By Jordan Murray
December 15th, 2016
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Journalism has been in a state of disarray as the American public and business models continue to evolve. This project will look at the history of journalism, the problems we face today, potential solutions, and what readers can do about it.
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To understand the state of the media today, one must recognize that the media has been through many phases historically.
“There’s certainly been high points and very low points in media coverage, especially dealing with biases in the media,” Nate Cunningham, a BYU news media major said. “I think that there was a shift, what we consider, in the golden age—Woodward and Bernstein characters—because they were beholden to the truth, ultimately taking down the President of the United States at the time. But I don’t know how many could say that now.”
Cunningham pointed out many instances where he believes journalism was in a high point during the time that The Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward set out to uncover an ever growing Washington D.C. political scandal, now referred to as the Watergate scandal.
“The Hearst empire was not built on objective journalism. That whole era was very sensational, and they went through their own course correction at the time. So I think we are ripe for another one. Which way it will go? I’m not sure.” -Steve Fidel
But centuries before that, the history of journalism has been spotted with victories and defeats.
In 1500 BC, there are records showing that the Mesopotamian people were documenting one mayor’s affair with a married woman on cuneiform tablets, showing one civilizations interest in scandalous news.
In 1641 the first newsman, Samuel Pecke, was accused of “wenching, lying and drinking” when he launched a weekly newspaper. Topping the circulation polls, Pecke used small type and narrow margins to pack as much information onto his eight page sheet. Gossip was commonly the subject of many headlines, re-telling the rumors and secrets that had been passed around taverns.
Our country was founded greatly because of the use of journalism with pamphlets such as Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and many founding fathers contributions to the “Federalist Papers.”
In the late 1800s, newspaper moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer went to war. Pulitzer’s New York World and Hearst’s New York Journal were among the most popular papers of the time during a fiercely competitive era of newspapers.
An excerpt from Hearst’s early paper The San Francisco Examiner shows Hearst’s trademark style: “HUNGRY, FRANTIC FLAMES. They leap madly upon the splendid pleasure palace by the bay of Monterey, encircling Del Monte in their ravenous embrace from pinnacle to foundation. Leaping higher, higher, higher, with desperate desire…”
Yellow journalism was a type of journalism that presented little, well-researched news, instead opting for eye-catching headlines, hoping for higher sales of the paper. Exaggerations of news events, scandal mongering, or sensationalism were common elements of articles in Hearst’s and Pulitzer’s paper at this time.
“Over time you see journalism go through these cycles,” the director of The Universe, Steve Fidel, said. “The Hearst empire was not built on objective journalism. That whole era was very sensational, and they went through their own course correction at the time. So I think we are ripe for another one. Which way it will go? I’m not sure.”
Those same cycles continued throughout the 1930s and the 1940s when gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper took over the news, documenting the lives of Hollywood’s elite.
The rivaling Queen’s were said to have had a combined readership of 75 million in a country of 160 million. After three mentions in Parsons column, a screenwriter is reported to have gone from $500 a week to $2,500. The power these women held was unprecedented, beginning a phase of public relations gossip, with motion picture studios approaching the columnists to plant or promote different stories about their stars. According to one actress, if you were to fall out of favor with one of the two columnists, “You might as well get on the bus back to Podunk because you were never going to do any more than wait tables.”
But these eras also brought high periods of journalism to the nation, according to BYU Journalism professor Joel Campbell.
“I think in terms of when (journalism) was truly a mass communication—that really helped elevate society for better or for worse—was the Penny Press era. The 1850s in to the 1900s was certainly a golden era of when everybody had a newspaper. You know, even into the 1940s and 50s people would take a morning and afternoon paper. They had to know what was going on.”
However, when it comes to political coverage, discrepancies in whether elections were covered fairly is also nothing new. In 1948 a pre-election Gallup poll predicted Thomas Dewey’s win over President Harry S. Truman, which after the election, resulted in the complete opposite outcome. In 1988, coverage of Michael Dukakis was deeply criticized. 2000, George Bush’s campaign was twice as likely as Al Gore’s to get positive press coverage in the culminating weeks of the campaign. In the 2012 election, a study at Elon University concluded a considerable pro-conservative bias amidst the media’s collective coverage. A study done on media bias in campaigns from 1948 through 1997 showed differences between proportions of coverage to be statistically significant.
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Today, a simple Google search on “media bias” produces countless pages of articles, particularly surrounding the campaign and it’s alleged biases.
