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Distributing information, and by consequence helping sway public opinion, has always been the role of news organizations.  Moreover, today the distribution of information has become realtime while the sources of information has grown exponentially.  But has this really helped Americans become more aware and informed of the pressing issues of the day?  Or, has the evolution of news gathering and reporting resulted in the opposite and an erosion of America's intelligence and ability to make well-informed decisions.  Consider the following:

  1. Explosion of News Sources  
  1. Blurred lines between News Programs and Entertainment Programs  
  1. Decreasing Independence of News Organizations.
  1. Blurred lines between News Reporting and Editorial Commentary
  1. Little emphasis on checking facts.

What to do...

America has always faced great challenges.  Each generation further defines the real character of this nation.  And, many of these changes in our society are substanative and lasting.  One only has to look back in our shared history to see how the great American society has evolved with such examples as the woman's movement or civil rights or the growth of worker unions.  

In all of this, distributing information, and by consequence helping sway public opinion, has always been the role of news organizations. This has proven to be a power that has, and will continue to, shape our lives and our country's destiny. But news organizations are undergoing some fundamental changes of their own.  Today the distribution of information has become realtime while the sources of information has grown exponentially.  

But has this really helped Americans become more aware and informed of the pressing issues of the day?  Or, has the evolution of news gathering and reporting resulted in the opposite -- an erosion of America's intelligence and our ability to make well-informed decisions.    Consider the following:

  1. EXPLOSION OF NEWS SOURCES.  The distribution of news and information now comes from an almost unlimited number of sources.  Today's information can be as readily collected from an individual as it can be from a large news organization.
  1. NEWS PROGRAMS VS. ENTERTAINMENT NEWS PROGRAMS.. There has been a blurring in the differences between news programs and entertainment programs (maybe the result of increasing ratings).  Do Rush Limbaugh's listeners think his program is simply for entertainment value or an analysis of the news?
  1. INDEPENDENCE OF NEWS ORGANIZATIONS. There appears to be a lessening of the independence of large news organizations from the influence of the parent company's leadership.  Even if it is not in the form of partisan bias, it can come in the form of ratings pressure that impacts what is reported and how it is reported.
  1. FACTUAL REPORTING VS. EDITORIAL COMMENT.  In reporting the news, there is a blurring between what would be considered news reporting vs. editorial comment.
  1. FACT CHECKING.  There is no significant emphasis on fact checking in reporting, and maybe more importantly, in allowing political leaders make their sound bite claims, emotional appeals or character assignations go relatively unchallenged.

People (being people) have a tendency to listen to those whose ideas and opinions most closely match their own.  With the evolution of news reporting and the news reporting environment, many folks find, and stay with, the news source that most aligns to their own opinions.  And, in the absence of balanced, accurate, and factual reporting, the general public is fast becoming less informed and more siloed in their perceptions of the critical challenges facing our country.

What can be done?

Any changes should start with the large news organizations.  There must be a recognition of the degradation of news reporting by the leaders of the fourth estate, so that positive action can be taken to ensure truth, openness, transparency and balance can remain the foundation of our news organizations.

Probably the most important of these is bolstering truth and facts as news is disseminated.  A co-owned, co-sponsored, and independent fact-checking organization could be established for real-time analysis on key issues.  (As a tangent, Pollsters could also leverage this information, as well, to see the impact of disinformation on public opinion as feedback to Americans.  We might even go so far as to allow the political parties to submit requests for fact checking as a way of getting accurate information out to the public.)  A strong, independent fact checking organization would soon become self supporting as more groups rely on it in their reporting and communications to the American public.  

Maybe our leading news organizations should resume prime time reporting of key issues as they arise or as they come to a critical juncture.  Consider Health Care Reform for a moment.  What if NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, et. al. presented the key issues (complete with fact-checking) so that American's could benefit from non-partisan reporting.  This presentation would obviously needs to include the principle players, but their messaging would be very different if they knew that their claims and characterizations were going to be fact-checked before airing.  Imagine how that would change the very nature of politics -- starting to heal the continued distancing of the polical parties brought on primarily through rhetoric and wild claims.

The challenge on our news organizations is simple.  Do they accept the moral responsibility of ensuring good reporting (be it truthful and balanced) or will they continue down the road of honoring the almighty ratings?  And, is there one news organization with the character to lead this transformational effort?    

Originally posted to 1 Observer on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 03:30 PM PDT.


What actions should the large news organizations take to improve the quality of news reporting?

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| 43 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

    •  Some of the points you raise are valid. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      truong son traveler

      And as noted by others, this not necessarily 'news', but one has to be blind to say this has not gotten systemically much worse over the past 30 years. The advent of cable TV and the 24 hour news cycle has something to do with this, as well as deregulation of media markets and the influence of AM talk radio.

      Newsrooms, which were once generally given at least some nominal isolation from the 'profit making' center of corporations are now clearly in the sphere of influence of demands of the shareholders and owners. The effect of the erosion varies from company to company, but across the board, what consisted of an idea, a concept of a firewall between objective journalism and influence of financial interests appears to be almost totally gone.

      The breakdown of reason and reality is not limited to journalism: the breakdown affects education, institutions of science and social sciences as well.

      Here's where I disagree with you.
      Journalism's ONLY duty and responsibility is to report truth, and facts. Responsible journalism and journalistic analysis should never show preference towards untruths, and should never 'take sides' in a political debate. Ever.

      As much as I like Olbermann and Maddow, they are not filling the primary function of what journalists should be: out of necessity because of the horrible imbalance they act as political messengers, as well as presenting factual analysis. No one will dent that they are clearly biased, and present a bias in the way they report news. If they were 'straight' journalists, frankly they would never have the air time and slots they have, because "straight journalism doesn't sell".

