“There is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so terrible to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a free press.” – Samuel Adams, 1768
“There is a terrific disadvantage not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily, to an administration. Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there still isn’t any doubt that we couldn’t do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.” – John F. Kennedy, 1962
“Since the founding of this nation, freedom of the press has been a fundamental tenet of American life. There is no more essential ingredient than a free, strong and independent press to our continued success in what the founding fathers called our ‘noble experiment in self-government.” – Ronald Reagan, 1983
“Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive. And it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.” – George W. Bush, 2017
I’ve been thinking about the importance and the challenge of staying informed during a time when the media environment is confusing and under siege on multiple fronts. (Full disclosure: the content that follows in this post is mostly perspective and opinion with some supporting research.)
When I was a kid, most people got their news from the nightly national TV news shows. Often it was Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America.” Most read their local newspaper. And many subscribed to either Time or Newsweek. There was less information available to us back in those days and what we read was curated. For the most part, we trusted journalistic standards designed to deliver fair reporting.
These days, being an informed citizen is far more complicated. Thanks to social media and the Internet, we have more information at our disposal than ever before, but the validity of that information varies widely, presenting a constant challenge to citizens looking to simply “get the news.”
The Role of Free Press in a Democracy and The Challenges Facing Media Today
We know a healthy democracy requires a critical mass of adequately informed citizens. As citizens, we need to gain context and understanding of the world we live in and the issues that matter. This must inform us when we vote for our leaders and hopefully facilitate evidence-based discussions with our fellow citizens.
For this, we depend on a robust and independent press to inform, and to shine a light on the powerful, including government and moneyed influence peddlers. This critical watchdog relationship between a free press and democracy has always been well-understood in our country, and press freedom is protected by the First Amendment. This is why the press has been referred to as the guardian of our democracy.
It’s not surprising that world history is replete with examples of authoritarian regimes that sought to discredit, control, and sometimes eliminate press freedoms. Authoritarians are threatened by a free press that reports on their actions. Other powerful interests also seek to discredit the press for the same reason—speaking truth to power is not in their interest.
It is therefore concerning that today, professional journalism faces many serious challenges:
- The public does not trust the media.
- Media credibility faces attacks on multiple fronts, including by President Trump.
- The Internet has broken “old media” business models. For years, old print media has experienced declines in subscription revenue, advertising revenue, and staff.
- There is a tidal wave of “news” published from a wide range of sources. Many are not committed to professional journalistic standards. The end-product ranges from legitimate and highly informative, to propaganda and brazen falsehoods.
- This onslaught of information diminishes the impact of professional and trustworthy media. It can be challenging to sort out credible sources and important stories from those that don’t meet this standard.
- Opinion-oriented media is on the rise, with a strong ideological agenda that often does not provide honest context and fair presentation of evidence. All too frequently, these opinions are driven by interests hiding behind organizations such as think tanks with names that don’t communicate their agenda.
- All the opinion makes it easy for people to find voices that describe the world as they want to see it. The worst of these, and there are many, appeal to the worst in us. Too many mislead and manipulate. And some communicate outright falsehoods that can spread quickly through social media. Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth even gets out of bed.” It’s even more true today.
- With social media, 24-hour cable networks, and the digitization of the news, reporting comes at an ever-faster pace. There is premature analysis and opinion before events can be fully understood. In short, there is too much reaction too fast—but often the first reaction sticks with us.
One thing is clear: there is no easy way to stay informed. The tsunami of good and bad information requires increased skill and critical thinking to be a smart news consumer.
I suspect more of our citizens are well informed these days than ever before. I also suspect more of our citizens are grossly misinformed than ever before. It takes significant and honest effort to be a responsible citizen—this is a challenge for busy people.
Being truly informed is not possible without awareness of one’s own powerful biases, and an effort to fight them, rather than seeking to reinforce them by avoiding or dismissing valid counter evidence. We must constantly scrutinize our own beliefs. (If you don’t think you’re influenced by your own bias, you probably exhibit a higher than average level of bias.)
