reporters opinion. The same points can be made objectively through description of the event:
Angry and vocal Occupy Wall Street Protesters gathered at City Hall today to vent their frustration with a banking industry they see as corrupt and fraudulent, in an event participants describe as a valiant effort to bring about change.
Those may, in fact, be the reporters feelings, but it’s presented properly describing the protest, the participants and their feelings about the event. Objectivity and fairness are tools to find the truth. That’s the goal as a reporter.
I cancelled my newspaper subscription years ago and I no longer watch television news. It’s easier to just surf my favorite news sites, blogs and other sources on the internet and get my own news. At this point, as we watch old media die, my attitude is simple: To hell with them. And that’s too bad, because they are supposed to play a critical role in our society. A role they have abandoned.