I love the news. I love reading it, watching it, and listening to it. And most importantly, as you may have heard if you listen to my show, Newspoint (Tuesdays from 2pm to 4pm on this very blog’s affiliated college radio station) I love discussing it afterwards and getting to share and listen to opinions. Putting all shameless plugs aside however, I feel that there is quite a bit that I’ve learned about the news media as a self-proclaimed “news junkie,” and I wanted to take the time to share them with readers, and people who are fans and haters of the media alike.
1. Local and broadcast news has less political bias than cable, but cable isn’t completely biased, either
One of the biggest complaints I often hear regarding cable news channels is that they are too biased when the subject turns to politics, and many have found this to be especially evident during this election season. The left and the right have both hurled accusations of media bias at each other over various networks and who they say these networks support or what causes or policies they may believe in.
CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC are the three main 24 hour cable news channels in America. Some claim that these networks are either too far to the left or too far to the right, or not in-between enough, to claim to provide non-biased, fair, and balanced coverage of the elections and other political topics.
Whatever these biases may or may not be, one thing that many people don’t realize is that cable news outlets are all businesses. And the goal of a business, first and foremost, is to make money. And their owners will set out to make money for their business in any way that they can, with one of the best ways of making money being getting satisfied customers who will fall in love with your product and keep coming back for more.
Therefore, it is in the interests of the people who run some of these networks to appeal to specific sides of the political aisle and target specific demographics to gain more viewership and profit, especially in an election year. There is nothing wrong with this when you look at it from a business standpoint, but many do have their own concerns and beliefs that the networks try too hard to push narratives onto people.
Many also don’t realize that cable news channels contain opinion programming and shows that provide commentary on news, rather than just straight news for 24 hours. While the news never stops, there are still such things as slow news days, and the 24 hour news networks have quite a lot of time to fill. They need to air an entire day’s worth of programming, and to keep things fresh and interesting for their respective audiences, commentary programs get thrown into the mix, often times with mixed reactions from audiences depending on their political views. And many people probably unknowingly tune in to a broadcast of an opinion show on what’s labeled as a “news” channel, and end up being turned off completely by what they are seeing.
On the other hand, local news broadcasts are only on for a certain amount of time each day, and while cable networks can cover national and worldwide stories, the local news has to devote more time to local stories and things happening in a particular city or region, and with the added time constraints, they have to get to the point right away and get straight information across to their viewers, instead of trying to tell their opinion or debate on a story or political topic, which would be considered wasting valuable time and what could also prove to be unappealing for their viewers, many of whom tune in to be informed, not to have their opinions validated or to see people arguing about politics.
Not to say that all 24 hour news is going to be nothing but 24 hours of the pushing of liberal or conservative viewpoints. Their regular news broadcasts and shows that don’t have commentary or opinion segments tend to be more informative than not. And nightly broadcast news and the news that is shown for national breaking events tends to be more informative and less opinionated, if it contains any opinionated viewpoints in its coverage at all.
For example, when there is a major breaking story and one is watching the Fox broadcasting channel (Fox 32 here in Chicago), Fox interrupts normal programming and Shepard Smith anchors the “Fox News Special Report” for live updates. And his coverage of events is typically very good and non-biased, and even on his own show, “Shepard Smith Reporting” on the Fox News Channel, he tends to remain neutral on the stories that are covered, unlike many of his other colleagues on the network who host opinion programming, most of which tends to lean further to the right on the spectrum due to their business model, and proves to be very unpopular with many news viewers.
The following video is a prime example of the differences between Shepard Smith, a news anchor and reporter, and several hosts of The Five, political debate and opinion show that happened to be on around the time that the Baltimore riots began, when Shepard Smith had a live update to bring to viewers.
Starting at the 1:50 mark, Eric Bolling, a Five commentator and opinion host, cuts off Shepard Smith in the middle of his reporting to announce what he thinks civil rights leaders should have been doing at the time. Smith rebukes with a sarcastic comment and continues his reporting on the event, until another Five commentator, Greg Gutfeld, asks Smith at the 2:57 mark where he thinks the parents of the rioters are. Smith once again responds with sarcasm and tells them essentially the best thing he could have as a proper news anchor.
And that is whatever comments or hypothetical questions that they may have are best to be saved for after all of the news has been told once they have full reign of their own show again, rather than rudely cutting off a news anchor or asking him strange questions to go off on a tangent about civil rights leaders while an entire part of an American city is being torn apart. Some may see this as part of the reason why opinion programming on news channels might not always work if the opinion hosts are suddenly live-commentating on a breaking story and doing less anchoring/reporting and more of just giving their opinion.
2. Local personalities are likely to be more “trustworthy” or fun to watch than national ones among many viewers
A big part of televised news is the group of people who are presenting the news. The presenters of many national programs are often times accused of being biased towards certain viewpoints or trying to push their own narratives and beliefs onto others through their programs. Examples include Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC; and Sean Hannity, the hosts of Fox & Friends, and Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel.
Of course, what many don’t realize is that these are the hosts of news opinion shows, not straight news shows. Their jobs are to be the presenters of a story and then provide their opinion on it afterwards, which is a format that may not be appealing to all audiences. They all have their own respective fans, but more often than not, they get many who disagree with their points of view or ways of telling the news, and average viewers who just want to know the news of the day are likely to not enjoy such programs where opinions are told and where hosts and guests yell over each other if a different opinion is brought up to challenge the host’s opinion.
Moving away from how the cable network businesses operate, local news anchors are much more likely to be the presenters of pure news and information, with little room or time left for opinions or any kind of “narrative-pushing” that people say that the cable channels have.
As a result, many end up enjoying the presence of local hosts due to the opinion-free delivery of the news, on top of the fact that local personalities can be more relatable due to just the location alone and what might be going on around the city that they talk about.
For example, WGN Morning News is one of the highest rated morning shows in the Chicago area, often beating out Good Morning America and the Today show in our market.
Audiences enjoy tuning in to see what’s going on in the city as far as news and weather goes as well as unbiased national and political news, plus the lighthearted and comedic banter between the presenters, and as a result, people like Larry Potash and Robin Baumgarten have become the familiar faces of Chicagoans who are loyal fans of WGN Morning News.
3. Websites can appeal to specific opinions even more than TV and radio
Of course, the news doesn’t just exist on television. Thanks to the power of the internet, we now have innumerable sources of news to access. Much of the general news read online from traditional news sites such as the websites of Reuters, the Associated Press, and even the websites of most local and national sources like WGN, ABC, NBC, etc. tend to focus more on telling the news as it is and sticking to facts over opinions. But this doesn’t mean that the internet is also free from biases in the way the news is told and opinion articles associated with them.
There are many websites such as Breitbart, Salon, and The Drudge Report, which are entities that tell news but also try to tell it to a specific audience to get a certain reaction. They are all considered to be biased, just towards different sides of the political spectrum, and it shows once their opinion pages start showing either all-conservative or all-liberal viewpoints where they consider themselves to be right constantly and love to shun their opposition.
However, much like the cable news networks, these websites are businesses that exist to appeal to a specific group of people in order to get them to visit more often, provide money through ad revenue or other legitimate means for a media company, and to keep their audiences happy.
4. Talk radio is a toss-up between friendly/open to opinion, and highly opinionated
I couldn’t write a blog about the media without talking about the type of media in which I am currently a part of! Talk radio is one of the oldest forms of broadcast media, and it’s still often used as a news source as well as entertainment. But, much like cable news, there are also many commentary and opinion programs on the radio. Here in Chicago, the AM dial is full of stations dedicated to talking about a slew of different subjects, and each one offering different opinions on their respective programs. But one thing I’ve noticed is that there is some contrast between certain shows and stations that can determine how some listeners may find it enjoyable.
Many shows on talk radio exist specifically to push certain opinions and appeal to specific demographics, much like a lot of the opinion programs on cable news. But on the radio, the hosts of these shows can accept calls and hear from listeners about what they might think of a certain subject. Many shows on stations such as AM560: The Answer (which leans to the right) and WCPT (which leans to the left) usually just get callers from a more obvious listener base, the specific group that is their target demographic, so therefore, many callers are usually just going to agree with the host, or at least not go against them too hard.
But when someone with an opposite belief does call in, often times it can get a bit heated between the caller and the host, and depending on the host or the caller and how much they want to try to counter each other, it could devolve into a shouting match and a game to see who is louder (which, for the record, the host will always win, because he or she will always have control of the sound levels and can hang up at any time). But this type of radio, for some, can be headache-inducing, and I can understand why many would want to avoid such programs unless they enjoy hearing a host yelling at callers who might present different opinions.
Even when there aren’t calls being taken, many hosts themselves can be almost exhausting to listen to. While there is no problem with being passionate about a subject, sometimes a host can sound over the top in the same manner as certain cable news hosts when talking about something in regards to politics, and they may have views that many aren’t going to agree with. As a result, they only end up appealing to a specific group of people, and they won’t have any kind of mass appeal.
But not all talk radio is going to be over-opinionated shouting down a mic. In my opinion, some of the best talk radio out there is the kind which is open to other opinions and beliefs, and ones where the hosts aren’t going to be yelling at callers or hanging up on them if they disagree with their viewpoints. WGN Radio’s Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder have proven to be prime examples of this kind of talk program, especially giving them a listen during this election season.
Bill and Wendy would often take calls on their program from people who all had many different beliefs and opinions from each other, but they tried to remain as respectful as they could to their callers. Not yelling at them and telling them that they’re wrong, not hanging up if a caller isn’t agreeing with them, and doing their best to just let everyone get their own side of the story out before discussing the opinions afterwards.
It’s a much more open, lighthearted, and relaxing show to listen to, and it’s a very welcome change from what you might hear on other stations that contain opinion programming. The fact that they not only discuss news and current events but also general going-ons around Chicago makes for a more interesting show to those who might not want to hear about politics 24/7 on the radio.
5. Mainstream media is not evil, but it is a business
Last, but not least, I wanted to touch upon this whole idea of the “Mainstream Media.” That’s a phrase which was brought up a lot over the last year, and one which now has a fairly negative connotation to it due to the usage by many who have anti-establishment beliefs in politics. Many claim that the mainstream media, which includes all of the cable news channels plus many newspapers and websites affiliated with the news channels and the papers, is too biased, untrustworthy, skimps on details, or all of the above. I find it especially amusing when certain commentators on Fox News and even CNN “call out” the mainstream media while they themselves are on two of the most mainstream news channels and are earning paychecks from these networks.
This loops right back to the first point that I made, and it’s that the major networks and newspapers are most likely not working with secret ulterior motives to suppress facts and information and create a “brainwashed public” or whatever conspiracy theorists like to believe that the media is doing. The ultimate goal of these networks is to make money, and they do so by appealing to a specific demographic in their commentary programming and style of telling news. This way, audiences will become loyal viewers and tune in continuously for more.
Is the media never at fault and always 100% trustworthy? Of course not, CNN and Fox News have both had their share of incidents in which one could easily question their methods of telling the news, and many find their opinion programming to be undesirable viewing.Fox News ran many stories and had serious discussions regarding the conspiracy theory that Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. And Don Lemon of CNN just recently called out a CNN reporter for using a CNN cameraman for a man-on-the-street interview at a protest.
But this is the reason why I am open to viewing all media. If you stick with one source for too long, especially if this source has a history of appealing to specific demographics and with hosts that may have certain biases, then you likely aren’t going to see little more than what just one group of people are thinking when it comes to a certain topic. It’s better to maintain an open mind in consuming media, and while it’s great that various commentators get to share their opinions, we should never look to one source of news to validate what we believe, and we must always form our opinions on our own.