In the book The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel articulate the core challenge:
“In the new century, one of the most profound questions for a democratic society is whether news can survive as a source of independent and trustworthy information, or whether it will give way to a system of self-interested propaganda, of citizens consuming information in narrow channels or “filter bubbles,” in which all claims are un-refereed and the loudest win. The answer will depend not just on the availability of reliable news but also on whether citizens learn to recognize which news is reliable; on what we demand of the news and those who produce it; whether we have the clarity of conviction to articulate what an independent press means and whether, as citizens, we care.”
Given the division in our country and the increasing contempt for groups that disagree with us, it feels like our society is failing this challenge. There also appears to be an unhealthy amount of apathy, at least based on our voter turnout, which trails most other developed countries.
Is Mainstream Media Reporting Really Fake?
As we seek out credible information, we must know where to find it and how to know if it is reliable. Many consumers of media are probably not familiar with what is involved in the journalistic process. Understanding how media that is committed to honest journalism operates is important and this is one of the reasons I wanted to write this post.
As we strive to be informed, we should primarily rely on professional news organizations committed to established journalistic methods intended to home in on the truth and mitigate personal biases. There is plenty of high quality journalism we can rely on. Major news organizations in the print world such as the New York Times and the Washington Post (and most major urban papers) have journalistic standards that are designed to result in accurate and fair reporting.
It is important to understand that individual journalists and editors are not expected to be bias-free. Everyone has biases. This is why methods and standards exist to direct reporting that is based on verifiable evidence. Journalists must follow a process to assess the credibility of their sources, determine how many sources are needed, and verify evidence (data, documents, credible sources). This includes a separate and extensive fact-checking process that ties back to original source. This is all subject to editorial oversight, typically at more than one level.
The box below includes some high-value links to background and interesting examples of how this process works in the world of professional journalism. (These and more links are also listed at the end of this post.)
I have a high level of confidence that “old” mainstream media news organizations do a good job of applying these standards. I believe that the news I read in the Times or Post exhibit a high level of accuracy. That does not mean that mistakes don’t happen or that analysis can’t be off-base. However, mistakes are usually minor, not material to the story, and quickly corrected. It is extremely rare for stories to be made up—rare enough to not be something we should be concerned about from major urban newspapers or mainstream TV news organizations. (If and when this has happened, it itself becomes major news. Possibly the most famous instance was a made-up story in 1980 that appeared in the Post about an eight-year old heroin addict. The fabrication was later discovered after the story had won a Pulitzer Prize.)
But honest reporting isn’t just about factual reporting. We also need adequate context and a fair tone to understand a story. Background and specific information that is left out can shape the conclusions from a story without the reader or viewer realizing it.
Regarding news reporting and analysis, for the most part I believe traditional media does an adequate job on context, but it varies from story to story and occasionally they fail. Tone varies more and does, at times, reflect slight bias, especially with more analysis-oriented stories and in headlines. So, we need to read (or listen) with a critical eye. Experienced news consumers who are informed by credible sources may already have the frame-of-reference that gives them the necessary context.
Here I must point out that there are examples of major failings in the news coverage of these professional news outlets. For example, there was the lack of critical coverage of the lead-up to the Iraq war after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that most of the media coverage was colored by a strong bias toward giving our government the benefit of the doubt in the aftermath of the attacks. The result was too-easy acceptance of the premise for the war, including the existence of weapons of mass destruction and connections between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida. Both turned out to be false.
Some people wonder how we know what is true. There is a clear answer to the question. In seeking truth, we consider evidence and when the weight of the evidence is extremely strong, we have a basis for believing something is true. It’s as simple as that.
- Look at the evidence
- Consider its strength
- Assess the credibility of the source(s)
- Apply the same analysis against any counter evidence.
But getting to truth is not so simple given attempts to manipulate our understanding.
