By Katelin Davis
The University of Mississippi
The elephant in the newsroom is growing. So is the donkey. And they’re pushing consumer reliability out the window.
A recent study showed consumer trust in national news sources has decreased in recent years. The study also showed the believability of a news source could be directly related to a consumers’ political association and the politicization of news sources.
So what’s the problem?
With individual conservative sites and accredited news stations both covering the Jessica Chambers case and other high profile cases, the trustworthiness of sources matters for the popularity and credibility of distributed news.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics and Policy, the difference in where online adults get their news is as diverse as the arguments between conservative and liberal political parties. The amount of trust liberal vs. conservative viewers placed in certain news sources also differs drastically according to the report.
The chart below shows that consistent conservative readers cite Fox News as the most reliable news source, while consistent liberals list NPR, MSNBC and The New York Times as their most trusted sources.
The chart’s findings are similar to reactions from students and professors interviewed at the University of Mississippi.
Angela Payne, 21, is a senior psychology and political science major at the University of Mississippi. She is originally from Guntersville, Alabama.
Payne believes news sources began including bias in reporting to increase ratings. According to Payne, the divide between liberal and conservative news stations makes news more interesting to the typical consumer.
“They need ratings, and if it’s not interesting, or if it doesn’t seem like there is a huge divide, then it’s not worth watching,” Payne said. “It becomes about entertaining, not just reporting.”
While the entertainment value may increase, the credibility of the news source can decrease because of biased reporting according to Payne.
“I think it’s important to cover both sides of a story,” Payne said. “Personal agendas shouldn’t get in the way of news sources. People are looking for information, not your opinions. It’s harder to disassociate opinions and facts when you are supposed to be getting it from a reliable news source if they are including bias toward a certain political party.”
Another report released by the Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics and Policy showed consumers criticize reporting of traditional news sources. 66 percent said news sources are generally inaccurate, and 77 percent said news sources favor one side of a story.
While the distrust of national news sources is high, consumers have started to find new outlets to obtain their news.
“I still try to get my news from places like BBC World News, primarily because they have less of an agenda,” Payne said. “It is typically more – here are the facts of this incident and its repercussions. I think it’s easier to just take in facts that way.”
Heather Ondercin is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Mississippi. Ondercin believes individual programs and editorials of news outlets contain bias, but overall, major news sources give balanced information to their viewers.
Ondercin said biased news reporting can affect how a viewer understands high profile cases like the Chambers case.
“The framing of different incidents or issues can really matter in terms of people’s reactions to them and their understanding of them,” Ondercin said. “We depend so much on the news media for what’s going on in the world. How the media presents it matters.”
Jamie Nelms, an adjunct instructor for the University of Mississippi’s sociology department, shared her thoughts on the current presentation of news. To her, the politically biased nature of news stations makes them unreliable for the typical viewer. Nelms believes bias is allowed to continue because of news stations and viewers’ actions.
“I think a bias is included in news because people like to associate with politics and beliefs they support,” Nelms said. “People feel more comfortable associating with those that fall within the same categories. No one likes to have their comfort system challenged … and unfortunately, news stations grab a hold of this and run with it.”
While Nelms believes watching the biased stations is voluntary and potentially problematic for understanding high profile cases, she has hope the everyday consumer can change the way they view certain cases.
“If people would lower their guard about those who don’t align 100 percent with their viewpoints, then they can begin to see all sides of the spectrum,” Nelms said. “There’s probably always going to be a difference of opinions. One would hope not, but things haven’t changed socially. This clouds our perception of news stories and influences our choosing of certain news stations.”
Hear more of the interview with Professor Heather Ondercin here.