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Current Problems in the Media

The burgeoning problems with the media have been documented in great detail by researchers, academicians and journalists themselves:
High levels of inaccuracies
Public confidence in the media, already low, continues to slip. A poll by USA T!A"#$%%#&allup found only '( percent of Americans believe
news organi)ations get the facts straight, compared with *+ percent in mid,-./..
According to an in,depth study by the American Society of %ewspaper 0ditors in -..., 1' percent of the public find factual errors in the news
stories of their daily paper at least once a wee2 while more than a third of the public , '* percent , see spelling or grammar mista2es in their
newspaper more than once a wee2. The study also found that 3' percent of adults in America have become more s2eptical about the
accuracy of their news.
The level of inaccuracy noticed is even higher when the public has first,hand 2nowledge of a news story. Almost *4 percent of the public reports
having had first,hand 2nowledge of a news event at some time even though they were not personally part of the story. f that group, only
*- percent said the facts in the story were reported accurately, with the remainder finding errors ranging from misinterpretations to actual
errors.
5hen reporters and editors interviewed in the AS%0 study were as2ed why they thought mista2es were being made, '+ percent said the 6rush to
deadline6 was the major factor, one third said it was a combination of being 6overwor2ed6 and 6understaffed,7 and the remaining third said
it was 6inattention, carelessness, ine8perience, poor 2nowledge6 and just,plain,bad editing and reporting.
The $olumbia 9ournalism :eview and the nonprofit, nonpartisan research firm Public Agenda polled -1* senior journalists nationwide in -... on
various ;uestions. 5hen as2ed: 6<ave you ever seriously suspected a colleague of manufacturing a ;uote or an incident=6 a disturbingly
high '/ percent answered yes.
Sensationalism
There is tendency for the press to play up and dwell on stories that are sensational , murders, car crashes, 2idnappings, se8 scandals and the li2e.
>n a study by the American Society of %ewspaper 0ditors, eighty percent of the American public said they believe 6journalists chase sensational
stories because they thin2 it will sell papers, not because they thin2 it is important news. 6 Another /* percent of the public believes that
6newspapers fre;uently over,dramati)e some news stories just to sell more papers.6 ver /4 percent believe sensational stories receive lots
of news coverage simply because they are e8citing, not because they are important.
3/ percent of the public thin2s journalists enjoy reporting on the personal failings of private officials.
+/ percent of the public sees misleading headlines in their paper more than once a wee2.
Mistakes regularly left uncorrected
A -... poll by the $olumbia 9ournalism :eview and the nonprofit research firm Public Agenda of -1* senior journalists nationwide found:
?ully 34 percent of the respondents felt that most news organi)ations do a 6poor6 @14 percentA or 6fair6 @*4 percentA job of informing the public
about errors in their reporting. Barely a ;uarter called it 6good.6 A paltry 1 percent awarded a rating of 6e8cellent.6
A remar2able .- percent thin2 newsrooms need more open and candid internal discussion of editorial mista2es and what to do about them.
Almost four in ten of those people interviewed feel sure many factual errors are never corrected because reporters and editors are eager to hide
their mista2es.
Core than half thin2 most news organi)ations lac2 proper internal guidelines for ma2ing corrections.
A majority @*1 percentA thin2s the media needs to give corrections more prominent display.
ver +4 percent said their news organi)ation does not even have a person designated to review and assess re;uests for corrections.
Poor coverage of important issues
5hile the media is busy covering sensationalist stories, issues that affect our lives and the whole world receive little attention.
The Environment
A study by the $enter for Cedia and Public Affairs found the number of stories about the environment on the networ2 news went from '33 in
-..4 and 114 in -..- to only -4( in -../ and -'- in -.... At the same time, the number of stories about entertainment soared from -'+
in -..4 and .* in -..-, to 11- stories in -../, and -31 in -....
Though polls repeatedly show Americans overwhelmingly @higher than /4 percentA want improvements in the environment, !an ?agin,
President of the independent Society of 0nvironmental 9ournalists, said in 144' D5hether the subject is global climate change or local
sprawl, aging power plants or newborn salmon, debate over environmental issues has never been E so obfuscated by misleading claims.
Ceanwhile, getting environmental stories into print, or on the air, has never been more difficult.7
Government
DThe Project for 08cellence in 9ournalism, reporting on the front pages of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, on the AB$, $BS, and
%B$ %ightly news programs, and on Time and Newsweek, showed that from -.33 to -..3, the number of stories about government
dropped from one in three to one in five, while the number of stories about celebrities rose from one in every *4 stories to one in every -+.