The accusations of widespread fake news and made-up stories within what most would consider the mainstream media, is itself a false narrative. And questioning whether we can even know what is true is a way to delegitimize the truth so the behavior of those in power can’t be checked by the press. The truth can then be replaced with misleading or untrue narratives. These claims endanger our democracy by encouraging our citizens to dismiss, or at least question, credible and fairly reported news stories that they don’t want to believe. This can leave people misinformed or confused and indifferent.
Does the Mainstream Media Have a Liberal Bias?
I believe there is some liberal bias in much of the mainstream media. This often-stated claim is believable because most of the media is based in major urban centers which lean liberal, as does much of the audience in those markets. Moreover, it is believable that more journalists, who also live in urban areas, also lean liberal. Surveys suggest that more journalists are registered Democrats (28%) than Republicans (7%), but it is noteworthy that Independents (50%) easily outnumber both. Some critics question whether journalists purposely hide their liberal leanings by registering as Independents rather than Democrats.
But, the liberal lean may be much less than many people think, and in my view, certainly far less than many conservative critics claim. There have been a few studies of media bias, though it’s worth stating that defining and studying what constitutes political bias within a story is itself subjective. That said, The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University studied media bias in 2010 and found negative bias rather than political bias. (This organization professes to be non-partisan but it is largely funded by conservatives, many of whom are politically active.) For example, they write:
Negative evaluations of Democrats and Republicans alike have outpaced positive evaluations by a 2 to 1 margin. Comments about Democrats were 32% positive and 68% negative; comments about Republicans were 31% positive and 69% negative. And for all the media attention to “Tea Party” candidates, their media profile wasn’t much different from other candidates—37% positive vs. 63% negative evaluations.
This is consistent with the findings of a few other studies I’ve seen.
More recently, some conservatives have accused the media of bias because of the amount of negative coverage of President Trump. However, negative coverage is not necessarily proof of unfair coverage. Negative coverage of any subject may be warranted.
A study out of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy last year was heralded on Fox News and other sources of conservative commentary as proof of mainstream media bias because it quantified a very high level of negative coverage of President Trump during the first 100 days of his presidency. However, this was not what the study concluded. The study addressed the question of bias and fairness, but their insights were not mentioned in the Fox commentary I saw and read. Here is an excerpt of the perspective on bias and fairness that was articulated at the end of the paper:
Although journalists are accused of having a liberal bias, their real bias is a preference for the negative…Journalists’ incentives, everything from getting their stories on the air to acquiring a reputation as a hard-hitting reporter, encourage journalists to focus on what’s wrong with politicians rather than what’s right…Of the past four presidents, only Barack Obama received favorable coverage during his first 100 days, after which the press reverted to form. During his second 100 days, Obama’s coverage was 57 percent negative to 43 percent positive…
Have the mainstream media covered Trump in a fair and balanced way? That question cannot be answered definitively in the absence of an agreed-upon version of “reality” against which to compare Trump’s coverage. Any such assessment would also have to weigh the news media’s preference for the negative, a tendency in place long before Trump became president. Given that tendency, the fact that Trump has received more negative coverage than his predecessor is hardly surprising. The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever.
What’s truly atypical about Trump’s coverage is that it’s sharply negative despite the fact that he’s the source of nearly two-thirds of the sound bites surrounding his coverage. Typically, newsmakers and groups complain that their media narrative is negative because they’re not given a chance to speak for themselves.
There is another critical element that must be present for a news source to be fair: a process for choosing stories that are relevant. This is where I think political leanings seep into what we read. To my eye, most professional news organizations show their ideological biases sometimes in tone but more obviously in the volume of liberal and conservative stories they cover. This is most apparent in the second or third level stories, in terms of stories not covered as well as trivial stories that are covered.
For example, in 2009 the Times was slow to cover a story about wrongdoing on the part of workers at Acorn, the community organizing group. Acorn was viewed as a progressive organization and the paper’s initial lack of coverage of the story is a possible indication of liberal bias in decisions about what to cover and not cover. Regarding what not to cover, Tom Rosenstiel wrote in a Brookings Institution report, “we need journalists to cover what is important, not bark at every car.” In the Trump era, I think some stories cross the line into barking. One important driver of this is the desire of news organizations to satisfy their customer base. This is why it can be helpful to have more than one news source.
