The News Media’s Ineptitude

Detailing mistakes the News Media claims to have learned from back in back in 2016

The news media has most definitely NOT learned from the lessons of 2016. Despite some journalists and editors proclaiming they were going to do some introspection to understand the role the media played in the 2016 election, the news media is falling into some of the same terrible habits that I personally believe helped allow Donald Trump become the current 45th President of the United States in the first place. Spoiler alert, it’s mostly about the ratings.

Despite doing a story on this in 2016, some of this information bares repeating, because as I said earlier, the news media has clearly not learned the lessons many in that community claimed they were seeking. What’s perhaps most frustrating is how blatantly open news media owners were in 2016 about why they gave Donald Trump tons of free airtime. according to one Forbes article, “Across ABC, CBS and NBC, Trump’s campaign received 822 minutes of airtime between January 1 and Labor Day [2016], according to the Tyndall Report, while Clinton attracted just 386 minutes.”

Before diving any further, I feel it is necessary to make a major disclaimer. In no way do I agree with the 45th President, or the many other attacks launched by Republican leaders on the news media. Journalism, despite it’s faults, does play an important role in disseminating (sometimes) useful information and allows us to learn about the world around us. I don’t think the news media is the enemy of the American people. I just think the news media has lost its way; instead focusing on collecting sound bites and metrics with baited headlines. Even some veteran reporters like Eric Black agree, who in a MinnPost editorial explained how

“Most “information” is now carried on the internet and social media platforms. TV news is divided substantially between righty and lefty shows. There are winners and losers in the new information economy, but one of the biggest losers has been the old religion about the importance of basic factual accuracy and what used to be called “balance.””

I think the news media can do better.

All Things Equal in the Rope-a-dope

Essentially, in its current form, the news media appears to be inept at doing it’s job properly, i.e dispersing information. This is especially true when they cover the 45th President. However, this problem of ineptitude is also about how the news media frames the information they share, which in turn informs how we the people discuss the topics on which they focus.

Whether they understand it or not, the news media is also amplifying and normalizing Trump’s propaganda, which again determines how we the people talk about these issues. Zhivko Illeieff details this cycle in his extremely elucidating story.

To expand on this, nancy gibbs points out in one of her Medium articles (more on that later) how our 45th President gets away with this type of behavior. In the article, which is primarily about the waning trust in the media, she explains how the President employs his subterfuge in order to essentially trick the news media into disseminating his messages. She explains how

"Trump is a master at weaponizing journalism’s core principles. Even as reporters debunk his latest conspiracy theory, Trump signals to his cohort that they alone are smart enough to see the Deep State at work. Such is the cunning advantage of the shameless: You accuse the other side of cheating even as you brazenly mark the deck and palm the cards."

Part of what allowed Trump to ascend to the presidency in the first place was, as a multi-part research series on the 2016 election by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorestein Center on Media concluded, was the media’s “negative bias,” meaning members of both print and broadcast journalism overwhelmingly reported on negative news coverage of both candidates during the 2016 Presidential election. The study concluded that,

“If everything and everyone is portrayed negatively, there’s a leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans. The press historically has helped citizens recognize the difference between the earnest politician and the pretender. Today’s news coverage blurs the distinction.”

Trevor Noah and the writers of the Daily Show commented on this, explaining how the news media exacerbated a lie by by the current president of the United States about then presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. But the important part of the segment comes when Noah makes a point about how Trump sometimes uses these bad habits of the media to his advantage.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows further examines how the media’s negativity bias continues failing the American people. In the article, he points to the fact that in its quest to appear “normal” and “balanced,” the news media sometimes creates a false equivalence between events and scandals. He uses the backdrop of the 2016 Presidential Election, explaining how the news media’s

“…instinct toward structural balance is so powerful in the press—and because several institutions, notably NPR and The New York Times, seem so hyperaware of the criticism they receive for having a “liberal bias”—much of the press presented things that were not similar as if they were. For instance, on the one hand, there were deals and donations that could “raise questions” about the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s own business life. On the other hand, Donald Trump flat-out refused to release his tax returns or any honest information about his business deals, so the press and public could not get even to the “raise questions” stage.”

