Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire


Poor news coverage a result of poor consumption

The public’s assessment of the accuracy of news stories hit a two decade low in 2009 according to Pew Center research. A meager 29 percent of Americans think that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63 percent think that stories are often inaccurate. While the Pew Center data suggests that Americans perceive that something is wrong with the media, the problem actually lies with the public’s expectations of the media.

Just like any other business, the news media must make a profit. To make a profit, the media appeals to the public’s desires. Events not issue-focused coverage, sound bites, and sensationalism are all attempts by media outlets to please consumers. Low rates of newspaper readership and high rates of television news viewership demonstrate Americans’ reliance on surface-level reporting. Despite frequent criticism of this kind of coverage, Americans still choose superficial reporting at astonishingly high rates.

It is time we stop aimlessly critiquing the media and point our critical eye at ourselves.

Instead of fruitlessly waiting for the media to change, we, as consumers, should consciously choose alternative sources and demand better reporting. If our preferences change, the media will change to meet them.

The first step to accomplishing this is to realize the oddities in our behavior. Seventy-three percent of Americans have a favorable view of television news. Comparatively, 65 percent of Americans view the daily newspaper they are most familiar with favorably. The greater favorability of television coverage astounds me considering that the average TV report on a news event is less than one minute and consists of sound bites of an average of seven seconds. Nonetheless, 71 percent of Americans get most of their national news coverage from television.

The irony gets better though. Although fewer and fewer Americans read newspapers, 72 percent of Americans believe that the loss of daily newspapers would be “important.” This statistic leads me to believe that many Americans who do not read the newspaper still believe that losing newspapers would damage society. To prevent this “important” loss, these people should start reading the paper. While turning off TVs and picking up newspapers appears to be a solution, it is actually far too simple and Americans are far too attached to TV news.

Shallow television news is at the heart of the problem, but all news sources frequently highlight events of one-time significance instead of focusing on substantive long-range issues. We can change this.

Altering our selections of news coverage would most greatly benefit consumers and the media. Opportunities to change news sources can be divided into two categories: switching type of source and choosing a different source of the same medium.

Reading the news, either in a paper, magazine or online, offers more detailed coverage than television or most radio programming (PBS and NPR as notable exceptions). The benefits of newspapers extend beyond the substantive reporting. Newspapers and magazines, both in print and online, offer better routes for feedback than TV or radio. Writing a letter to the editor is perhaps the best way to voice one’s opinions about issues or a news story itself. Not only do the publishers read your views, but other readers have access to your opinions. Online, readers can comment on new stories, allowing them to quickly share their views on the reporting, event and, most importantly, the issues. Responding to the news encourages quality, issue-focused reporting.

As I acknowledged earlier, not many people will readily switch from TV to newspapers as their main source of news. Americans do not need to give up TV entirely. Television itself is not the problem. Some television news programs offer detailed reporting on pertinent issues. PBS’s “Newshour” and ABC’s “Nightline” buck the trend of one-minute per news event coverage. When people decide they have grown tired of news shows that feel like a choppy action movie, watching these two shows would provide relief.

Since TV news is clearly a business, boycotting trivial programming would effect change. While a grass roots movement like this may seem ineffectual against gigantic multimedia conglomerates, the fact is that news relies on advertising dollars determined by the number of viewers. Without viewers, television channels would be forced to either change their programming or face closure. (This same principal could be applied to a newspaper since newspapers depend on advertising dollars as well.) Our choice to watch or not watch is far more powerful than we think.

Ultimately, by changing our consumption we can change the media. Perhaps more so than in any other industry, consumers have the greatest power to alter the news media. Since the media must please its consumers to stay alive, expressing our disapproval not through complaints but through changing suppliers or specifically critiquing coverage are the best ways to increase the accuracy and quality of reporting.

While we cannot make the news, we can decide how we consume it. Our choices send clear signals to news companies, giving us the power to at least frame news coverage.

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