Evaluating Media Bias: A Discussion About 21st Century Information Consumption

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Adam Schiffer, Associate Professor in the TCU Political Science Department, spoke about media bias in the April luncheon meeting of the Women’s Policy Forum.

Schiffer presented an idea that common discussions regarding media bias from a liberal or conservative political viewpoint are missing the point.  He argued that the real media bias is more complicated – and less political than commonly thought.

Schiffer said the common biases that modern day journalism fall into are guided more by other factors, including ratings, outside influences, profit margins and consolidation of media ownership. Common biases that Schiffer recognized in his research include: color/emotion, negativity/conflict, personalization, “horse race” and official sources bias.  Often, he said, local television news in all markets focuses on crime, accidents and disasters especially in the first part of the newscast where longer stories are aired. 

 

He cited the increase in negative stories in Presidential Nominees coverage since 1960, with negative coverage outpacing positive stories since the mid-1980s.

He also shared research on the news reports from the 2016 general election which showed 42% of coverage dedicated to “horse race” – including polling stories and campaign strategies – and only 10% of the stories covering policy stands.

 

In order to give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing, Schiffer presented several ideals that news should follow.  He said that news should:

·       Seek the truth –

·       Verify - not simply report what one or both sides are saying

·       Be loyal to citizens, not advertisers or others

·       Maintain independence

·       Monitor power

·       Be comprehensive & proportional – like a good map.  Not fixating on a particular story at the expense of others

He concluded by saying, “Quality journalism is more important, not less, in the 21st Century.” He said citizens should be prepared to pay for their news so that news outlets are not beholden to advertisers and presented a call to action for individuals to identify the real biases and criticize those, demanding more and better coverage of stories resulting in higher quality news. 

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