5hat difference does it ma2e= 5ell, itFs government that can pic2 our poc2ets, slap us into jail, run a highway through our bac2yard or
send us to war. Gnowing what government does is Dthe news we need to 2eep our freedoms.7
, Bill Coyers
The reporting on national affairs by the major newsmaga)ines has declined by 1* percent, while the number of entertainment and celebrity stories
has doubled, according to 6The State of the %ews Cedia in 144+7 report by the non,partisan Project for 08cellence in 9ournalism.
Foreign id and !"#$$$ Easily Preventable %eaths a %ay
At the :io 0arth Summit the worldHs industriali)ed nations agreed to fi8 international aid at 4.3 percent of &!P. The only countries to reach that
target have been the Scandinavian countries. The US ran2s at the very bottom with a pathetic 4.-+ percent. A si)eable amount of our aid is
political in nature and does not go toward benefiting people in need. 0ven when private donations are included in the mi8, our country still
ran2s at the bottom in total giving per capita.
According to the 5orld <ealth rgani)ation about 1/,444 people who die every day around the world could be saved easily with basic care. >n all,
last year /./ million lives were lost needlessly @appro8imately the combined number of people living in Cassachusetts, %ew <ampshire and CaineA
due to preventable diseases, infections and child birth complications.
5hen Americans are as2ed what percentage of the &!P for international aid would be reasonable, the answers range from - percent to * percent.
Similarly, when as2ed what percentage of the federal budget should go to foreign aid, Americans on average said -+ percent, and that in fact, they
thought 14 percent was currently being allocated. The actual amount of our budget allocated is - percent.
"et the press rarely reports on any of the above I that we give so little, that we are avoiding what we agreed to, that Americans thin2 giving at a
higher level would be reasonable, that we thin2 we are giving far more than we are, and that a huge number of deaths every day @eight times the
number that died in the .,-- attac2sA, are a direct result of not receiving basic care. 5hen the press does report on foreign aid, the media often
perpetuates the myth that we give substantially and in proportion to our means.
Education
Jarge numbers of Americans give low ratings to the media for school coverage. ?or e8ample, in a joint survey by the 0ducation 5riters
Association and the Public Agenda, ++ percent gave Dprint media with a national readership7 ratings of fair to poor, while only + percent
gave a rating of e8cellent. About /+ percent gave Dbroadcast media with a national audience7 ratings of fair to poor and only - percent
gave a rating of e8cellent. 0ducators and journalists agreed. ver ++ percent of journalists rated Dprint media with a national readership7 as
fair to poor in their coverage and /+ percent rated Dbroadcast media with a national audience7 the same.
&onprofit media organi'ations rate far higher on educating the public than for(profit entities
A seven,month series of polls by the $enter for Policy Attitudes and $enter for >nternational and Security Studies at the University of Caryland
found that Americans receiving their news from nonprofit organi)ations were far more li2ely to have accurate perceptions related to American
foreign policy than those receiving their information from for,profit entities. The study also found the variations could not be e8plained as a result of
differences in the demographic characteristics of each audience, because the variations were also found when comparing the demographic subgroups
of each audience.
?or e8ample, in three areas of information related to >ra; @whether weapons of mass destruction had been found, if clear evidence had been found
lin2ing >ra; and al,Kaeda and if worldwide public opinion supported the war in >ra;A, only 1' percent of those who received their information from
PBS and %P: had an inaccurate perception, while ** percent of those who received their information from $%% or %B$ had an inaccurate
perception, (- percent for AB$, 3- percent for $BS and /4 percent for ?o8.
Similarly, on the specific ;uestion of whether the majority of the people in the world favored the U.S. having gone to war, (' percent of those who
received their information from $BS misperceived, */ percent who received their information from AB$ misperceived and only 1( percent of those
who received their information from PBS and %P: misperceived. Those receiving information from the other networ2s fell into a similar pattern as
demonstrated in the e8ample above: ?o8 at (. percent, %B$ at *( percent and $%% at *+ percent , all with rates of misperception twice as high as
the nonprofit media organi)ations.
5hen the percentages of people misperceiving in each area were averaged, it was found that those receiving information from for,profit broadcast
media outlets were nearly three times as li2ely to misperceive as those receiving from the nonprofit media organi)ations. Those receiving their
information from ?o8 %ews showed the highest average rate of misperceptions ,, +* percent ,, while those receiving their information from PBS and
%P: showed the lowest , -- percent. $BS showed at '( percent, $%% at '- percent, AB$ at '4 percent, and %B$ at '4 percent.
