Why the latest Pew Research study shows we’re all terrible at this news thing.
Last week the Pew Research Center published the recent results of a survey in which they asked individuals what recent headlines were the most important to them. The report found that of the people surveyed, those who identified themselves as Republicans or Democrats, basically don’t follow the same news stories.
As the graph above shows, Republicans tend to lean on headlines that produce empty moral outrage like a career politician’s private email server or a foreign ally coming to Congress to tell the President to go fuck himself and his potential peace deal. As for Democrats, they tend to follow headlines that have no traction or are fairly obvious. Like focusing on idiosyncrasies of a healthcare act signed into law four years ago or that minority neighborhoods have a real complex/volatile relationship with the police, in which every minority would respond with the same three words, “well no shit.” While all these stories have some merit to them – hell we even covered some of them – there’s only so much you can say about them! In turn, these stories become over-saturated by the media.
Now it isn’t all bad news. There was one subject that everyone has an interest in hearing about.
Yup, when it comes to news about the US economy, everyone listens! According to the report, almost a quarter of people surveyed (24%) follow US economic news “very closely.” But considering not more than six years ago, when the entire financial system almost came crashing down, everyone having a vested interest in the economy just makes sense. In fact, I would venture to say it’s a little weird if you aren’t paying attention to news stories about the US economy. It’s like that guy who instinctively uses Bing instead of Google. While I’m sure the person is just fine, you can’t help but question their judgment on just about everything.
Now if we’re being honest with ourselves, none of this should be surprising. If anything it actually explains quite a bit about our current political and media landscape. News organizations like Fox News have strong ratings, along with a healthy serving of Grade-A media bias. From a business standpoint this makes perfect sense, because it’s a formula that has been making them profitable for years now. As for those who consume news (aka us), this survey only strengthens the argument that many of us have a selection bias when it comes to the news. In that we tend to pick stories that favor our political leanings.
Now if you’re telling yourself this grand circle jerk sounds like a win-win for everyone involved – broadcasters profit on news while their audience gets what it wants – you’re missing the larger issue. The news just isn’t something that should be things we WANT to hear, it should be things that we NEED to hear!
Take for example the story of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and her government corruption scandal. Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched in over 150 cities demanding the resignation of President Rousseff over the allegations of bribery. Now this is a major story that almost no one has heard of due to how major news networks are covering it. News networks know that this story about Brazil – even though it is news worthy – won’t get traction among their American audiences. So even though news organizations like CNN have reported on it, it gets buried under more pressing headlines that no one will find informative, thus also offending no one in the process. Headlines like Facebook Explores ‘Nudity’, MLBer Hurts Himself While Sneezing, and Justin Bieber Ends Comedy Central Roast with Humility. As of this writing, all of these headlines had appeared on CNN’s front page, instead of the Brazil story.
Now to be fair, if the last headline is indeed true, anything that unprecedented would have to be considered news worthy.
The problem lies that if we can’t even agree on what news stories are important – or in CNN’s case report on topics that are actually news – then how can we have a national conversation about anything? Remember the picture of that dress that almost destroyed the Internet a couple of weeks ago? It’s like that. Only instead of arguing over whether the dress is white and gold or blue and black, we’re arguing semantics over issues that are either empty and idiotic or completely obvious and that are already settled. And instead of wagering this on Internet bragging rights, we’re wagering the very fabric of American democracy. Now granted with how much abuse that fabric of American democracy has taken over the last few years, Internet bragging rights might be more valuable at this point.
But look on the bright side.
When it comes to the US economy and our money, we’re like Ol’ Dirty Bastard right here!
Which is at least something.
(Photo Credits: Google Images, The Pew Research Center, CNN)