- SPJ’s code of ethics states that journalists should avoid associations or activities that could potentially compromise their integrity or credibility, yet an MSNBC.com investigation revealed that at least 140 journalists were contributing or had contributed to political parties, movements or individual candidates.
- Further, journalists should remain distant from people or sources that they cover, yet a Telemundo anchorwoman who was dating the Mayor of Los Angeles reported on his marital difficulties without mention that she was dating him. An editor for The Los Angeles Times allowed a Hollywood producer to guest edit a section in the paper without revealing that he was dating the publicist of the producer.
- Reporters should not accept gifts or bribes from anyone, most importantly sources or potential sources, yet a reporter from Riverside, California resigned after he admitted to accepting gifts from people he covered, specifically $500 from a city councilman after his house had burned down.
- Reporters should seek truth and report it, being careful to be accurate and fair, according to the SPJ code. However, during her time at CBS News, Katie Couric had read an alleged portion of her blog that was later discovered had been ripped off of The Wall Street Journal and was written by a CBS producer posing as if it were Couric’s personal thoughts. Most famously, Brian Williams, one of America’s most recognizable journalists, was caught “misremembering” an Iraq war episode amongst other stories that led him to a six-month probation and ultimately being fired from his position at NBC. Rolling Stone had also been under fire after it published a story about a rape victim named “Jackie” and the University of Virginia, which was later proven to be false and misreported. New York magazine also reported a 17-year old who had allegedly amassed $72 million by playing the stock market, where the entire story turned out to be untrue.
- A reporter should never cover something where they could potentially have a conflict of interest, yet a columnist at MarketWatch resigned to focus on a start-up company, when it was later discovered that she had written about companies who were doing business with her start-up.
- The SPJ code states that journalists should be accurate and fair yet The Huffington Post began publishing an “editors note” at the bottom of every article surrounding Donald Trump that read: “Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
- The New York Post stated that “the media is the biggest loser in the campaign,” citing several examples of journalism fails. CNBC’s John Harwood among others emailed Clinton campaign chief John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee asking for pointed questions to ask Republicans Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz when he was selected to be a debate moderator.
- The Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank asked the DNC to provide a list of the top 10 worst Trump quotes for an article she was writing about the “10 worst plagues of Trump,” in which eight of the published plagues matched up to the DNC’s suggestions.
- CNN commentator and Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile was recently fired by CNN after famous WikiLeaks, released that Brazile had given Hillary Clinton debate questions ahead of time giving Clinton extra time to prepare.
- A recent article by Fortune revealed that CNN President, Jeff Zucker, conceded that CNN had “likely aired a few too many unfiltered Trump rallies and speeches during the election.” Fortune also reported that an analysis by mediaQuant said that Trump received roughly $3 billion in free advertising by the amount of news coverage he received during his campaign.
“Journalists themselves are more liberal, generally, than the population, so it probably doesn’t surprise anybody that newspapers, over time, have become switched.” -Joel Campbell
As for this years Presidential election race, Robert Walz, a broadcast journalism professor at BYU believes that the media played a huge role in the election based off of the level of distrust we now see in the media.
“The national news media were so wrong in their assessment of what was going to happen in this election,” Walz said. “The bias of the news media, in many cases, was the worst that we’ve ever seen. When you see journalists who have stepped outside of their role as observer and have taken on the role of advocate, you know that something is wrong in journalism. When reporters do that, it’s disgusting. When managers allow that to happen, it’s horrific. To think that they have kept their jobs—that you have had journalists who have come out and given their personal editorial opinion on the candidates, and are able to keep their jobs—is the reason that only 6% of the people trust journalism today. Most of those journalists should have been fired.”
For the 2016 Presidential race, The Washington Post published a study they had done claiming that the media was publishing almost double the amount of posts about Trump as they were for Clinton. Out of 21,981 articles written about the election since July 2015, 14,924 had been written about Trump, with Clinton being mentioned in less than half as many. Those were articles with both positive and negative sentiment, which varied for both candidates throughout the campaign season. The Post’s study found that all media outlets that were considered “liberal” treated Clinton more favorably, with more conservative outlets “on the fence” about Trump, except for Fox News who tended to treat Trump in a more positive way than Clinton.
However, an article in The Washington Times combats that, citing another poll that found that 55% of likely voters said the press is biased against Mr. Trump. 88% of Republicans believe the media is against Trump, as well as 61% of Independents and 20% of Democrats.
