Is the truth out there?

By: Amanda M

 It is the year 2022. People are on their phones more than ever and yet with the aftermath of the pandemic, Roe v Wade being overturned, and inflation skyrocketing. Despite this, new viewer rates are falling. What could have caused this shift?

The media industry has evolved from newspaper deliveries to radio stations to be available at any time due to apps. Nowadays there is not only national news but local news as well and there are new stations that report throughout the whole day. There are so many news broadcasts that are now being live-streamed, so the information is getting out as quickly as the stations are receiving it. Tricia Kean, a local news anchor from Channel 13 said, “You have fewer television viewers and you have more people getting information streaming or through apps and I think it’s a good thing because you can get information at any time.” Comparing the number of viewers from the first half of 2021 to the first half of 2022,  Axios says that it is overall on the downhill slope. “Cable viewership across the three major cable news networks — CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC — is, on average, down 19% in prime time for the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2021,” says Neal Rothschild. “Those losses skew heavily toward CNN and MSNBC, which are down 47% and 33%, respectively. Fox’s ratings are up 12% in that six-month span.”  There has also been a decrease in the number of people interested in news that is posted over social media around 50% according to Axios.

Local news has more control than national news, however. National news has to be so accurate that there is no room for errors. Tricia Kean and Sports anchor Chris Maathuis from channel 8 both work locally in Las Vegas and both have stated that they effectively have full control over their stories but it is different for different positions at the stations. Kean says, “I think that a general assignment news reporter would have a lot less control than I do, and I’ve been that too in my career and you have to when you are a general assignment reporter you cover the news in the day whether you like it or not.” From the sports angle, Maathuis said, “We have almost total autonomy with what we want to do. A hundred percent freedom. We pretty much put our own stories together. We write our stories, we produce our stories and edit our stories and then go out and anchor the stories.” This allows news anchors to have the ability to work without interference but this does bring up the issue of integrity and bias. George Stephanopoulos worked for former President Bill Clinton before leaving to work with ABC as their chief political correspondent. While he worked for ABC News he donated $75,000 to a charity organization run by the former president. Even after it was discovered he had made the donations, ABC backed Stephanopoulos with no intention of punishment instead of raising the question of him being politically biased.

According to National Post, “respondents under 35 were the least trusting of news in general, with only a third (37 percent) saying they trust news “most of the time,” compared with nearly half (47 percent) of those 55 and older.” The reason why people under 35 weren’t looking at the news was because of how negative the news made them feel.  When asked about how they felt about changes in media, Maathuis said, I think it’s been for the worst. The dishonesty, the perceived dishonesty, the one-sided stories, the stories that the media on purpose avoid because maybe they aren’t aligned with a certain position.” Kean says, “I think sometimes it’s not as well vetted as you know because people are just trying to get the information out there so right or wrong you know… you tend to see a lot more retractions or dial-backs or a new post saying ‘we want to update you on this.’ You see a lot more mistakes that way.” Maathuis brings up the case at Brigham Young University where a student was banned from the college’s games for saying racial slurs to one of the black volleyball players. However, about a week later the university had to apologize to the fan and unban them after conducting an investigation proving they couldn’t find any evidence showing the student had made the comments. Maathuis said, “There are a lot of different sides but immediately the networks and so forth go out and say ‘that’s a racist school’. They didn’t dig up and find out the whole truth of the story or at least both sides of the story. That narrative has gotta change where you gotta say, ‘wait a minute, let’s step back and let’s find out what happened before you go on air and say this happened or that happened.”

 Journalism is supposed to be the one thing people can always trust, however over the years there have been countless times when the media has failed to provide all the facts or give out the correct information. Some of the biggest examples are the Rolling Stone rape story at the University of Virginia or the Woman Who Wasn’t There story which was about Alicia Esteve, who claimed she was in the  World Trade Center towers as they were hit on 9/11. 

The Rolling Stone gang rape story was released in November 2014 and was a story of a student named Jackie claiming she was gang raped by seven men at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia. The feature story went into very immense detail about her account of that night. The author of the article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, later had to take down the story when the details in Jackie’s story weren’t fact-checked and turned out to be false. The University of Virginia was given $3 million for damages caused to its reputation after the story and Erdely was fired from Rolling Stone. The Woman Who Wasn’t There story shook the nation when Tania Head came forward with her story of survival during the tragedy of 9/11. Tania became the most famous survivor of 9/11 survivors practically overnight and even was showing Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials around the Ground Zero Memorial. She even got a documentary made about her even though her entire story was fake. In this instance, every news outlet took a hit for covering her story, and no one attempted to uncover the truth behind it all. 

However, these aren’t the only stories where this has happened. “See the national networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC are tough because you don’t hear both sides of the story,” said Maathuis. ABC, NBC, and CBS have all seen their fair share of corrupt individuals like Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, or Roger Ailes — all fired for sexual misconduct after Gretchen Carlson and many other women in the industry came forward. One of the more recent examples was when Matt Gutman from ABC was covering the crash and death of Kobe Bryant in 2020. Gutman jumped the case claiming that Kobe Bryant and all of his kids died in the helicopter crash even though the coroner hadn’t even confirmed who was in the crash, or who had survived. Gutman later apologized for his mistakes on live television and social media for his mistake and still is working for ABC.

The younger generation relies on social media to get their news but they don’t trust any news outlet anymore and the teenagers know that social media isn’t the most trustworthy source either. A study conducted by BBC Education shows 47% of respondents trust the news they see on social media. So how can this be fixed? Kean says, “it’s a reporter’s responsibility to kind of check the facts of what someone is telling you. Just don’t take what someone is telling you and put it on tv. You have to fact-check them as well, to make sure what they are saying is accurate.” Maathuis says, “Yea here in Las Vegas there are a lot of stories that we could probably say ‘wait a second let’s find out the other side of that story, and let’s find out if that’s the full truth.’” If the local news can get their stories under control, then society should be able to hold national news to the same if not a higher standard.

Despite countless instances of people in this industry failing the basic rules of journalism, there have also been positives that keep it alive. On the local level, after the October 1 shooting in Las Vegas, thousands of people were lining up to donate blood to help the victims. The media coverage helped generate about $31.4 million donated to the cause. Another story that the coverings helped communities was the latest Hurricane Ian giving $1.88 billion to help survivors. Furthermore, after the 9/11 coverage, 181,510 Americans enlisted, including celebrities like Adam Driver, because they never wanted that tragedy repeated. A more recent example can be found in the reporting of the George Floyd case and how the police officers involved were charged. Even a year after the incident many news stations were ready for the day of the court hearing to report what was the sentence that Officer Derek Chauvin was given and how the Black community felt about it.

Journalism has a great power to bring communities together and keep people informed when a journalist does their jobs. It is 2022 and with people using their phones to get information more and more, people need to be able to trust the news industry. People will trust the news again when journalists provide accurate and unbiased coverage. The news industry needs to be held accountable when it fails. Media outlets have to hold their employees to the journalistic code of ethics and must be accountable when their employees fail instead of trying to cover up their mistakes in the cases with networks like NBC, ABC, and CBS.

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