It’s normal to watch what you believe in, but to defend what you are watching as unbiased is rationalization.
Until the 1980s, there were no cable news stations in America, but that changed when Ted Turner launched CNN on June 1, 1980 with a 24-hour operation. News producers who worked at local tv stations were familiar with only a few hours of news bulletin throughout the day, but this changed in the ‘80s.
At this point, producers were expected to create content every second of the day, even the tiniest piece of news was flashed as breaking.
In order to compete with CNN, Fox News and MSNBC were launched in 1996. There are 86,400 seconds in a 24-hour day, and producers at cable news stations are expected to fill those with content. At this point, the last thing you are thinking about, as a producer, is how to preserve the rules of journalism that seek impartiality, accountability and the truth.
You are only thinking of winning the competition by being the first to break the news, having exclusive scoops and creating more noise than what is required in a quest to get the most eyeballs.
All news is content, but not all content is news — this is the mantra by which opinionated shows operate. It was a successful attempt by news directors to win primetime and generate revenue.
The American audience enjoyed watching analysis, debates, arguments and ground-zero reports over the boring 30-minute period of actual news, partly because it was the one place that American politeness went for a toss.
So is the news really biased? Yes, but not all of it. National news networks can no longer carry on remaining unbiased. They operate on a psychological theory called “confirmation bias” which is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories.
It’s a revenue model that has succeeded the test of time and doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. With the political tension that exists in America today, a biased news channel will feed on the insecurities and beliefs of more people. No matter what, Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow are taking home their fat paychecks, despite who’s president.
So where does our hope lie? The true champions of journalism lie in your own city, at your local newspaper and your local tv stations. You won’t find unbiased content on national television, but you’ll find it at your local newspaper.
Their unbiasedness becomes weaker when newspapers endorse local candidates for city council, but despite their stance during local elections, local news organizations are heavily scrutinized and follow the highest standards of journalism, even today.
This neutrality of local stations is also because there is greater accessibility. If a local reporter wrote a certain story that has errors, you can call up the reporter, write an email and get it rectified or offer your suggestions. Will Hannity and Maddow pick up your call? Highly unlikely.
Local reporters and tv anchors are a part of your own community and being biased will reduce their viewership or readers. What works in the closed doors of New York city won’t work in Knoxville. Local journalism is more issue-focused, whereas national journalism is more personality-focused.
When I was working as the government reporter at the Leaf-Chronicle, I remember writing a story on a Brownfield property that was not only an eye-sore but also causing health issues in Clarksville. My editor and I worked for over two months to get the full details to write the story. Such a lengthy timeline is not achievable for national media.
So next time, don’t bother to get in a debate between two cable networks, they all paint with the same brush. Instead, buy local.
Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.