That level of distrust and confusion is why Walz believes the American people are in the lowest media-trust level in the history of the country.
“I think that distrust of the news media was one of the big reasons that a lot of people voted for Donald Trump,” Walz said. “Because he came out against the news media, they could see that a lot of stuff in the news wasn’t fair, wasn’t balanced. People aren’t stupid. I don’t know if that was intentional for Trump, but he kind of set it up that way. If you were voting for him, you were voting against the news media. … We’ll have to see what the exit surveys say. It will be sad, won’t it? If it says that one of the reasons that Trump got elected was because people hate the news media? Maybe they’ll build a wall and put us on the other side of the it.”
Professor Joel Campbell recently published research he has done on media and how their political candidate endorsements have changed over time. Campbell believes that over time, as America has become more liberal as well as the businesses that own journalism companies have become more liberal, that there has been a shift from historical Republican-conservative endorsements to more of a liberal notion.
“Journalists themselves are more liberal, generally, than the population,” Campbell said, “so it probably doesn’t surprise anybody that newspapers, over time, have become switched.”
Campbell highlighted a few exceptions to that which became very controversial, one being The Arizona Republic. A longtime conservative leaning newspaper, according to Campbell, in Phoenix, Arizona, endorsed Hillary Clinton because they said Donald Trump was not worth of their endorsement, leading to many readers cancelling their subscriptions.
“It’s been an interesting campaign to watch,” Campbell said. “This campaign—this Presidential election—kind of changed all the dynamics on endorsements because many newspapers weren’t ready to endorse. The Wall Street Journal didn’t endorse anybody. But I tend to think the era of endorsement should be over, but that’s kind of controversial, so it just depends on where you’re coming from.”
Campbell believes endorsements lead to more problems, giving the example that some people may not understand the different between editorial endorsements and news coverage, putting the reporter in a difficult situation.
“If you work for a paper that endorses Hillary Clinton, how—as a reporter on the street doing your job—how does that make you look?” Campbell said. “They’re going to say, ‘Oh, well, you’re biased.’ Well, I’m not biased, I’m a reporter, I’m doing my job. But at the same time, if a newspaper does endorse, does it color your reporting? I hope not.”
Campbell doesn’t think the public makes the distinction between what the reporter does and what the editorial writers do, making it more and more confusing.
“I suggested that maybe, if at the very least, editorials need to be marked very clearly,” Campbell said. “These are opinions as opposed to news.”
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For almost a century, the business model of journalism went unchanged. Businessmen and media moguls owned different newspapers and television networks that created revenue through their advertising slots. Today, everything has changed.
“The business model is broken and nobody has quite figured out how to replace it,” Professor Joel Campbell said. “It used to be, to own a newspaper was a license to print—to make money—now those margins are much smaller, and no one has figured out how to replace the good old fashioned print advertising revenue, that once was there, with online revenue. It’s usually maybe 40% of the online revenue to what used to be the 100% that was in the print newspapers.”
“The problem is the money. The problem has always been the money when it comes to journalism.” -Robert Walz
Professor Robert Walz believes that the problem is in the money.
“When they wrote the first amendment—and they decided to throw in freedom of the press—if you owned a press, you had freedom,” Walz said. “If you didn’t own a press, you didn’t have any freedom because you had no means to say what you thought and distribute it to a large group of people.”
Walz said that with that money came freedom: freedom to own a newspaper, freedom to to publish what you wanted. He believes that system is flawed. However, there were periods where the money led to creating really good journalism. This was done when the owner of a news organization had the purpose of getting out fair and accurate information, or if they were making so much money that they didn’t care about what was being written and stayed out of those types of decisions.
“In those periods, we actually had some good journalism that came out,” Walz said. “The same with television. When millions and millions of people were watching 60 Minutes, and they were making so much money, they didn’t’ care what their journalist did, as long as they didn’t get sued. They had the freedom to go and pursue the truth, and they created the best news magazine show in the history of the United States. Money was not a consideration.”
However, Professor Walz said both newspaper and television news audiences are way down in recent years. When working at KSL Television in the 90s, the station commonly got about a 20-share, meaning 20% of the people watching television were watching KSL’s 10:00 news, according to Walz. Today, they are at about an 8-share.
“Two-thirds of the audience has stopped watching local television news,” Walz said. Before this drop, if you wanted information about your local community, the only place to go was the evening local television news show, as newspapers weren’t printed until the next morning.