Fallows goes on to explain how the news media was falling into this same trap again, this time during the “Trump-Ukraine Scandal.” Others, like David Bauder of The Associated Press have pointed out that part of this problem may be due to the fact that the lines between our fact based media and editorial content continues blurring, creating a confusing mess between fact and fiction. In an article, Bauder details how the 24-hour news cycle and the subsequent channels that report it are now mostly opinion based channels where nobody can doubt how the commentators on those channels feel about the news. He goes on to describe, as mentioned earlier, that this has created a boon in ratings for said channels, explaining that

“The cable networks have turned politics into prime-time entertainment, and it’s been both great for business and polarizing: Fox News Channel (from the right) and MSNBC (from the left) are frequently the most-watched cable networks in the country.”

Even during the global pandemic, the news media can’t help but chase ratings, trying to boost their numbers. Paul Farhi and Elahe Izadi of the Washington Post explain their frustrations with the practice of bringing in celebrities that aren’t knowledgeable on a variety of subjects for soundbites.

This is perhaps the most egregious step the news media has taken as a way to chase ratings. Sure, the cable news outlets often go to the extreme sides frequently, but the news media’s infatuation with political news coverage spills out into the “mainstream media” as well. This is equally frustrating and alarming because, as it’s been made clear by the people who own the major networks, their goal is ratings and clicks, which means any semblance of a rational discussion is thrown away and the voices that they amplify are those on either end of the political spectrum because it creates conflict, which creates ratings.

PS — It is precisely because of the news media obsession with ratings and other metrics that I am certain there is no elite media conspiracy that allegedly protects certain people belonging to one political party. This obsession with ratings, clicks and other metrics prevents them from protecting anyone because the news media will most assuredly chew up and spit out the bones of anyone for a scoop, exclusive or a boost to their precious metrics. Why do you think the news media is salivating so much about the recent capture of Ghislaine Maxwell? I can promise you that it’s not because they want to see her brought to justice.

Tired of Spinning in Circles

When one multiplies the previous maladies mentioned with social media, it’s no wonder then that an average person might find themselves fatigued and apathetic by what feels like an onslaught of information.

In short, the news media may be exhausting people to the point where it’s becoming harder to tell the difference between facts and “fake news.” Or maybe people are so jaded they don’t give a shit. I don’t know.

I always thought it was extremely important to understand the difference between editorial content and actual factual news. Unfortunately, we the people might not always be able to tell the difference between “real” and “fake” news. What’s worse, in certain instances, during the 2016 election, “fake news” outperformed real news! Even more concerning, a new study suggests that almost half of Americans struggle to discern between information that is true or false. Just look at all the misinformation people are ingesting about the coronavirus, which is hampering a sound response to this literal history making event.

Sometimes, in their chase for ratings and scoops, even news media companies get caught up in this confusion while trying to report the news, like what happened with that whole phony Pelosi video. A better example of the news media’s incompetence was pointed out again by The Daily Show, revealing how one story pushed in the media for quite some time was not all it seemed to be.

Both stories modern day microcosms of a much larger and frustrating news media macrocosm; where it feels like the news media chases the ratings by not checking all the facts, and in some cases (accidentally?) giving legitimacy to conspiracy theories and voices that, in the past, most people probably would not have paid attention to.

Yet they give those groups coverage anyway, either purposefully or not, because again, they feel like extreme voices create conflict which equals ratings. But then journalists and others in the news media have the audacity to act astonished when they see how many people are subscribing to these various conspiracy theories.

As this insane cycle continues, it creates this veritable chicken or the egg scenario. Are people losing trust in the news media because they’re disillusioned and see through these shallow attempts for ratings and clicks or are people falling for the conspiracy theories that promote a distrust of the news media after the conspiracy theories are promoted by the news media?