The study found similar patterns also e8isted within demographic groups, and that differences in demographics could not e8plain the variations in
levels of misperception.
?or e8ample, the average rate for all :epublicans for the three 2ey misperceptions was +' percent. "et for :epublicans who too2 their news from
PBS and %P:, the average rate was only '1 percent , a full one ;uarter less. This same pattern occurred in polled !emocrats and >ndependents.
Similarly, among those with bachelorHs degrees or higher, the average rate of misperceptions was 13 percent. <owever among those who had their
news from PBS,%P: the average rate was -4 percent. This pattern was observed at other educational levels as well.
The media)s short attention span
Anthony !owns of the Broo2ings >nstitution in the -.34Hs began observing what he called Dthe issue attention cycle7 in the American media. The
cycle is: the news media and public ignore a serious problem for yearsL for some reason, they suddenly notice, declare it a crisis and
concoct a solutionL ne8t they reali)e the problem will not be easily fi8ed and will be costlyL they grow angry, then boredL finally, they
resume ignoring the problem.
<ere is an e8ample from research done by Jaura <aniford of the University of Cichigan. <aniford focused on the news mediaFs coverage of the
racial achievement gap M the difference between how whites and blac2s score on standardi)ed tests.
She found that from -./+ to -..*, The Ann Arbor %ews published -- articles on the achievement gap in local schoolsL then suddenly, in -..3, .1
achievement,gap articles appearedL then, gap coverage virtually disappeared again, plummeting to two articles in 144-. 5hat ama)ed her was that
during that entire period the achievement gap remained substantial and virtually unchanged.
The media does not cover itself
f the roughly -,*44 daily newspapers in the U.S., Dnly a handfulMat most a do)en, including The N5ashingtonO PostMactually have a reporter
who covers the press full,time as a beat. 5hat critical reporting e8ists, though at times is refreshingly good, it is for the most part timid and
superficial. About -* papers have an ombudsman on staff to respond to readersF complaints. 5hen it comes to loo2ing at itself, societyFs
watchdog is a lamb,7 according to Sydney Schanberg, one of the most respected journalists of this era, he has been a reporter for The %ew
"or2 Times for more than twenty,five years, and recipient of many awards, including a Pulit)er Pri)e.
Schanberg adds: >tFs no secret that journalism in America has become more slipshod and rec2less, at times promiscuous.... 0very journalist surely
also 2nows that the old,time standards...have been wea2ened if not discarded. Cost of us in the business, however, stand by as mere
observers....
>f this were happening in any other profession or power center in American life, the media would be all over the story, holding the offending
institution up to a probing light. 5hen law firms breach ethical canons, 5all Street bro2erages cheat clients or managed,care companies deny crucial
care to patients, we journalists consider it news and fre;uently put it on the front page. But when our own profession is the offender, we go soft.
By failing to cover ourselves, we have made ourselves complacent, virtually assured that because we are not li2ely to be scrutini)ed by our peers, we
are safe in our careless or abusive practices.7
:enee ?erguson of 5CAK in $hicago said the unwillingness on the part of the media to monitor itself is amongst the reasons behind an
increasing problem of plagiarism among print and broadcast reporters. D> suspect we all 2now e8amples at own our stations and papers
where things li2e the Blair incident have happened,7 ?erguson said. DAre we prepared to investigate ourselves=7
Focus on huge profit margins# not serving public
&eneva verholser @former 0ditor of The !es Coines :egister and board member of the Pulit)er Pri)e Board and American Society of
%ewspaper 0ditorsA describing in -..4 a list of factors rapidly eroding the ;uality of reporting, said, DThere is the fact that newspaper
corporations typically retain truly remar2able profit margins: '4 percent is not unusual and the metro average has been somewhere around
-3 percent. ThatFs -3 cents on every dollar made as profit for the company, yet the average beginning salary for a newspaper reporter last
year was P-3,444.7
$urrent data supports verholserHs assertions. >n ctober, 144', for e8ample, &annett $o. >nc., one of the nationFs largest newspaper chains,
reported for the first nine months of 144' profits of P/*'.1 million on revenues of P+./. billion, a profit margin of -3.+ percent. >n the
same month, the 0.5. Scripps $o., owner of another chain of daily newspapers, reported ;uarterly profits of P(4.. million for the
companyFs newspapers on revenues of P-(+ million, a profit margin of '3 percent.