“So people watched local television,” Walz said. “There was a big trust in it.” This media ritual—people watching the news, going to bed, night after night—is now broken according to Walz.
“You can read news and entertainment any time that you want to,” Walz said. “The problem is, when you lose two-thirds of the audience, you lose two-thirds of the advertising revenue. When you lose two-thirds of the advertising revenue, you have to make cuts. And so we’ve seen huge cuts in both television and print journalism. Those cuts have dramatically diminished the product that people get—that the consumer receives.”
Walz believes because it is easy for television stations to do what is cheap and easy, we see a lot of coverage of house fires and car accidents because it is the cheapest, fastest thing to report on.
“You don’t see very much enterprise and investigative reporting anymore,” Walz said. “That’s a lot of why people don’t watch television, because there really is nothing there.”
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For Steve Fidel, Director of The Universe, it is the struggle of splitting the share of audience in an ever-growing media society.
“When I started in journalism in the early 1980s there were fewer networks, fewer newspapers, fewer magazines,” Fidel said. “While the audience has grown since then—just because of an increase in population—you’re still seeing the same basic audience divided up into more segments. That means more market share for everybody, less revenue for everybody and a scramble to recoup some of that lost revenue, or find new revenue models. So it probably hit newspapers the hardest, the earliest, followed by news magazines. But broadcast has not been immune from that as well.”
News Media Professor Kris Boyle believes the migration towards online media is what is causing the largest problem to the industry today. Boyle believes the landscape socially is changing. For a long time there were only two main outlets, television and newspapers, so journalists knew they had a captive audience. But today, with the internet and social media, everything has changed.
“It’s not a set routine every day of writing stories, editing stories and then putting them on a page and printing it the next morning,” Boyle said. “It’s as soon as a story breaks you should be on top of it. And I think that how journalists react to that is often times some of the challenges we face. I think some realize, and see the big picture part of it, and they see that, ‘Hey, this social media isn’t out there to kill us, it’s not out there to take away what we’re doing.’ Instead, you can use it as a means to reach a new audience and to do things that we couldn’t do before. But then there are others who don’t fully understand that, and I think that maybe, even go to the point that they misuse it and don’t understand how to most effectively use these new forms of media.”
Boyle believes because people aren’t relying on traditional media anymore, journalists aren’t as valued as they used to be. He still believes there is value, but it just is not as strong or as visible as it used to be.
“You can go on to any kind of website or blog and get news or information,” Boyle said. “You’ve (also) got individuals who will put information out there, or consider themselves a journalist, when in reality, they’ve never taken a journalism class in their life. They don’t have a degree in journalism, they don’t necessarily share the same values and beliefs as traditional journalists would, but yet they have the same impact.”
Professor Campbell agrees, stating that technology has made today a golden era for information. However, the problem is that it’s not a golden era for verified information. Campbell believes that reporters used to have more time to verify things, to get their information, to get their sources. Today, it’s immediate, and journalists and others get things wrong.
Professor Walz also believes the rush of getting stories done leads to more problems than it solves. When he started his career, journalists would have up to two weeks to work on a story. Today, it is a matter of hours.
“There isn’t really time to do quality journalism anymore,” Walz said. “Reporters really don’t have time to go out and find information. It’s more the producers tell them, ‘Go do this story, because that’s what our consultants tell us is what the audience wants.’ So you end up kind of chasing your tail. It’s not fun for reporters to do that. Once you get past the excitement of being on television, then its pretty shallow when all you’re covering is going from house fire to house fire.”
Professor Walz believes that trust in the media is also one of the biggest problems facing the media today.
“Of all the things that journalism does, trust is the number one thing, because we sell information,” Walz said. “If you can’t trust the information, what good is the information? Denzel Washington did an interview the other day, and he said, ‘If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. And if you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.’ So that is what people think of journalism in America today. If you watch it or you listen to it, you are misinformed.”
Walz believes that readers just don’t know who to trust anymore. Information can come through and a reader may not know if it is real or if it is fake. Even information from legitimate news sources is questionable as to whether it is are accurate or not.
“I don’t recall ever, in the history of our country, where a news operator slipped the questions in a Presidential debate to one of the candidates before the debate,” Walz said. “That’s unprecedented. Those kinds of things are the things that deteriorate the trust in the news media. The purpose of journalism is to provide accurate, truthful information to support democracy and freedom. It’s just not happening.”
