In an election year featuring two politicians who are the two most unfavorably rated candidates in US presidential election history, the people who are supposed to inform us as a public are failing at their job. At the same time, Americans are consuming news differently or not at all, leading the candidates to find new ways to get their messages across. The result is a horrible mess of news coverage that shows no sign of stopping or changing in how it is presented. Recently released studies are now showing just how much the media is failing. However, due to the changing structure of media, their job isn’t just to inform anymore. The pursuit for ratings and page views have corrupted how the media covers events, especially something like an election, and now there’s proof of just how bad of a job they’re doing.
Harvard Study Finds Biased, Non-Substantive Media Coverage of Election 2016https://t.co/9gbQzQ1WcF
— MediaFile (@MediaFileDC) September 29, 2016
There has been a big boom in the rise of social media, and other alternate forms of communication that the biggest media companies in the world have jumped on in hopes to transmit their message to more people around the world. However, the most popular forms of media remain to be those referred to as “Traditional media” like television, radio and newspapers. Even for those huge media companies that are trying to latch onto new media forms however they can, the public are still getting the bulk of their viewership through television, whether it’s cable or local news. A 2015 study by the American Press Institute found some alarming facts. First, it found that many Americans don’t delve deep into news they do consume. Only about 40 percent of Americans surveyed in this study said that they spent time delving into news past headlines that they read, and even then it was usually later on in the evening when they consumed more news about stories they had heard earlier in the day. There are over 50 percent of Americans surveyed in this study that admitted they either just glanced at news headlines or consumed no news at all. That is alarming, but not exactly surprising. It is consistent with the percentage of people that stay home and don’t vote on election day. This study also showed that most Americans still rely heavily on television to provide them with all of their news. Although there are a lot more Americans using alternate devices to get news, almost 90 percent of those surveyed by the API said they get at least some news from television. In addition, almost 90 percent of Americans said they got most of their news directly from news organizations rather than other methods that may involve more effort or research. Check out these graphs below from the API for more information.
So what does this all mean in terms of the 2016 election? Well, based on another I found it seems as if this would probably be the worst time in history to be relying solely on television news or mainstream sources for your only source of news. A new study from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media evaluated the entire presidential election cycle from the very beginning. They studied statements from eight media companies: CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC,The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. What the study revealed was a heavy bias towards Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. What’s interesting about this study is that although it notes a large bias, it’s mostly the media’s obsession with framing a winner and a loser that skews them in favor of Trump, not a more nefarious intention like them actually wanting to make more people support him as a candidate. Throughout the entire campaign, the media continuously discussed Trump because he was steadily rising in the polls, and winning a lot of republican presidential primaries. This caused a lot of favorable Trump coverage, especially early on in the election cycle. In addition, there was bias in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Most of this coverage occurred when Clinton was still locked in a tight primary contest with Senator Bernie Sanders. One thing Sanders supporters long complained about was the lack of media coverage for their candidate during the democratic primaries. This study confirms that there was something to that. Here are some graphs below from the Harvard study that shows how each candidate was covered in specific time periods:
Start of Republican Debates:
Super Tuesday Period:
Democrats- Middle of election cycle:
Last month of presidential primaries:
While these graphs show an alarming trend in terms of a lack of equal coverage from the media, perhaps even more alarming is the Harvard study’s analysis of the actual content of the media. The study found that throughout the entire process of this election, the media has heavily covered campaign strategies, internal campaign conflict, winning and losing, or actual campaign competition. The Harvard study found that of all media coverage studied, only 11 percent of the media’s content covered actual policy positions, leadership qualities or personal and professional history. To me, this is simply astounding. The American media has become simply infatuated with covering Donald Trump, and they’ve also realized that doing so will result in their best television ratings possible. Additionally, the media has a seemingly never-ending obsession with making every story simple with one winner and one loser. The constant stream of coverage and need to declare someone a “winner” or “loser” even when there is no real contest like a primary going on has hurt the public, as well as these media company’s reputations. There is really no explanation for Trump getting more coverage than both Sanders and Clinton when those democrats were still locked in a primary battle. It is either bias, or sheer laziness by the media in that regard. With more and more news companies being parented by larger corporations, it has become apparent that ratings are a far more important priority to these news organizations than simply informing the public.
We have long relied on the media to inform us, and keep us aware of all that’s going on in the world around us. It is unfortunate to say that I believe the media is now totally failing us in that regard. Of course, there are still many sources of news that are great, unbiased companies that have quality reporters. However, not many of those of those companies have an outlet on American TV. This article is not meant to inform you on what news you should read or watch, but if I had to make a suggestion I would say that BBC News-US and Canada edition is a good place to start. However, my main tip would be to just get news from many sources, and don’t just read one article or watch one story about a subject you are interested in. It takes time and effort to fully inform yourself on a subject, and a lack of time is what a lot of Americans face when it comes to consuming news. It is for this reason that many Americans look to television as their primary source for information. It is clear that in this regard, the news outlets that most Americans turn to for the purpose of information are completely failing to inform them. It will take a sea change in media to reverse this trend, and unfortunately I don’t know if that’s coming any time soon.