Post No.: 0393
A perfect event at the wrong time is often ignored and wasted, whereas a bad event at the perfect time in the news cycle often gets picked up anyway. (Likewise, a perfect product at the wrong time is often useless or won’t sell, whereas a bad product at the perfect time often gets used anyway.)
So be aware of news cycles – for example, newspapers normally have a daily or weekly news cycle, national television news is 24/7, local news is often around four times per day, radio news is 24/7 and will break a story at any time of the day, and news blogs are highly individual.
People and organisations can use tricks to exploit these news cycles, such as sending important things in the middle of the morning or middle of the day, releasing an unfavourable story after 5pm on Friday for knowing that almost every reporter and editor has gone home, or not announcing news or pitching guest columns after business hours since one’s message will likely just end up in the middle of the recycle bin or on a voicemail. Reporters and editors typically delete a lot of messages that they’ve received overnight.
The more time-sensitive a story is, the more one should lean towards talking to radio, TV or blogs first, which can break news faster than newspapers. But if a story is more complex then newspapers specialise in covering tougher stories and can pack in more information than on TV or radio, where a 2-minute story is considered long and snappy sound bites are favoured more.
An editor for a paper or news site will subjectively choose what he/she thinks should be covered. Things that skew a news outlet’s focus or perspective on what to report and how to report it include the conflicts of interests between political, commercial and readership recruitment interests, and the plain truth, fairness and importance to society. A news outlet can cherry-pick which stories to report, or at least emphasise on their front pages, to fit their own parochial agendas and target readers.
Out of the full picture of reality, certain facts or statistics can be cherry-picked, then the headline selected, to fit their already preconceived worldviews. Hence they may not be telling lies per se but the known truth isn’t being completely reported, which can be virtually just as misleading. And that’s why we need to know a news provider’s political orientation or affiliation, who owns the paper, their parent and sister companies if any, how they operate and where they get their money/funding from (e.g. their main revenue streams, main advertisers). You can do some research to find these out for the various major news outlets in your country.
Most news outlets, or at least individual journalists, and almost certainly all columnists, have a political bias, whether they’re consciously aware of it or not. And these political and/or commercial interests or conflicts of interests – whether related to a news/media outlet overall, or individual columnist, editor, etc. – aren’t normally overtly declared either. So these are things to always bear in fluffy mind whenever one assesses an information source. Opinions as journalism aren’t the same things as opinions in journalism too – see Post No.: 0231 for more.
‘Puff pieces’ are biased pieces that promote rather than impartially probe and critique what they’re reporting on, even though who wrote them may try to present them as impartial critical pieces. (They may even believe they are impartial, but that’s like believing you can be truly independent and impartial about critiquing your own children’s cuteness!)
So when reading any publication or piece by an author, you’ve got to bear in the back of your mind what political bias or financial sponsors they have or may have. Moneyed interests can conflict with the impartial truth or independent opinion, even unconsciously. (The more I’ve studied and learnt about humans, life and the world, the more I’ve gradually shifted from a ‘right-of-centre’ to a more ‘left-of-centre’ political stance according to a ‘Western’ perspective I would personally say – which I think is actually more ‘centre-of-centre’ according to a more global perspective – but it’s difficult to generalise because it depends on the particular issue. Others might disagree but whether that speaks more about them than me I’m not sure because we can only make relative comparisons here hence it depends on who, when and/or where we’re comparing to. The ‘centre’ doesn’t mean impartial but I’m certainly not loyal to any political party. And these are all my own independent thoughts and words because I don’t have any sponsors for this blog, and perhaps never will unless they fit my values and let me continue to write whatever I want to write and agree with.)
A dominant news corporation that owns multiple newspapers and other news products can shift our collective calibration of where the political ‘centre’ is; leading us to vote for consecutive governments and referenda decisions that lean more towards a certain way. Even political parties that traditionally lean the other way must adjust to have a chance of gaining power because every leadership candidate needs to have the media on his/her side, whether by owning and controlling the media directly or cosying up to those who do. So the media are extremely powerful politically and we cannot dismiss their influence on our attitudes as well as the decisions of politicians – the support of a major news organisation can boost a politician’s image and in turn career, while the opposite can snuff it. The line between politics and the press is therefore blurry. Social media platforms are also incredibly powerful political tools.
As news consumers, most of us (at least in places like the UK) are faced with a wide spectrum of different news providers, thus we’ve got to question how we select our own sources of news. For example, we may be biased in always gravitating towards politically left-leaning or right-leaning newspapers or news sites. Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, we all have our own biases too, and it would help if we were more cognizant and mindful of where they lean. Unless we always sit on the fence and hold no opinions about anything whatsoever (remember that opinions aren’t facts) then we have a bias, even though this bias might change over time. We may scoff at the way certain papers are politically biased but that often reveals our own political biases because we tend to scoff at those papers or outlets that lean in the opposite direction to where we politically lean!
We may also have a geographical or local bias that we’re totally oblivious to on a daily basis, simply because we tend to only rely on sources of news that come from our own countries or are covered in our own main languages. For example, people in English-speaking countries often neglect that other places around the world are experiencing far worse problems or disasters than us yet we don’t care as much about them because our media sources generally don’t cover foreign stories unless they’re major events or are somehow linked to our own country’s interests; and even then, the coverage is uneven (e.g. 1 local person who’s very sick from Ebola virus disease will receive much more local attention than 100 people who’ve even died from the same disease in another country).
This may be fair enough to an extent because local news is more pertinent to us and other countries focus on their own local matters more than matters elsewhere too. Maybe it’s not a case of people not caring about people in foreign countries, but it can still be problematic because it skews perceptions of events around the world. For example, the places where most terrorist attacks occur are not in ‘the West’ – not by a long way. And it’s not just a case of geographically local news being more important to us because it reveals which countries our country geopolitically kowtows to more, or at least cares about more, than others. For instance, in the UK media, floods in the USA are treated with more news coverage than floods in India, even though these countries are roughly the same geographical distance away from the UK, and the death toll may be greater in the floods in India too. Floods in India are probably more commonplace and therefore less novel and salient to bother reporting each and every time – yet won’t this make the lack of awareness of where a particular problem is greatest even worse?
Like regular citizens – or as regular citizens themselves – journalists and editors are also naturally inclined to side with their own country whenever there’s a dispute of facts between two different countries, especially if these countries are considered more ideological opposites than allies. All of these local biases greatly shape our wider geopolitical worldviews.
So, difficult and against our instincts as it may be, if we are to be truly critical news consumers – we need to question even things like our own country’s bias, whichever country we’re from, as well as our own individual political biases. We must be ready to at least occasionally read or watch some papers or news programmes we don’t normally read or watch, and at least be aware that there are news in more languages than any one person can understand.
Woof. Please use the Twitter comment button below if you think we could ever be truly impartial and unbiased or is this just pie in the sky?