Journalism has undoubtedly shaped U.S. history. Such works as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle have informed and influenced American thought in a way that is essential to democracy.
There has, however, been an increasing trend towards sensationalism in the media over the past century. Today, responsible, informative, and fair journalism is far less common than petty, commercial and partisan media, and the American people notice.
A new Pew Research Center poll reveals that only 28% of Americans believe that today’s journalists contribute “a lot” to society. Moreover, a nearly equal amount believe that today’s journalists have absolutely no positive effect on society. Journalists’ public perception was significantly more favorable only four years ago when the same poll was administered.
These figures are unsettling, but frankly unsurprising.
Today’s media overwhelmingly reports while skewed by an agenda — in pursuit of money and partisan gain. People read or listen to or watch journalists with the expectation of bias. Each of the mainstream cable news programs is guilty of falsely claiming objectivity. Viewers, however, largely understand this, and they select their news outlets accordingly. A Gallup poll reveals that 60% of Americans do not trust the media to report fully, accurately or fairly. Take a look at this chart that illustrates the vastly partisan divide between Fox News and CNN viewers.
Journalism is now focused on commercialism, on catering to the biases of the audience instead of honest, earnest reporting. Financial incentives and rat races for ratings have provoked this trend and overwhelmed the industry.
The emergence of social media has also contributed to this trend. Because of social media, information now spreads with remarkable speed, an innovation that has obfuscated journalists' role in reporting news. Stories often appear on social media before journalists have a chance to break them. Today's media has subsequently evolved to attract audiences with sensationalist stories
Despite America's clear disillusionment with the nation's journalism, there is still a place in our society for effective, responsible reporting. And there remain many capable, honest journalists who inform and contribute to the national discussion. The nation needs more of these reporters, and much less pontification.