Audiences accepting of reporter bias

Consumers of news are much more open than we think they are to the idea of a “view from somewhere” in the news. I’d long suspected this was true, but it wasn’t until 2004 that I had the chance to test the concept.

In that year, I had the great fortune of participating in a research project for Fisher Communications in Seattle. Working with Susan Korbel of Core Research, we studied, through mall interviews and telephone surveys, consumer opinions in Portland and Seattle about local TV and the Web. Here’s one of the key findings:

57% of 18-49ers in Portland and Seattle are warm to the idea of honest bias in reporters

The level of support for this actually surprised me, and it’s extremely relevant in today’s discussion of news with a point-of-you. Note, too, that the study was with 18–49-year olds, the news consumers of the future. And I think even those who disagreed here would find the concept acceptable, for remember, we’re the ones who have told the public that objectivity is the mission of journalism. This assumption isn’t universal.

We also discussed the idea of citizen reporters with the people in those two markets, and that, too, produced impressive results. 27% of the 18–49-year old respondents said they were interested in the idea, with another 47% said they’d be interested, but wanted to see it first.

I’m convinced that we underestimate the public’s interest in new things in the world of journalism, and theirs is a voice to which we should be paying close attention.

(thanks to Susan and Fisher for letting me publish this slide here)

Comments

  1. Paul Nyren says:

    Terry:
    After reading your “10 days that unexpectedly changed me”, I believe that I served in the CG with you at Northbrook Radio (NMP). If so and you have time drop me a note…It would be nice to hear from you…Thanks

  2. Any chance that the rest of the slides will be made public? This is quite interesting and I’d like to see more on the subject.

  3. Isn’t bias the natural order?

    Consider what gets printed and or broadcast in general journalism. Publisher, Editor, Managers and others all have the ability to spike stories, before journalism has a chance to be practiced let alone be accused of bias.

    You shouldn’t be surprised by the results. In the 60’s when I was in that age range, things like ‘I am hip to it’, ‘I know where you are coming from’ etc. were the signs of the acknowledgment of ‘bias’/viewpoint/grinding axes. We didn’t die from exposure.

    Today with the web, being biased, having a viewpoint or an opinion is the starting point for attention. The keyword in your slide is honesty. Journalism is getting a bad rap because it has been welded to media outlets, which as Jason Falls explains:

    ~journalism as we understand it (institutionalized, done by professionals, etc.), is that traditional media is produced for consumption. Today’s media is produced for engagement. ”

    you noted that journalists put forward ”objectivity is the mission of journalism” which you correctly noted was not a universal assumption. Honesty is the most important ingredient in a journalist, warts and all.

    Media outlets and empires are crumbling as the ‘ex cathedra’ transmission of news is no longer valid for a generation and population that can fact check your ass faster than you can update. I just hope journalism can remain a career while we figure out how to compensate folks who practice it.

  4. Brad, I can’t offer public dissemination of all the findings from the Fisher study because they are proprietary, but I’d be pleased to talk with you off line about our findings. Even more, I’d like the opportunity to work with others on a tracking study in other markets to see how the public receptivity toward reporter bias has changed — if you know of somebody who’s up for that.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Audiences accepting of reporter bias […]

  2. […] producer” as a means of gaining trust. He advocates transparency instead, and Terry Heaton provided statistics showing that the majority of young adults don’t mind journalists’ bias, as long as […]

  3. […] I have no view. Instead, I am going to level with you about where I’m coming from on this. So factor that in when you evaluate my report. Because I’ve done the work and this is what I’ve […]

  4. […] I have no view. Instead, I am going to level with you about where I’m coming from on this. So factor that in when you evaluate my report. Because I’ve done the work and this is what I’ve […]

  5. […] no view. Instead, I am going to level with you about where I’m coming from on this. So factor that in when you evaluate my report. Because I’ve done the work and this is what I’ve […]

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