xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Many look for affirmation, not information, in media

There's a long line of conservatives who have found themselves bashing the mainstream media over perceived bias. Just look to the current Republican presidential hopefuls such as Donald Trump or Ben Carson for a few fine examples of this.

So, if you are conservative, a Washington Times report released earlier this week should come as no surprise. The Washington Times reported on an Indiana University study that found only 7 percent of journalists considered themselves Republicans while 28 percent identified as Democrats. The remainder of the group saw themselves as independents and, interestingly, the number of independents has actually grown since the 1970s.

Advertisement

With these numbers in mind, consider what happened at the University of Missouri this past week. As students protested what they called the university president's weak response in dealing with racism on campus, local and student media showed up to cover the event. Usually protesters want the media's attention but these just wanted them out. Even a professor of communications — who had ties with universities prestigious journalism program that have since been cut — called for "muscle" to remove reporters from a public space because they didn't trust their coverage. The "muscle" made it tough to cover the news that day and provide any attempt at a balanced report for those who wanted to know what was going on.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and venture a guess that the majority of these protesters identified as Democrats, or at least not as Republicans. So now in addition to conservatives questioning the veracity of the news media, the left might be doing the same. A quick reaction would be to just say that the media is out of touch. And while this journalist won't disagree that there are pockets of that, let's not be that fast to judge the media as a whole.

Advertisement

There's a popular theory now that we're in what's been called "the age of affirmation," a time when we seek news reporting that doesn't challenge one's core beliefs. It's why we see conservatives flock to Fox News because it covers news and commentary from their perspective right of center. And it's why liberals follow CNN or MSNBC more because they have commentators left of center. In the case of the Missouri students, they didn't trust the media to tell their side of the story effectively because black students distrusted the media to get their story correct.

The issue is not just a journalistic one; it's a byproduct of a polarized society, fueled in large part by a dysfunctional political environment. Many now get their news from friends and trusted news sources through social media. With Facebook and Twitter, the news that you want finds you. And because you can pick those sources, most are rarely challenged by another point of view, keeping us from ever rethinking our own position or learning from one another.

There used to be a saying in journalism circles that if you were upsetting both the left and the right, you must be doing your job. And, as the Indiana University study shows, most journalists want to walk that fine line between the left and the right. I'll admit, it's sometimes hard to do, as we all bring our biases to everything we do. And maybe journalists as a whole sometimes need to be better at suppressing our personal opinions. At the same time, we have to hope we'll get to a point where people will be willing to challenge their own way of thinking, even if it just helps them become more convinced that they were right in the first place. We all want affirmation in life, but we shouldn't want it at the potential cost of learning something new.

Paul Milton is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at pmilton@carrollcountytimes.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement