Is News Dead – Part II

September 16, 2011

Some of you may be saying in response to Is News Dead? – Part I that sensationalized, biased coverage is to be expected from television and that the meaty, factual coverage comes from our newspapers. However, in reality, this isn’t always the case. In fairness, during my 2010 campaign I did run across a handful of excellent journalists who did make an effort to cover the candidates in each of the races. But, in my experience, they were the exception and not the rule. And, even some of those who give you coverage, state “facts” in a way that creates the impression they desire but allows them to deny doing anything but objectively stating the facts. How is this possible?  The wording of a sentence can vary the psychological impact and the metamessage tremendously. Don’t believe for a second that these folks don’t know this and use the power they have to shape perception.

Facts with hidden spin

For example, in my race, the sentences repeated again and again that seemed to be the conclusion of any article about me were “Kansas has not elected a Democratic Senator since 1932” or “It has been more than 70 years since Kansas has had a Democratic Senator”. Is this true?  Of course, it is. Are there other ways to say this that might have been less negatively slanted?  Absolutely. I heard from a lot of folks who were very angry about these sentences because the metamessage was “there’s no need to pay attention to this race because a Democrat will never win”. How could it have been worded differently to avoid this connotation?  How about something like… “If elected, Lisa Johnston would be the first Democratic Senator from Kansas since the 30’s.”  It still states the same fact but creates a totally different impression that is more neutral. And, if the “liberal media” had ever decided to surface they could have chosen to say “Kansas has had nothing but Republican Senators since the 30’s.”  Every one of these sentences states the same “fact” but each of them creates a very different impression.

A prime example of irresponsible journalism

The most disgusted I remember feeling during the 2010 election cycle was in response to the Kansas Gubernatorial candidate coverage. There was a Kansas City Star Prime Buzz blog post that talked about how lonely Tom Holland was at his press conference and that he didn’t cry but no one would blame him if he had.  The post was poking fun at Tom because only one reporter came to his press conference to discuss his plans for Kansas. The post ended by noting that Sam Brownback would be having a press conference in the near future and that the author was betting more reporters would show up for that event. What the author did not realize is that, rather than showing some weakness of Tom, he was really highlighting the bias and arrogance of some journalists. Shame on the Kansas City area media for refusing to cover the Democratic candidate for Governor. Citizens need to be informed. They need to hear from all the candidates so they can make the best decision in casting their vote.

Making your decisions for you

The message seems to be that the press will decide if you are worthy of their coverage and, if not, you can forget it. They will cover the candidates they feel like covering and communicate the information they want the public to hear. Maybe someday soon these journalists will also offer to cast your ballot for you since many don’t seem to be invested in promoting informed decision-making based on a balanced presentation of facts. Not only is this disappointing but it is arrogant, irresponsible, and wrong.

Our role in press accountability

None of us should be willing to accept this trend because it represents one more way news is dying. Even if your favorite candidate is lucky enough to be getting the lion’s share of the coverage now, this won’t always be the case. Do you want journalists deciding which candidates or issues you should be informed about?  If we allow this to continue, we will essentially have propaganda machines masquerading as newspapers spoon feeding readers only the information they want you to have. How can we stop this dagger from being continuously plunged into the heart of news? First, complain when you see it happening. Don’t just shrug it off. Write a letter to the editor. Second, do not under any circumstances rely on only one source of news. Make it your responsibility to get informed. The web is a wonderful tool. Use it wisely as a good consumer of information.

The power of the press is substantial but it is important that this power be used ethically and responsibly and it is our job as citizens and readers to be sure the media maintains a high standard and is accountable.