Most of the American population gets their information about current events from a news publication – whether is it online, TV, or any other medium that is available. The vast majority of Americans believe the information from these sources. The big question is: should you trust what information you are getting?
The information you get from mainstream media is mostly accurate. No source is going to be completely free from inaccuracy, so it shouldn’t be blamed for being produced by faulty human beings. Publications have to present mostly accurate information – especially that can be easily checked, or they will be called on it. Although the mainstream media’s reporting is mostly accurate, the facts have to be presented in a story or narrative.
News publication is a business. It is typically profit-based. Just a telling of the facts can be boring. They have to tell stories that people will want to read/listen/watch. Part of presenting a story is presenting the facts, the other is putting those facts into a narrative. The narrative entails fitting those facts into a story. There also might be an omission of facts. Not presenting some facts is not misinformation, but if information changes your narrative, you might leave that information out:
Even the most conscientiously crafted news story can leave out information that might have changed your opinion.Finding the facts that online news leaves out; New Scientist
Why would someone leave out information? Well, we all have biases – even journalists. In America’s political world, very few stories are neutral – as very few journalists are neutral politically.
There is also sensationalism. As mentioned before, news publication is a business, and you need stories that people are going to want to read/listen/watch. Sometimes, the facts themselves are not interesting enough:
Nowadays, with the high competition for readers’ attention online, this is the world where we still live. The shift is nearly complete from physical newspapers to online-only sources, and with that comes the need to drive viewers to sites. The result is image-heavy content, or short video clips, or bold, outlandish headlines that the reader cannot resist clicking. Or, even, article after article of plain fake news.
The quality of reporting, and pure writing, is no longer a priority. After all, who is going to read the words if no one visits the site?Why Yellow Journalism Today is Rampant in the 21st Century; ED A. MURRAY
Presenting just the facts in and of itself will not generate patrons. Why? Because there are other publications who are vying for your attention. This is demonstrated in how some journalists reports on scientific research. The scientific study might be boring to most Americans, so you have to make it interesting – which is not just simplifying or summarizing the results.
How do we make something interesting? Well, in American culture, we do so by appealing to trends. I don’t want to degrade the Black Lives Matter or Me Too movements in stating this, but they are trends. Celebrities are also trends. There are some celebrities who would previously have been top stories, but now, very few seem to care or even or barely remember. A news story will get a larger audience if the subject matter is about a current trend than a random topic.
It’s a horrible truth, but negativity gets more attention than positivity. So if negativity and trends are what drive an audience, then what do you think the news is going to publish? Police brutality, rape accusations, celebrity meltdowns; are all topics that will drive an audience. A police officer saving a life, the life of a happy couple, or a celebrity’s success are not nearly as popular news topics. It is important to report on brutality and accusations, but if you’re appealing to an audience, your narrative will dictate how you tell the story. Those who watch FOX News are getting a different narrative than those who watch MSNBC. They are not just reporting facts. They are reporting on topics you care about and telling them in the way you want to understand them.
Can you trust mainstream media? Maybe. But realize you are not just getting some facts, but a story.