Even when there is a liberal or conservative lean, professional news organizations capture the big stories and mostly present them fairly, regardless of their biases. For example, the Times, which is considered by many to have a liberal bias, extensively and critically covered the story of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, the potential conflicts with the Clinton Foundation, and it broke both the Uranium One story and the story about democratic New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s liaisons with prostitutes.
The Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corp, which also owns Fox News and is controlled by Robert Murdoch, has a strongly conservative editorial bent, yet its news coverage, thus far, of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has been fair, in my opinion, though perhaps a bit narrow. And, they broke the story about the payoff to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who alleges an affair with Donald Trump. (There was controversy at the paper shortly after the 2016 election when journalists there complained about soft treatment of Donald Trump and a resistance to publish some critical stories. This led to some departures and a company-wide meeting to address complaints. Later in the year, the transcript of an interview between editor Gerard Baker and President Trump was leaked by WSJ staff, apparently because of a feeling that Baker was soft and overly familiar in the interview. The WSJ itself had only published excerpts of the interview but Politico published the entire transcript after the leak.)
Both the WSJ and Times news reporting is strong. Overall, the Times, because of its broad focus, does a far better job, in my opinion, of covering a more complete range of news and it does more investigative reports. The WSJ has more of a business focus so it’s not surprising that its general news coverage is more selective. They differ significantly on the editorial side and for that reason can be a good paring to capture different perspectives. (The Times has a wider range of political perspectives but overall has more of a liberal emphasis. The WSJ has a very strong conservative lean.)
It is essential that we watch for bias in tone and the types of stories covered in our news. But overall, though not perfect, professional news outlets are doing an acceptable job of covering the news and there is quite a bit of truly outstanding investigative work being done.
Opinion, Pundits, and Propaganda
People seem to be exposed to more opinion and less evidenced-based reporting than in the past. It is critical to recognize the difference, because opinion can, and often does, take extreme liberties with facts, data, and takeaways from studies.
For example, those relying primarily on 24-hour cable news networks in the evening are mostly taking in opinion rather than hard reporting. One can’t assume this opinion provides the right context, perspective, or a fair review of the evidence. It’s not that it can’t do that. It can and sometimes does. But often it does not. The cable news business model depends on ratings, so it’s designed to keep you coming back, often by triggering emotion (increasingly, anger). It does this by cherry-picking evidence, unfairly generalizing events that are one-offs and unrepresentative of any broad trend, providing skewed context, sometimes misreporting facts, and/or by selecting guests who support the point of view the moderator wants. When guests with a different point of view are included, they are often out-gunned by others on panels and/or mocked, attacked and cut-off by the moderator. Sometimes the qualifications of guests are laughable (e.g., actor Scott Baio’s appearances on Fox News). Moreover, with hours of airtime to fill, these networks hammer on the same themes over and over, sometimes resulting in an emphasis far beyond their relevance. For these reasons, I generally avoid cable news in the evenings, though I occasionally check in out of curiosity.
I’d go so far as to say the evening hours on the cable stations are damaging to our perspective and understanding of what is going on. Those who rely heavily on this programming and other ideological opinion (e.g., some of the written editorial world), risk being spoon-fed their views over time in a way that effectively brainwashes them to believe certain narratives. Not all the cable-news networks are equally bad, the news reporting tends to be more professional, and some shows at other hours are good (Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on Sunday mornings on CNN offers serious discussion of issues). But in primetime, they all have the same ratings-driven business model.
One needs to be equally wary of written opinion. Plenty is honest and offers valuable thought-provoking insights. And quite a bit is not. Some crosses over into blatantly dishonest.
We must do our homework when taking in opinion. This requires:
- Knowing the biases and affiliations of the writer/speakers. If they are affiliated with a think tank or other organization, what is its mission and who are its financial backers?
- Having a skeptical eye towards cited data and facts. Can they be easily verified?
