Conservative Republicans say the most negative thing the news media do is report biased news. Conservatives have said it for years, and it is one of Donald Trump’s primary talking points. Many news organizations have taken steps to address this concern to little avail. I’m convinced there’s no way other than total transparency to address it, and even that won’t matter much.
More interesting to me is the answer liberal Democrats give: that news organizations too often make poor choices in the news they cover and how they cover it.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? If the news media were smarter in what they wrote/broadcast and chose smarter, more relevant topics, we wouldn’t be seeing such a steep decline in circulation and viewership.
Or would we? Well, it might slow it a bit. But the paper and broadcast would be a helluva lot much more fun to produce and consume.
I’ve said that if I were running a newspaper now, I’d focus the staff on investigative enterprise and “good news” stories. One is to reveal stories about institutions that are important to people and that they won’t get anywhere else. The other is to remind them that the community where they live is a pretty good place with pretty good people.
Would that get more people to buy the paper? I doubt it, but it would make a difference in their lives in a different way than newspapers do now. Look at newspapers around the state, as I often do with the help of this site, and you’ll notice that all but the largest newspapers feature stories on routine government meetings and festivals in town. Perhaps those stories are in great demand by a broad swath of the community, but I doubt it. Now, watch your local TV news — you tell me if it’s coverage is what you want.
I know that newspapers write those stories because they’re easy to do, don’t take long and fill the pages. In all the feedback from readers and research I got when I was an editor, I can’t remember anyone saying that readers want more coverage of festivals and meetings. On the other hand, I can’t say that they asked for investigative enterprise stories, either. But, at least if you cover them, you will be adding to the public good, and that’s something.
Most newsrooms don’t have enough journalists to cover their communities properly. That means editors must be ruthless in choosing what to cover, which is what liberal Democrats are telling Pew Research. Be original, relevant and important.
I’m not alone, either. From John Avlon at CNN:
“Amid sprawling spin and superficiality, the value in news today comes from edgy, original reporting pursued without fear or favor. News organizations should be non-partisan, but not neutral — hitting targets on the right and the left, as the facts dictate. We need to be happy warriors who love confronting bullies, bigots and hypocrites on either side of the aisle.”
Personally, if I were still running a newsroom, I’d skew toward more opinion pieces that guide the community and that call BS more aggressively. (I’d also devote more attention to distinguishing the digital report, but that’s another topic.)
But here’s the other shoe that Pew Research dropped: What topics did respondents say they liked most?
“Three-in-ten describe the media’s most positive attribute as simply doing their job of reporting the news, whether in general or on a specific topic. (Weather and traffic tops the list of subject areas, named by 11% of U.S. adults.)”
Weather and traffic.