Right now, if you Google “the media,” the first three suggested searches that will appear include “the media is biased,” the “media lies,” and the “media was wrong.” In this unprecedented presidential election, many individuals to fault the rise of Donald Trump to the way “the media” covered the election, or even the way Trump characterized “the media” by suggesting they provided faulty and unfair coverage of his administration. This seems to be a common sentiment that is often discussed on social media and in personal conversations. However, there is a danger in grouping all media organizations into one collective group, “the media.”
The problem in overgeneralizing media organizations and treating them the same way is that not all media organizations are the same or even strive to be the same. For instance, there are 32,042 broadcast stations, according to data released by the Federal Communications Commission in 2016. There are over 7,000 magazines in print, according to the Association of Magazine Media; and there are about 2,252 newspapers in print, according to the Pew Research Center. Just with those listed, that comes out to be more than 41,000 different media organizations, not to mention the gazillion online media organizations. To put it simply, there is no way well over a 100,000 media organizations should be viewed as the same.
More important than sheer number of media organizations in existence is that many of them strive to accomplish different goals and different types of coverage. For example, while some organizations strive for objective and unbiased news coverage, others focus more on aggregating news, some focus on delivering commentary, some focus on advocacy, and you even have some media organizations whose goal is to produce satirical or fake news. Not to mention, not all of these media organizations even claim to produce journalism. To put it plainly, the New York Times is vastly different from The Onion and should not be held to the same standards in any way.
Gallup recently reported that American trust in the media has hit an all-time low, with only 32 percent of surveyed individuals saying they have a trust in the media. However, interestingly enough, while people have an overall distrust of the media, they are loyal to their selected news outlet. About 51 percent of Americans say they are loyal to their news sources, and 76 percent of Americans usually turn to the same sources for news, according to the Pew Research Center in 2016. Additionally, average viewership for ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts has been increasing for the past three years, also according to Pew research.
So just because people do not trust “the media” as a whole, they do trust their selected news organizations enough to keep coming back day after day, night after night.
As a reporter, I can guarantee there is no industrywide conspiracy for slanted coverage of a person or event. People from 100,000 media organizations don’t come together in the morning to decide what they will cover and write about. Instead, each media organization starts each morning off with their individual organizational goal in mind and then determines how they will best meet that goal, whether that means advocacy, satire or the news.
Not every media organization is perfect, and yes, many of them do have faults. But even so, over 100,000 media organizations should not be blamed for the mistakes of a few. The same logic could be applied to so many different situations, and each time it simply wouldn’t make sense. For instance, if one person was rude to you, it would be ridiculous to say that every single person in the country was also inherently rude. For the same reason it just doesn’t make sense to say that every single media organization is inherently bad just because you may think some of the organizations are.
Additionally, there is also a difference in a media organization providing poor or faulty coverage and a media organization providing coverage that just does not closely match your values and beliefs. You are likely not going to agree with every media outlet, and that is perfectly fine, but again, it does not mean that every news organization is inherently at fault just because they aren’t providing the coverage you want to hear. It is actually a good thing that individuals disagree with some media outlets because that sparks conversation and discourse about competing ideas, which is the very thing the media industry as a whole strives to produce.
Each individual media organization should be held to a mutually agreed-upon standard, and just like any other company or organization, sometimes they will fall short of that standard and sometimes they will exceed that standard. It is fair to evaluate media organizations, but next time you do, before you make a blanket statement about “the media” on social media or in a conversation with a friend, just take a moment to consider whether that evaluation is based off the fault of one media organization or the entire media industry as a whole. More times than not the fault or point of contention will likely fall with a few media organizations rather than the entire industry because, to put it simply: not all media organizations are created equal.