- Skepticism about the validity of studies cited in support of a conclusion. I’ve often found that conclusions in studies that were used to support an argument turned out to be inconsistent with the conclusions attributed to them in the editorial or by the pundit. (Unfortunately, this requires at least scanning the cited study.) It’s also important to know something about who did the study and how it was funded. Was there an agenda driving the study towards predetermined conclusions? Finally, there are lots of studies. Citing one study doesn’t tell you what other studies have concluded.
- Awareness that silver-tongued pundits and great writing may sound good, but can cover up bad or intentionally misleading analysis.
The level of effort required to objectively take in opinion writing is a major bummer. Over time, however, as one becomes familiar with some columnists and op-ed contributors’ honesty and the quality of their thinking, as well as those to be suspicious of, the endeavor becomes less of a chore.
As an example, I’ve read the WSJ almost every day over the past 39 years. The editorial page has evolved over that time and changed most noticeably since it was purchased by News Corp. The opinions now seem to be mostly taken over by strong Libertarian advocates. They have one perspective. Sometimes it is honestly presented with good points made. But too often the perspective presented lacks fair context and credible evidence.
The WSJ’s op-ed contributors are frequently affiliated with agenda-driven think tanks backed by moneyed interests like the Koch brothers. While these affiliations are rarely obvious (or stated upfront), they can be quickly identified with skillful “googling.” Opposing, credible perspectives are rarely, if ever, presented.
As an example, on climate change, critical opinion is regularly published, often with cherry-picked evidence, inaccurate statistics, or misleading references to studies. The points are often easy to disprove. It’s been discouraging to observe first-hand the level of dishonesty in some of what’s published. The opposite side, which is widely supported by the scientific community, has had close to zero representation over many years. I’ve noticed this same pattern over commentary in other areas over time, (See the links at the end of this post as evidence of this.)
I still regularly read the WSJ editorial page out of curiosity, but rarely find the analysis well-founded or impressive. (My opinion here is based on doing my own fact-checking of statements and evidence presented, exposure to and context from other sources, and from investigating the backgrounds of editorial writers.)
A general indication of the freedom to make less than honest statements when expressing opinion seems to be implied in a recent Time Magazine profile of Shep Smith of Fox News (he’s on the news side of the network):
Smith says he’s unbothered by the divergence between his reporting and Fox’s opinion slate. “We serve different masters. We work for different reporting chains, we have different rules. They don’t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want.”
Some Personal Thoughts on Smart News Consumption
In striving to be honestly informed, nothing else we do matters if we don’t make an honest effort to be aware and understand our own biases. In the end, we are responsible for the news we take in.
Here are a few more thougths on how to stay intelligently informed:
- Focus on a core source for daily news. The Times and Post are both comprehensive and do a good amount of investigative reporting. In the periodical world, The Economist is very good for balanced weekly news analysis.
- If you have the time, consider pairing sources with different political leanings. For example, the Times with the WSJ.
- It is important to seek out high-quality investigative reporting. This takes you beyond the daily news cycle. The major newspapers do some of this. There are also periodicals like the New Yorker that do in-depth investigative work that results in fascinating reads. ProPublica is a non-profit investigative news organization that does a great job of transparently documenting evidence and often partners with other news organizations. You can sign up for free emails that link to their stories. PBS has some good investigative documentary shows like Frontline.
- Avoid cable evening news programming.
- For TV news, tune in to the PBS NewsHour as a good source of balanced daily news coverage.
- Focus more time on news and take in opinion and editorials only as a secondary source. Be aware of agendas behind the opinion.
- Be particularly cautious of non-traditional news sites and sources. These include high value information but also many real examples of fake news.
- Use non-partisan fact-checking sites. Politifact.com and Factcheck.org are both very good and efficient ways to verify the accuracy of statements made by politicians and others. They also do evidence-based analysis of various issues, laying out both sides.
- I’m a big podcast fan and there are plenty that deliver detailed discussions with credible experts on various topics. There are also some podcasts that present deep investigative reporting on various issues. Again, take the time to research the source. Always.