D$iti)ens are as2ing journalists and media critics why the media donFt Qdo somethingH to discover and publish Qthe truth.H
E. As a loyal American, trained as a journalist some +* years ago, > am convinced that journalists in the U.S. feel increasingly trapped between their
professional values and the mar2eting#profits mentality so evident now everywhere in the news industry. The old professional values urge them to
dig, investigate and bring to the light of day the relevant facts and issues, while the mar2et#profit mentality as2s, Q>s it worth it= !o enough people
care=H
>t seems clear enough that the mar2et#profit mentality has won out, especially in electronic news, and to a considerable e8tent in the print media. ...
Ceanwhile, the push for corporate profit margins much higher than those of average American businesses goes on M with +4 to -44 percent in the
electronic media and -1 to +* percent in the print media common during 144'.7
, Cargaret T. &ordon, a professor of news media and public policy at the 0vans School of Public Affairs at the University of 5ashington and
formerly the dean of the school, in a Seattle Times column August 4/, 144'.
The American public agrees with verholser and &ordon. >n an in,depth by the American Society of %ewspaper 0ditors, *. percent of
Americans said newspapers are concerned mainly with ma2ing profits rather than serving the public interest.
Media outlets are investing less in the *uality of +hat they do
According to the Project for 08cellence in 9ournalism, there are 1,344 fewer reporters employed by newspapers in 144' than there were in -..4. The
number of jobs lost is believed to have continued falling in 144+.
According to washingtonspectator.com and speeches made by Bill Coyers, full,time employees of radio stations decreased by ++ percent during the
period from -..+ I 1444. Coyers also stated that since the -./4s, broadcast networ2 correspondentsH numbers are down by one,third, and TR
networ2s now have half the previous number of reporters in their foreign bureaus.
The Project for 08cellence in 9ournalism said >nternet news also e8perienced cutbac2s:
D>n the area with the greatest potential, they are cutting personnel the most: ur data suggest that news organi)ations have imposed more cutbac2s
in their >nternet operations than in their old media, and where the investment has come is in technology for processing information, not
people to gather it.7
DSome (1 percent of 5eb professionals say their newsrooms have seen cutbac2s in the last three years , despite huge increases in audiences
online. That number is far bigger than the '3 percent of national print, radio and TR journalists who cited cutbac2s in their newsrooms.
Anecdotally, 5eb journalists say what investment there is tends to be in technology for processing information, not in journalists to gather
news.7
The public is misinformed and uninformed
A few heavily studied e8amples:
Foreign Policy
A Gnight :idder#Princeton :esearch poll of Americans showed ++ percent of respondents believed 6most6 or 6some6 of the .,-- hijac2ers were
>ra;is. nly -3 percent gave the correct answer: none. A %ew "or2 Times#$BS %ews Poll revealed that +* percent of respondents
believed Saddam <ussein was directly involved in the .#-- attac2s.
A Pew :esearch $enter#$ouncil on ?oreign :elations survey around the same time showed that almost two,thirds of people polled believed U. %.
weapons inspectors had 6found proof that >ra; is trying to hide weapons of mass destruction.6 A report of such proof was never made by
<ans Bli8 or any U.%. inspector, nor was it made by Cohammed 0l Baradei or any other official of the >nternational %uclear :egulatory
Agency.
The same survey found *3 percent of those polled incorrectly believed Saddam <ussein assisted the .#-- terrorists.
!espite wide 2nowledge of the above polls and others similar to them, the media did little to correct the misperceptions and in fact, may have
continued feeding them. A poll conducted months later by the 5ashington Post on September (, 144' found that (. percent of Americans
thought <ussein was lin2ed to .#--.
,ho ,e Elect
A major study by the 9oan Shorenstein $enter on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at <arvardFs 9ohn ?. Gennedy School of &overnment found
the level of peopleHs 2nowledge about candidatesH positions rose and fell based on the degree to which the media was focusing on
important issues. Coving from a spate of media coverage of gaffes by Bush and &ore in the 1444 race to a period of focusing on the
issues, for e8ample, there was a 14 percent increase in peopleFs ability to identify correctly the two candidatesH positions.
6nce again, public awareness increases when the focus is on the issues,6 said Carvin Galb, the 08ecutive !irector of the Shorenstein $enterFs
5ashington ffice and co,director of the Ranishing Roter Project.