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So how can we fix these problems? There have been many articles and studies done about the problems seen in the industry. Unfortunately, not as many have been written about what to do to fix it.
We have seen few models emerge to help turn the news industry around. One solution—or one could say effect—we’ve seen, according to Director of the Universe Steve Fidel, is company mergers. Fidel says that legacy news and media companies have been able to thrive by combining with other interests or developing new interests that generate revenue, allowing their newsrooms to not suffer, or not suffer as much. For example, the Kaplan Testing Company, owned by the Washington Post, is a significant profit center for the Washington Post, Fidel said. Another example is ABC, who was bought up by Disney thus becoming part of a much larger operation.
“That diversification has helped media companies find new ways to incorporate revenue centers that wouldn’t seem as out of place as they might have at one time,” Fidel said.
For Professor Kris Boyle, a model he saw working in Idaho was locking down online content, much like The New York Times, The Washington Post and others have been trying. Boyle said the newspaper he worked for in Idaho Falls adopted the subscription-based model where content such as community calendars and obituaries was free to the public, but everything else was locked under subscription. Boyle believes they made a little money off of that system, but it wasn’t a lot. However, for a local paper, this model brought some problems.
“I think that the challenge that they still faced was rather than people saying, ‘Well, I wanted to read that story, I’m going to go ahead and pay for this subscription,’ they would go to other news organizations—local news sites—to get that information, where it was out there for free,” Boyle said.
“If you wanted the news, you had to go and pay for that. Now, it’s not the case anymore. You can go to websites, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—all of these things are out there, and they’re free.” -Kris Boyle
Boyle believes when news organizations are trying to find ways to make money online, they have to keep in consideration that the internet is really a lot more wide open than it used to be. He cited traditional methods of making money off of a newspaper by simply putting it in a newspaper stand, paying 50 cents, and having only a few ways of obtaining news, whether it be through TV subscriptions or newspapers.
“If you wanted the news, you had to go and pay for that,” Boyle said. “Now, it’s not the case anymore. You can go to websites, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—all of these things are out there, and they’re free. If you go and completely lock everything down, you’re going to lose subscribers. You’re not going to have an audience. So there are some models that look at most of it’s free, but the real premium stuff you have to pay for. But again, whether that’s really profitable, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it is at this point.”
Another solution that has been seen recently is changing the way in which advertising is done online. A recent trend called “native advertising” has been popping up, where a sponsor created an article about their product or company that mimics the look and style of the publication in which it is printed. Journalists require that these ads are “clearly marked” so as not to confuse the reader, but that line has seemed to have blurred.
BYU advertising professor, Mark Callister, believes that advertisers are being forced to find more subtle ways of advertising because of changing markets.
“Over the last 50 years, a steady percent—about 70% of consumers out there—are very skeptical about advertising,” Callister said. “When you mix suddenly advertising with journalism, I think you begin to see some of that skepticism that’s so prevalent be directed also at some of these news sources and the stories that they tell.” He said an example common today is product placement in films. “People’s defenses are lowered,” Callister said, “they don’t know that they’re being persuaded. As a result, audiences are impacted, but they’re not fully aware that they’re being impacted, because it just seems so woven into the narrative.”
Callister believes that advertisers now see that same opportunity in news media as online content changes. Callister believes that some readers are aware that they’ve stepped into an ad, and realize that it is no longer news content because it should be clearly marked. He believes that the pushback comes from the fear that if now marked clearly, there would be an erosion of the credibility of news stories because people would feel like the border between the two becomes fuzzier. That potentially could lead to a new concern that the next step would be not indicating that it is sponsored material or that there was some kind of hidden agenda behind the news story where an advertiser was somehow involved or somehow impacted how the story unfolded.
“When money becomes a consideration, journalism suffers.” -Robert Walz
With so many solutions beginning and failing, it is hard to say what will come along that will “save journalism.”
However, Professor Robert Walz believes he has found he solution.
“When money becomes a consideration, journalism suffers,” Walz said. He believes that because of money, outside influences trickle in from advertisers, politicians, and business owners. This causes journalism to turn into public relations, and that is not good for the American people. This would cause the information you see to go through a filter, which then is trying to persuade you rather than inform you.
“The job of the journalist is just to inform,” Walz said, “not to persuade people to think one way or the other. When we get into money, persuasion always comes in. So somehow, in order to fix journalism, we have to eliminate the money.”
Walz believes that journalists want to be able to work and pay their bills, which is why citizen journalism would never work, because nobody wants to work for free.