Attacks on the media’s credibility have increased in frequency and intensity. President Trump regularly refers to “fake news” and has openly disparaged individual news organizations and insulted specific journalists on multiple occasions (e.g., referring to them as “scum” and “dishonest”). In February of last year, he tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” Then late last year he devised a contest and gave out fake news awards.
And as I was finalizing this post there was widespread media focus on Sinclair Broadcast Group, a strongly right-leaning media organization. Sinclair owns 193 local TV affiliates and is awaiting Justice Department approval of its acquisition of Tribune Media which includes an additional 42 stations. The controversy arose when Sinclair required its local news anchors around the country to read a script about the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” It went on to accuse the national media of publishing “fake stories without checking the facts” and said that journalists “push their own personal bias and agenda” and are “extremely dangerous to our democracy.” President Trump later expressed support for Sinclair, tweeting “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.” If the Tribune acquisition is approved, Sinclair could reach 39% of U.S. households. That 39% bumps up against the maximum allowed under an FCC rule. Sinclair has been aggressively acquiring local affiliates for years and in many cases viewers are not aware of the change in ownership or the ideology behind Sinclair. Last year Pew Research Center found that 37% of Americans frequently rely on local TV for news.
These attacks on traditional media are dishonest, damaging, and unpatriotic. They are being repeated by some other politicians as well as some other conservative media (which has built a marketing theme around this narrative). Autocrats around the world are repeating the term “fake news.”
It is well established that messages that are repeated over and over eventually stick. People begin to believe what they hear, and this may be one factor in the public’s low trust in the media. In another article from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, former BBC News director Helen Boaden writes:
And it’s an open question about how far traditional journalism, based on the old norms, can counter the twisted mix of state or hyper-partisan propaganda that is on the rise.
Generously funded news gathering on every platform is an essential building block for serious journalism and it is under huge pressure.
So, at a time when old media’s business models are seriously challenged, widespread public support of quality, professional journalism is important! Consider doing your part to support this critically important American institution.
- Professional journalism is worth paying for. Consider subscribing to your local newspaper and/or a digital subscription to the Times or Post.
- Support and contribute to public television (PBS) and public radio (NPR). They do a significant amount of quality journalism.
- Consider supporting other non-profits committed to quality journalism such as fact-checkers like Politifact.com and Factcheck.org, and investigative news organizations like ProPublica.org.
As I stated at the outset, the challenge of being an informed citizen is more complicated now than ever. The “most trusted man in America” no longer speaks to us via the TV every evening. And sadly, with more misinformation out there, it’s also more important than ever that more of us seek to be adequately informed by credible sources.
Below are links to studies mentioned and additional background that either support statements made in this post or offers additional insight. Some are high-value reads and these are highlighted.
As background for this post I read several books (The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone, Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel and parts of The Elements of Journalism (cited earlier) by the same authors. I also read many articles and studies, and interviewed Angie Holan, the editor of Politifact, a fact-checking website, and Dick Tofel, president of ProPublica, a non-profit organization that conducts investigative journalism. Back (mostly) in the 1990s I was also on the receiving end of hundreds of interviews by the national financial media and have been somewhat informed by that experience.