Still, only a few wee2s before the election, when voters were read a major issue position attributed to a candidate and then as2ed whether it was
the candidateFs actual position, on average, of those polled +3 percent said they 6didnFt 2now,6 while '+ percent identified the position
accurately and -. percent misidentified it. >n all, almost *4 percent of registered voters were able to recogni)e none or only one of the
twelve candidate positions. nly -4 percent 2new more than half of the policy positions about which they were as2ed.
6>tFs pretty clear that millions of Americans will go to the polls on 0lection !ay armed with only scant 2nowledge of the issues, Some of them
might be a bit surprised ne8t year when the new President pursues policies ;uite different from those they thought he would.6, Thomas
Patterson, Bradlee Professor of &overnment and the Press at <arvardFs Gennedy School of &overnment and director of the Shorenstein
$enter surveys
Media consolidation
>n -.+*, four out of five American newspapers were independently owned and published by people with close ties to their communities. Those days
are gone however. Today less than 14 percent of the countryFs -+/' papers are independently ownedL the rest belong to multi,newspaper chains.
Df the nationFs -,*44 daily papers, nearly -,144 M about /4 percent M are owned by the big chains, which concentrate on reaping large profits
and are not much given to public self,e8amination on ethics and ;uality issues.
E. The gut decision that journalists have to ma2e is whether they want to be regarded as professionals with honor or merely as pic2up teams of
scribblers and windbags.7
, Sydney Schanberg
D>t is not apparent to many news consumers, but 11 companies now control 34 percent of the countryFs newspaper circulation and -4 companies
own the broadcast stations that reach /* percent of the United States.
Since -.3*, two,thirds of independent newspaper owners and one,third of independent television owners have disappeared. nly 1/- of the nationFs
-,*44 daily newspapers remain independently owned. The three largest newspaper publishers control 1* percent of daily newspaper circulation
worldwide.7
, ?reepress.net
D?ive companies now own the broadcast networ2s, .4 percent of the top *4 cablenetwor2s produce three,;uarters of all prime time programming,
and control 34 percent of the prime time television mar2et share. The same companies that own the nationFs most popular newspapers and
networ2s also own over /* percent of the top 14 >nternet news sites.
5hile the >nternet has become a valuable new source of information, the vast majority of Americans continue to rely on television, newspaper, and
radio as their primary sources of news information. Two,thirds of AmericaFs independent newspapers have been lost since -.3* and according to the
!epartment of 9usticeFs Cerger &uidelines every local newspaper mar2et in the U.S. is highly concentrated.
ne,third of AmericaFs independent TR stations have vanished since -.3* and there has been a '+ percent decline in the number of radio station
owners since the Telecommunications Act of -..(.7
, According to bill <.:. +4(. introduced to the <ouse of :epresentatives Carch '4, 144+
DSure enough, as merger has followed merger, journalism has been driven further down the hierarchy of values in the huge conglomerates that
dominate what we see, read and hear. And to feed the profit margins , journalism has been directed to other priorities than Dthe news we
need to 2now to 2eep our freedoms.7 , Bill Coyers
-ournalists agree that ma.or problems e/ist0
The study by the American Society of %ewspaper 0ditors found these startling facts:
nly +3 percent of journalists surveyed felt their publications were improving.
nly '. percent felt their newspapers were usually very interesting to read.
A remar2ably low 1- percent felt their newspapers were connecting very well with readers.
D?or all sorts of reasons, timidity, self,satisfaction, greed, inappropriate desire to belongEfor all these reasons and more, there is an awful lot that the
press 2eeps from you.... weFll begin with s;ueamishness... and an overdeveloped fear of offending someone... orthodo8y, conventional thin2ing, a
misplaced pleasure at being on the inside, incompetence and la)iness.... greed.... the fact, for e8ample, that too many papers by far do not wish to
offend major advertisers....
:eporters who are incompetent, la)y, lac2 fire in the belly.... "ou put all these sins together, and there are more, and you come up with a public,press
2now,nothing pact that ma2es some si)eable contributions, > would argue, to our national problems currently.
Brea2 this 2now nothing pact now and you will have ta2en as mighty a step as you can as an individual to help see to it that we as a nation move
together toward a lively, hopeful, confident, and all,embracing future.7
, Speech to Stanford graduates by &eneva verholser, chosen -..4 0ditor of the "ear by the &annett $ompany, former board member of the
American Society of %ewspaper 0ditors and Pulit)er Pri)e Board, former reporter for %" Times, and former 0ditor of the !es Coines
:egister.
http:##www.dailysource.org#about#problemsS.U8fB$ygppTg