Lack of reader confidence increasing in news publications

By SpencerRoush

It’s no longer the norm for people to wait in front of their TVs for their favorite news anchor to report the news of the day.

The majority of people at home in time to watch the evening news are retirees, some of whom don’t even focus on reporting. However, more people now question and are more critical of their news sources.

According to a study released on April 6 by Rasmussen Reports, 55 percent of 1,000 likely U.S. voters think media bias is a larger problem in politics than big campaign contributions. These results are similar to those found in 2008. Thirty-two percent said big contributors in a campaign are a more significant problem.

Before the 2008 presidential election, 68 percent of voters said reporters try to help the candidate they favor and 58 percent said they helped President Barack Obama the most. Only 7 percent said Sen. John McCain was helped by the media.

At some news agencies, it’s tradition in an election season for editorial boards to endorse candidates they see most fit for the positions. However, the boards’ choices should not be reflected in their reporting throughout the campaign process.

It seems strange that a voter would need a newspaper to endorse a candidate in order to form their own opinion. If journalists report effectively, a reader should be able to draw a conclusion and choose a candidate from the articles written, not because the newspaper board endorsed who they thought was a worthy contender.

It is unknown whether news agencies intentionally attempt to sway voters using biased reporting. However, it is upsetting that journalists, who are considered government “watchdogs,” also need to be closely scrutinized.

In 1996, the Society of Professional Journalists removed the term “objectivity” from its ethics code. Instead, today’s journalists prefer the words “fairness,” “truth” and “accuracy” for what journalists strive to display in their reporting.

This sends journalists the wrong message. Removing the word “objectivity” allows journalists to slightly skew reporting because they can justify that what they reported is the “truth,” rather than seeing something objectively from all sides.

People are challenging journalists, and news agencies to see just how unbiased they actually are. Many news consumers scrutinize the articles they read and broadcasts they watch for bias on a daily basis. This, along with other variables, has temporarily crippled the journalism industry.

According to a Journal of Public Economics article titled “Persistent Media Bias,” published online in 2005 by David Baron, skepticism about the news leads to lower demand that forces publications to sell their print at a lower cost.

Newspapers are receiving more online activity while their subscription rates plummet. People would rather access the information for free than put a couple of quarters into the newsstand each morning.

Many people would prefer to use their phone—which seems to have the ability to do nearly everything except patch a tire and do laundry—to find free online articles. It’s no surprise that people would rather read free articles online or ignore the news altogether when the integrity of publications and its journalists are questioned.

Who would want to pay for biased, poorly reported articles? Not many, unless they agree with the articles the publication writes and the candidates they endorse.

News and media consumption has drastically changed, and so have the mindsets of its audience. People have now taken on the role as the journalists’ watchdog and, therefore, objectivity should again be the level for each writer to attain.

With major decisions being made in Washington, D.C., concerning health care, student loans, stimulus money and the next move to jumpstart the economy, it’s a crucial time for news agencies to regain the trust of their readers.

Even though many publications are struggling to keep up readership, sell ad space in a sub-par economy and report objectively, print journalism will never die. There will more than likely always be papers in newsstands because too many people, including myself, like to physically hold the crisp paper, rather than scroll through a Web site. There is something charming about awkwardly unfolding the paper on the train and getting ink all over my hands.