There’s heightened sensitivity about media bias because of the presidential election, especially about the usual suspects like the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and Fox News.
The Times’ Ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, wrote an article, “Keeping Their Opinions to Themselves,”
about readers’ reactions to Times political coverage, making a couple of interesting points:
- “There is an entire body of scholarship devoted to what social scientists call the ‘hostile media’ syndrome, the belief of people with strong feelings about an issue — any issue that the news media are hostile to their side.”
- Speaking at a group in Montclair, NJ, Hoyt asked how many felt Times’ coverage is biased, and more than half the hands went up. One audience member complained that the Times “always plays up scandals involving Republicans and buries scandals involving Democrats.” Hoyt pointed out that the Times broke the Spitzer scandal and published extensive reports on Rep. Charles Rangel. The audience member’s response: “I’d call that good journalism.”
- Journalists “do have personal biases, and a long line of studies has shown that they tend to be more socially and politically liberal than the population at large….” but Hoyt cited a study that said “a link between reporters’ political beliefs and news coverage has never been convincingly established.” Just ask Democrats who work for Fox News.
What’s most interesting, I think, is that Hoyt acknowledges that journalists do have biases — but it’s not the kind most would consider, though it is important for PR departments to be aware of them. “Journalists are biased:
- Toward conflict.
- Toward bad news because it is more exciting than good news, and, obviously,
- Toward what is new.
Now conflict and bad news are things most organizations want to avoid in their day-to-day operations as well as in their media coverage. The challenge is to come up with something news — not just for the company. That’s an important criteria all of us in PR need to work harder to define and achieve.