Thursday, August 13, 2009

As national news media go for niches, local media are increasingly needed to deliver facts

We're still urging rural journalists, as we did earlier this week, to do their own reports on the debate over health-insurance reform, because the battle in Congress and the country shows no signs of letting up -- and because some of your readers, viewers and listeners clearly need other sources of information. NBC's First Read reports this morning that at a town-hall meeting held by Sen. Ben Cardin in Hagerstown, Md., yesterday, "One mother-daughter combo -- unprompted -- enthusiastically boasted, "Fox rules!" "It's all we ever watch!"

That reflects a longstanding human proclivity, to prefer sources of information that comfirm our values and pre-existing beliefs, that has been amplified in recent years by the multiplication of the national news media and the resulting fractionalization of their audience. Fox capitalized on the established networks' liberal tilt, which was much milder than their conservative critics argued. Now MSNBC has carved out a niche on the liberal side, and rather than surf through channels for different views, many if not most viewers stick to one national brand.

Meanwhile, most of these TV news outlets spend too much time and money on talking heads who spout opinion than on reporters who perform the much tougher, more expensive and time-consuming jobs of digging up and presenting facts. In the last two decades, the market for opinion in this country has increased while the market for fact has decreased. That is not good for a representative democracy that depends on a well-informed public. At the local level, news outlets still emphasize fact, and that is probably why they are more trusted. Let's honor that trust with presentation of facts, and debunking of falsehoods.

1 comment:

Howard Owens said...

Most of the community discussion on The Batavian the past 48 hours or so has been about health care. You could say we're crowdsourcing the coverage. It's mostly been pretty informative.