I mention this because, let’s be honest, people do not trust journalists or the news media (aka those who are supposed to share “the facts”). Unfortunately, those are most definitely facts. The numbers don’t lie.

It was only a few years ago, back in 2016 that news media and journalism had it’s lowest favorability and trust ratings since polling on that kind of thing began happening. That number has vacillated in the last few years. Regardless, these surveys show there is a great deal of room for improvement. A 2019 Pew report shows that 41% of Americans “have a great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in newspapers, television and radio to report the news "fully, accurately and fairly." Yet during the Coronavirus pandemic, the public at large has once again began losing trust.

Look at it this way, you know you’re not doing a good job at sharing news and information when people would rather listen to or read things from clearly outrageous conspiracy theories. That would be like if someone was offered a meal at Masa in New York City, but instead decides to eat a half chewed burger found in a dumpster fire in the neighboring alleyway because said someone doesn’t trust Masa’s chef, Masayoshi Takayama.

And look, I totally understand why so many, myself included are becoming more and more fed up with “mainstream news media.” As I said earlier, ideally, the news media is supposed to be the place we turn for information. And yet, more and more, so many of us are wary and exhausted by this place. It’s made even more exhausting because, in today’s media landscape, there’s a whole process one has to go through to see if we’re getting trustworthy and truthful information. This process involves checking sources, seeing (if possible) what agenda said person (or company) distributing the information is trying to push, determining if it is clickbait, ECT. I’ve published a couple stories on that process too.

My point is, at some point, maybe, if the news media wants to be taken seriously, they are going to have to take steps towards fixing their broken systems.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that it’s not the responsibility of journalists or others who work in the orbit of journalism to worry about or cater to public opinion. But maybe they should, though that doesn’t mean everything should be puppies and raccoon-cats, as John Oliver explained on an episode of his show about Journalism. All I mean is that journalists need to do something to potentially win back more trust in public opinion, otherwise, who is going to continue taking it seriously? Clearly, some people aren’t taking it seriously now, as many would rather get their information from dumpster fire conspiracy websites.

Understanding Our Role

Unfortunately, I think some of this the fault lies with we the people. While we sometimes (but not always) speak out against malpractice from politicians or certain corporate entities, I don’t think we do enough to demand change from the news media. Sure, sometimes we protest certain talking heads by threatening their advertising revenue, but that’s not nearly the same as demanding structural change from within the news industry.

Personally, I don’t know of what solutions one can take to make certain changes occur. Luckily, there are several people on Medium who have some thoughts on the matter. I encourage everyone to read the words of these brilliant minds, not only to inspire yourself which can potentially allow you to make your own solutions, but to also demand more from your news media.

danah boyd’s story not only examines why her trust in the news media is waning, but also offers some solutions like creating a sustainable infrastructure for intermediaries of information w/o the pressures of their ROI (ratings, clicks) and rebuilding the social networks of America.

nancy gibbs’s Medium story examines the growing distrust many people feel toward the news media, but also how the news media can build back some of that trust, through diversity of people working in news rooms and also creating more transparent ways to communicate” …how sources are vetted for credibility and bias, how classified materials are handled, how coverage decisions are made.”

Finally, Amanda Ripley of Solutions Journalism offers perhaps the most comprehensive details about how the news media can potentially create a different kind of journalism to win back viewers and trust, explaining how “[News outlets] have to shift from a one-night stand business model to a long-term relationship with readers…”

Change is only possible if we the people not only demand it of our news outlets, not just on the national level, but also the local level too.

Brycical is by no means a journalist. But still, like many people, Brycical isn’t immune to noticing certain patterns about how the world apparently “works” for some. So Brycical writes about it, hoping more will notice these patterns, get inspired and perhaps feel inclined to also speak up. Feel free to read more of the patterns Brycical notices on here or check out his website to learn more about him.

is a writer that always seems to be working on at least five different projects while attempting to share musings and revelations on a regular-ish basis.

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