This Gallup survey measures American’s trust and confidence in the media at 41%. But it varies widely based on political party: http://news.gallup.com/poll/219824/democrats-confidence-mass-media-rises-sharply-2016.aspx
This Pew Research survey shows how views on the media are influenced by political party affiliation: http://www.journalism.org/2017/05/10/americans-attitudes-about-the-news-media-deeply-divided-along-partisan-lines/
This Knight Foundation article discusses reasons why American trust in the media is low: https://medium.com/trust-media-and-democracy/10-reasons-why-americans-dont-trust-the-media-d0630c125b9e
This article from the Washington Post explores distrust in the media. It offers some interesting insights based on interviews with 35 people in the author’s home town in rural New York: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/polls-show-americans-distrust-the-media-but-talk-to-them-and-its-a-very-different-story/2017/12/27/ed9bbabe-ce3b-11e7-81bc-c55a220c8cbe_story.html?utm_term=.d83cd4500ab2
This is a Freedom House report on the state of press freedoms around the world (generally declining) and the tone in the United States. Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. They have been monitoring global press freedoms for 38 years. After the Key Findings section at the beginning there is a discussion of the environment in the United States: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2017
This is a report from Pew Research on the state of the media: http://www.pewresearch.org/topics/state-of-the-news-media/
This is a Pew Research study on newspaper industry revenue and circulation: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/01/circulation-and-revenue-fall-for-newspaper-industry/
This is another Pew Research report showing that voter turnout in the United States is low compared to most other developed countries: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/15/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/
This interesting Financial Times article from a year ago discusses our susceptibility to misinformation and the challenges of correcting falsehoods: https://www.ft.com/content/eef2e2f8-0383-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9
From the Columbia Journalism Review: Eight simple rules for doing accurate journalism: https://archives.cjr.org/behind_the_news/eight_simple_rules_for_doing_a.php
Here’s a review of a conversation that appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review with The New Yorker’s chief fact-checker. It’s an interesting read: https://www.cjr.org/the_delacorte_lectures/new-yorkers-fact-checker-post-truth-facts-fake-news-trump.php
This is an insightful discussion of how ProPublica seeks to keep bias out of their stories: https://www.propublica.org/article/ask-ppil-on-bias-in-journalism
Here is another ProPublica article on the work that goes into their stories: https://www.propublica.org/article/calculating-the-work-behind-our-work
Another example of fact-checking from The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2018/01/how-to-fact-check-the-atlantic/551477/
From the American Press Institute, on journalism as a principal of verification: https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/verification-accuracy/journalism-discipline-verification/
More about verification and sources, also from the American Press Institute: https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/verification-accuracy/hierarchy-information-concentric-circles-sources/
Here are two examples of policies and standards for two major news organizations – the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/ask-the-post/wp/2016/01/01/policies-and-standards/?utm_term=.30ce644543c0
And the New York Times: https://www.nytco.com/who-we-are/culture/standards-and-ethics/
NPR’s discussion on fairness, excerpted from their Ethics Handbook: http://ethics.npr.org/category/b-fairness/
Here is a Factcheck.org piece on how to identify fake news: https://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/
In this Brookings Institution article, Tom Rosenstiel (the executive director of the American Press Institute) writes about what journalists need to do given the questions about media credibility: https://www.brookings.edu/research/what-the-debate-over-journalism-post-trump-gets-wrong/
This is an opinion piece by Max Boot, a well-regarded conservative, Republican, historian, and foreign policy analyst. His bio includes 8 years at the Wall Street Journal including several years as the op-ed editor. It’s about President Trump’s attacks on the media as “fake news.” I’m including this not only for its substance but also because it is written by a Republican at a time when many conservatives are critical of the mainstream media: http://maxboot.net/trump-is-commander-in-chief-of-the-war-on-mainstream-media/
Gallup poll showing many Americans believe there is partisan bias in news reporting: http://news.gallup.com/poll/207794/six-partisan-bias-news-media.aspx
This report from the University of Indiana includes recent data on the political affiliation of journalists: http://archive.news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/2014/05/2013-american-journalist-key-findings.pdf
This is the press release about the George Mason University evaluation of negativity in the press: https://cmpa.gmu.edu/media-have-bad-news-for-both-parties/