“No one is going to do it for free,” Walz said, “because then, pretty soon, somebody’s going to say, ‘Well if you do a story this way, I’ll pay you,’ and it turns into public relations. So we’ve got to find a way to separate the money from journalism.”
Professor Walz proposes that you first guarantee that the journalist has an income that they can live on. They have to be guaranteed that they will be free to be able to report based on their own consciousness, and not from influencers who write their checks. In order to do that, he thinks the local governments need to first realize that journalism is in the best interest of its citizenry.
“The people here in the state of Utah deserve fair and accurate information about the place that they live,” Walz said. “They deserve to know what lawmakers, what politicians, are doing with their money. That’s good for us as a society, to know what’s going on. That’s how we choose to vote, we need to know the truth.”
Walz then believes that the state of Utah would put up $25 million following with a Kickstarter by the citizens of Utah, gathering another $25 million.
“That’s kind of a big ask isn’t it?” Walz said. “But if they believe that journalism is important, then they should do it.”
With a total of $50 million, they would then put that money in to an endowment, which would generate enough money through interest and investments to pay for a certain number of journalists’ salaries. An independent body would manage the money, instead of elected officials, allowing reporters to report on government officials without repercussions to their salaries.
“Then just turn them loose,” Walz said. These journalists would go and do stories that they thought were beneficial to everyone in the state of Utah. Then they would produce reports, whether through video, text or with photos, and distribute those through social media networks, television and radio stations, and newspapers for free.
“When you’re in that situation, now you don’t care how many people see your stuff,” Walz said. “All you care about is that your stuff is accurate, it’s honest and it’s beneficial to society.”
Walz believes that the television stations would benefit from this because they would get free, real journalism that they can’t afford to do now.
“You might spend a month doing an investigative story and then you’d give that to all the television stations, and they could air it because you don’t care now,” Walz said. “At this point, you’re not making any money off the advertising, you’re not trying to be first or get an exclusive because its not a money making venture, its an informative venture.”
With journalists being turned loose to do stories that they thought were right, Walz would then set up a non-paid board that they would report to every six months. They would show them what they had been working on and would review complaints that they had received from the public. This would keep the journalists being honest, but this board would still not be able to control content of the stories or give suggestions on how they should report things.
“Lets say we could only hire four reporters to do that,” Walz said. “If we actually saw some really good reporting, it would change our society. Journalism would again be a watchdog on government. Journalism would then provide us information that we need in a democracy to be able to make decisions on things when we go to vote. We’d have a better informed citizenry and everyone would benefit from this.”
Walz believes if the state of Utah did this, they would become a model to every other state in the nation who would then follow suit. “The best news is local news,” Walz said, “so it needs to be done on a local level.”
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All of these problems do not lie solely on the journalists and media companies, however. As readers, there is a lot that you can do to counteract the state of the news.
“The problem is that most readers are now getting their news from Facebook, Twitter, and sites which allow the reader to subscribe to a list of their own media sources,” Anne Collins, a news media major, said. “All of these articles they read could basically add up to news that all lean in favor of what they already think.”
According to Steve Fidel, Director of The Universe, a reader should emulate what journalists are taught in the newsroom: to have more than one source.
“The audience needs to triangulate,” Fidel said. “They need to use more than one source to get their news, because the best checks and balances are made by the audience themselves. It’s up to the audience—either through what they read or they watch—to help to balance the news that they’re getting.”
Fidel also believes that it takes diligence on the part of the reader to resist the urge to just follow the news outlets that they’re most aligned with politically. Fidel suggest that readers all look at different sources of the news, whether or not they agree with the point-of-view that they feel is coming across.
“That’s how you maintain a broader understanding of the conversation around you,” Fidel said. “And a better ability to judge whether the information you’re seeing does have a bias—or at least identify what that bias might be—so it can handicap the way you metabolize whatever it is you’re being told.”
Professor Joel Campbell agrees, suggesting that as a news subscriber, triple check your stories.
“Make sure that you can you verify it,” Campbell said. “Can you triangulate it? Do the sources that are quoted really stack up? Hopefully there is a click through that you can go to and say, ‘Oh, this is the original person, this is what they originally said on the record.’ Does it make sense? Does it stack up? Now, that makes it a little bit harder to consume news. You can’t just read it and move on.”
Campbell believes that if you triangulate and get the same kind of story from all of those different perspectives, that you’ve got a good source.