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Is bias-free news coverage coming back into vogue?

After years in which news outlets became associated with one political slant or another, there are some signs that a course correction is under way in the media. So far, the shift is a subtle one.

By Staff writer / March 2, 2012

Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith conducts an interview during his ‘Studio B’ program in New York. The channel, which saw ratings slide as much as 15 percent over the past year, is reportedly weighing a ‘course correction’ to broaden its appeal.

Richard Drew/AP

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Los Angeles

Here's a news flash: Politically flavored reporting – as in conservatives prefer Fox News and liberals like MSNBC or CNN – may be undergoing a rethink, as networks and some news websites seek to expand their appeal or shore up ratings.

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The changes so far are subtle, and some media watchers are skeptical they will amount to much. But signs are building that some major news outlets are taking steps to de-emphasize political overtones, reemphasize facts, and pay closer heed to the "fair and balanced" standard of journalism.

Among them are the Fox News Channel, where a "course correction" is reported to be under way aimed at moderating on-air content, and the liberal Huffington Post, which is featuring a greater diversity of voices since founder Arianna Huffington expanded her domain upon taking the helm of media giant AOL.

Reports of these changes coincide with a groundswell of grass-roots groups demanding greater accuracy and accountability from online and on-air media. Efforts in the mode of the Tampa Bay Times's PolitiFact and factcheck.org include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, who is quietly seeding ventures devoted to rooting out disinformation in the media.

It is no surprise that these trends are emerging simultaneously, media watchers say. Media outlets need to appeal to a broader audience to reverse sagging ratings, and to do that they must respond to audience demand for greater credibility.

There is a fundamental urge in human nature to seek out "the reliable," says communications professor Leonard Shyles of Villanova University in Philadelphia. "You want to know that when you put your trust in something you spend your valuable time with, that in the end, there is something you can trust."

A 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center found that Americans' trust in the media was at its lowest level in nine of 12 core areas, such as accuracy and freedom from bias, since the center began its media survey in 1985.

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