This is the Harvard Shorenstein Center Study that was discussed in this post: https://shorensteincenter.org/news-coverage-donald-trumps-first-100-days/
And here is some interesting analysis that appeared in the Washington Post about the Harvard study: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/05/19/coverage-of-president-trump-has-been-4-to-1-negative-but-that-isnt-really-the-point/?utm_term=.7cd0ad71c621
This a study by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. It analyzes coverage of the 2016 presidential election to gain insight into mainstream and social media coverage including the journalistic practices of conservative and liberal media: https://cyber.harvard.edu/publications/2017/08/mediacloud
Article from the Columbia Journalism Review about measuring media bias: https://www.cjr.org/innovations/measure-media-bias-partisan.php
This recent Wall Street Journal article about the importance of developing a good bullshit detector is a worthwhile read including the specific tips at the end: https://www.wsj.com/articles/fine-tune-your-b-s-detector-youll-need-it-1521471721?emailToken=7f36745c1f19a9e5322be0488c560f5b1n1cX1e3Ki%2BQgXoOy2TOGNM9QV4PY%2BOX0MEvBaAsVCQqBZ6WthW%2Fq4BIrYAApsUjHTmUZE%2BlHUbNXp3ucS3tc0yAquYnoIPNfaEw3AvJqP0%3D
This article is about newsroom discontent at the WSJ that was discussed in this post: https://www.politico.com/media/story/2017/02/gerry-baker-wall-street-journal-trump-newsroom-tensions-004928
As an example of how opinion coverage can mislead, this is a report by Climate Nexus that documents and examines the coverage of climate change in the WSJ opinion section over 20 years. They found that only 14% of op-eds published in that time represent mainstream climate science. Climate Nexus is sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. (John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil, which later became Exxon. The Rockefellers have become advocates for climate change risks and have sought to expose the fossil fuel industry and Exxon in particular for their role in attempting to mislead the public about climate science that their own scientists understood): https://static1.squarespace.com/static/534ec657e4b03c887dde2641/t/575f6edd20c647ff95c170a0/1465872094069/FINAL_CN_WSJ_white_paper-0613.pdf
This is a Forbes op-ed also about coverage of climate change coverage at the WSJ. In this case, it takes on another specific op-ed: https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergleick/2012/01/27/remarkable-editorial-bias-on-climate-science-at-the-wall-street-journal/#3e915278664f
A recent article about a Fox News commentator, Ralph Peters, who left the network because of what he views as network hosts who “dismiss facts and empirical reality…” I’ve included it as an example of concerns about honesty within a media organization: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/fox-news-commentator-exits-with-a-searing-attack-on-fox-news/2018/03/20/fc876fc4-2c81-11e8-8ad6-fbc50284fce8_story.html?undefined=&utm_term=.a4ce9a176949&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1
This is an interesting read about the impact of Fox News. It discusses liberal media bias, but goes on to compare how the sources news consumers rely on impact how well informed they are. It suggests Fox News consumers are the most misinformed. I found this particularly interesting because the author is Bruce Bartlett, a Republican and former member of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. It’s not the most convincing study I’ve ever seen but I still found it interesting: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2604679
Here is a link to the 2009 editorial from the New York Times public editor that critiques the Times for being slow to cover a story about wrongdoing on the part of workers at Acorn, the community organizing group: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/opinion/27pubed.html
This is a link to the Time article on Shep Smith that was the source for the quote used in this post: http://time.com/longform/shepard-smith-fox-news/
This NY Times article about evaluating sources is targeted towards arming teachers with resources to teach this important skill. The article has a number of valuable links and ideas and I highly recommend it: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/learning/lesson-plans/evaluating-sources-in-a-post-truth-world-ideas-for-teaching-and-learning-about-fake-news.html
From National Public Radio: A Finder’s Guide to Facts: https://www.npr.org/2016/12/11/505154631/a-finders-guide-to-facts
A thoughtful article on news literacy from the Brookings Institution. The authors are from the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University, which offers a news literacy course: https://www.brookings.edu/research/news-literacy-teaching-the-internet-generation-to-make-reliable-information-choices/
New York Times columnist writes about what it was like to unplug from social media for two months and get all his news from print newspapers: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/07/technology/two-months-news-newspapers.html
Here is NPR coverage of a recent story about The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative media company that has been buying up local TV stations and recently broadcast criticism of the national news media: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/02/598794433/video-reveals-power-of-sinclair-as-local-news-anchors-recite-script-in-unison