      "the work goes on, the cause endures .. "

      by shpilk on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 04:04:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Also that today's America (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko, greengemini, CajunBoyLgb, speak2me

    doesn't put much importance on education and being well informed and more intelligent. Today it is more popular and reinforced to have 15 jobs than to go to school so it usually links to American media and whatnot.

    Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

    by JamesE on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 03:34:12 PM PDT

  •  where you (3+ / 0-)

    lose me is the part where you think it's a news org's job to sway public opinion.

    It's not. Their job is to report the news. No editorializing, no hinting one way or another about what is right or what is wrong.

    Report the news.

    That's it.

    That's all.

    If it "sways opinion" one way or another, that's a bonus. But that is NOT their job.

    Necessity is the mother of revolution...

    by o the umanity on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 03:36:18 PM PDT

  •  None of that is new. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy, VClib

    In fact, all five of your criteria for the supposed "erosion of American intelligence" could also accurately describe the media environment at the time of the American Revolution and early Republic.

    Call Congress and demand 2 Senators, 1 VOTING Rep, and full home rule for DC citizens. Anything less is un-American.

    by mistersite on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 03:40:39 PM PDT

    •  Yes indeed, back then anyone able to afford (0+ / 0-)

      a printing press - which was a tad higher of a bar than owning a computer and posting on DailyKos (but not that much!) - put out their own version of the news.

      It definitely wasn't the 1960's era of Walter Cronkite speaking for everyone.

  •  Great diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Some people just don't have time to filter through everything coming at them, or have the time to find reliable, objective news sources.  This is a problem.

    The other problem is sociological and psychological.  People just look for what supports what and how they already think and beleive. Facts? Meh.

    One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity nothing beats teamwork." - Mark Twain

    by ohmyheck on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 03:44:12 PM PDT

  •  AND -- History is not taught in our schools (8+ / 0-)

    Believe me, I am a Community College History Professor.  The lack of knowledge among my students and their inability to grasp simple ideas is absolutely stunning.

    Our schools no longer teach history or geography.  It is all now morphed into "social studies" or not taught at all.  We are raising a generation of nice, friendly young people who know nothing.  It will take serious work to turn this around.

    •  Yep! I'm right there with you (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      balancedscales, Cassandra Waites

      I gave a 2-day workshop to school-based Master's level speech-language pathologists this past weekend. They couldn't tell me why we call the 2-3 word phrase typically seen in 2-3 year old kids telegraphic speech. To me that's pretty basic & if you know the backstory on telegrams it helps to remember why kids only include the content words (& not the fluff) in their early phrases/sentences.

  •  pay for news (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    truong son traveler

    Until news sources can get paid for their content, things will continue to decline.  The NY Times should be able to make money for their stories--and use that money to pay reporters and fact checkers.  On this, most here will disagree--everyone likes things for free--and everyone will bitch about the quality.

    You get propaganda on tv--always have, really.  The media is beholden to the money--and if income comes from corporations, they will be pleased by the story.

  •  Improve our public education system. (7+ / 0-)

    Unless we go back to teaching critical thinking skills, none of your suggestions will make any difference at all.

    "...hope is not the equivalent of optimism. Its opposite is not pessimism but despair. So I'm always hopeful." William Sloane Coffin

    by mxwing on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 03:54:29 PM PDT

    •  As well as... (0+ / 0-)

      shutting down the Christianist Academies as well as requiring certification of parents ability before being allow to home school, which will only be allowed for special circumstances.

      F the right wing whiners. I don't care about them any more they can all F themselves for all I care.

      by UndercoverRxer on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 05:59:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sponsors. (2+ / 0-)

    MSM news is always going to be an unreliable source of information because it relies on private sponsors. No one will sponsor programming that puts their own interests in an unfavorable light. What’s needed are more public-funded news networks. A serious public-funded cable news network (with no private sponsorship) would do more to solve the uninformed/misinformed public problem than any kind of regulation that can be put on for-profit news networks.

    •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Taylor

      but how do you un-commercialize all the airwaves?

      Haven't they all been divvied up by now? ;)

      Necessity is the mother of revolution...

      by o the umanity on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 05:24:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We wouldn’t have to un-commercialize all (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        o the umanity

        airwaves. I think that just one serious public-funded cable news network (of the same quality as the commercial networks) would expose a lot of the MSM misinformation. Done right, a serious public-funded cable news network (with no private sponsorship) would become the standard by which the others are measured, because it wouldn’t have private-sector sponsors paying/rewarding it to promote a private/corporate political agenda. Instead, a public-funded cable news network would rely on the well being of the general economy (which generates tax revenues) for its funding.

        •  Funding from tax revenues? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mike Taylor

          Sounds like you're talking about updating The Public Access Channel--or something akin to that. mr. o. always talks about Channel One in NY when someone brings up the subject (and I always think of "Wayne's World" ;))

          That goes back to the early 80's, though, IIRC--and technology has come so far since then! I'd be curious to read your definition of "done right", that sounds like a good diary topic (assuming you haven't done one already, that is)

          Necessity is the mother of revolution...

          by o the umanity on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 09:04:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The 1964 Pulitzer prize for non-fiction (0+ / 0-)

    was Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter. It references anti-intellectualism in the 1800's as well, led by what would today be called the religious right.  This is not a new phenomenon.

    Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger. ~Abbie Hoffman

    by oblios arrow on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 05:52:39 PM PDT

  •  Education (0+ / 0-)

    Is actually the more important issue.

    Re the poll: All of the Above.

    All would be improvements, and they apply to big blogs as well.

    Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

    by koNko on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 08:47:46 PM PDT

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