Today’s media consumers want what they want when they want it. Most of the emphasis has been on the “when.” But we also need to consider the implications of the “what.”
When it comes to news, scholars tell us, many media consumers are looking for affirmation rather than information. They seek reinforcement for what they already believe.
Now WIBC [June 23], still claiming “the largest, most experienced radio news team in the state,” has dumped the host of its morning news block. Steve Simpson had logged 22 years at the station. Taking his place is the host of a nighttime talk show that began just last fall. The announcement back then described the new guy as “a conservative commentator and columnist.”
WIBC is asking all its hosts to “offer opinion and perspective,” a station executive told IBJ. The previous morning host “was not comfortable with that. He was more comfortable in a more traditional news role.”
But the real point is what the audience is comfortable with. The rest of WIBC’s schedule is filled with conservative talkers, including Rush Limbaugh.
Forty years ago, Burger King started telling us to “Have it your way.” A few weeks ago the fast-food chain tweaked that slogan to read, “Be your way.” In its news release, Burger King said people “can and should live how they want anytime [sic]. It’s OK [sic] to not be perfect.”
Fast food—as well as politics, it would appear—is all about identity.
But news is about reality. News is supposed to bring us facts even if they challenge our preconceptions. As two towering statesmen—Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Republican James R. Schlesinger—said, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.
Meanwhile, Americans’ trust in the news media has dropped to record lows, a new Gallup poll says. Only 22 percent of those surveyed place “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in newspapers. TV news scored even lower—just 19 percent.
Why so low? A blogger for the conservative advocacy group Accuracy in Media blames mainstream media for not being “fair and balanced.” But the media may not be the root of the problem.
Phil Bremen, associate professor of telecommunications, Ball State University