In the modern political landscape, it is easy to view most things with a little underlying skepticism. When the 2016 election made the term “fake news” a part of everyday jargon, it entirely transformed how all of us approach information, especially when it comes to news media.
While recent polls have shown that the general population still possesses an overall trust of journalists and their organizations, the advent of “fake news” has made journalism as a whole much more difficult. Regular people and rival organizations throw around claims of bias daily. Both print readers and self-appointed researchers on various social media platforms subject news coverage to vetting. From these conflicts, pundits have been able to gain notoriety and thrive through scathing criticism of their peers and defiance against the mainstream media.
Simply put, it is an age when satisfaction comes at a premium. And perhaps at the root of it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the news media’s role in society.
When reading newspapers or watching news programs, it is common for consumers to approach media seeking an objective account of events. We are going to these platforms to receive information presented to us “as is,” without the influence of bias or misleading reporting. But the problem with this expectation lies with how objectivity, as we wish to see it in media, is just not possible. Furthermore, the American concept of news was never intended to meet this demand of truly impartial reporting.
In reality, information can never be treated as a two-sided issue, especially when one is seeking objectivity. An accurate account of events will more than often appear biased as, ironically, nobody’s idea of what is objective will be exactly the same. Taking this idea one step further and believing that these supposed biases make an issue two-sided only exacerbates the problem of informational misunderstandings.
Every story will have many perspectives. Some are valid, while some would could be genuinely treated as false. The inherent value in modern news media is that you can, regardless of the context, expect validity in what you are listening to, reading or watching.
Dating back to their party-associated origins and issues with yellow journalism, news organizations have always been able to establish their own voice in the media sphere. Their collective shift toward independence in the late 1800s laid the foundation for modern journalism, eventually refocusing the American media upon “objective” reporting.
This era of transition is perhaps where the misconceptions emerged from. From this period onward, newspapers became increasingly involved in a watchdog role. Events such as Watergate and the Pentagon Papers became landmark events allowing us to understand journalism as a counterweight to the dishonesty of politics. In moments of governmental uncertainty, we could trust the news media to expose the issues we wouldn’t otherwise know of.
So when the news media became politicized again, we reflexively associated it with unprecedented bias.
Throughout the 2016 election, then-Presidential-candidate Donald Trump was able to reassociate media organizations with politics by reframing their reporting. In doing so, he was able to contort the image of the mainstream media that most people possessed. Reporting on Trump’s numerous egregious actions was viewed by his supporters as a series of deliberate attacks, turning the relationship between the presidency and the media into an “us-versus-them” conflict.
It’s understandable to have doubts concerning the state of news media, especially given how many platforms have struggled with Russian interference and blatantly fraudulent sources. But wishing for true objectivity is simply unrealistic, and it only plays into a narrative promoted by the very people media has set out to counteract.