The media: untrustworthy, biased, negative and divisive, right?
A 2016 survey showed 52 percent of adults said they have “some confidence” in media coverage, while 41 percent said they have “hardly any confidence,” according to the American Press Institute.
“Over the last two decades, research shows the public has grown increasingly skeptical of the news industry,” according to the survey report. “The study reaffirms that consumers do value broad concepts of trust like fairness, balance, accuracy and completeness.”
In recent months, news organizations have been criticized for being too focused on negative content as well as being unable to accurately represent the world around us — adding to society’s lack of trust. While these concerns are valid in many instances regarding news coverage, the media is not solely to blame. The coverage of media we are constantly exposed to is only a reflection of society’s interests and what people actually want to hear.
As the editorial board for Scroll, we strive to report on newsworthy content the BYU-Idaho community would be interested in. However, one of Scroll’s common critiques is that we tend to focus on “clickbait, honor code debates” people deem irrelevant.
The data shows, however, that these articles are not that irrelevant to our audience. Scroll has covered important subjects including the Church’s efforts in protecting religious freedom, domestic and sexual abuse on campus and a front page story on Rexburg’s outreach to help refugees worldwide, to name a few.
However, a majority of our most viewed, shared and discussed articles deal with subjects concerning beard cards, yoga pants at the gym and man-buns on campus.
Brandon Stanton, founder and photographer of the popular photoblog, Humans of New York, gave a TED Talk titled, “The Good Story,” at Columbia College on the topic of news, storytelling and perception.
“Since the media’s job is to tell us stories, it only makes sense that they tell us the story we’re most interested in hearing — that’s good business,” Stanton said. “Otherwise, we change the channel or pick up a different newspaper.”
We desire to inform and promote discussion on the many issues Scroll reports on every semester, and while we hope many of these discussions take place on hard-hitting, pertinent issues, it’s usually not the case.
“Facts are important, but facts aren’t what sells newspapers; facts aren’t what keeps media in business,” Stanton said in his TED Talk. “Their job is to tell a good story.”
Stanton said he compared the reasons why people watch movies to why people read or watch the news, and found that the reasons are similar. Today’s popular movies and most-viewed media coverage both focus on content based on violence, crime, danger, sex and conflict. Not that the world is void of any of these elements — that’s far from true — but the focus on negative conflict in the news keeps an audience interested.
“Those things make for an exciting story; those are the things that keep our attention,” Stanton said. “So if the media is filled with these things, it’s only because they are giving us exactly what we want to hear.”
News organizations cannot change or control what their audience is interested in, but if the media wants to keep growing and engaging its audience, they need to listen. Media coverage, and not just news — but books, movies, podcasts, blogs, tweets, television, etc., are merely reflections of the current interests society values. In an endless internet of misleading, clickbait articles, seek out good journalism.
It is crucial to become informed while choosing what news articles we consume, rather than ignorantly sharing headlines and memes on social media. A Columbia University study showed that 59 percent of articles shared on social media were never clicked on. Basically, a majority of people are retweeting and sharing news articles they have never even read — that’s a problem.
Freedom of the press is one of the many constitutional elements that makes America great.
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Thomas Jefferson said.
To help establish a culture that values important, relevant journalism that tells a good story, it’s not enough to just say it. Every click, every like, every comment and every share sends a message to news organizations about what type of coverage people are interested in — what you are interested in.
People have influence over what the media covers. The choice is yours.