How Political News Cycles Affect the American Electorate
Between 24-hour news channels like CNN and Fox News, “breaking news” alerts from smartphone apps, and near-constant Internet access in daily life, it’s no wonder many Americans feel like political drama permeates their lives.
Political news affects myriad personal decisions and relationships. Will someone I know get deported next year because of a new immigration law? Will my company’s revenue drop because of a new trade deal, and will I get laid off as a result? Will my medication be affordable next year?
But as important as it is to keep up with politics, news cycles can be harmful, too.
In most modern media outlets, political journalism is strategic. Newscasters and copywriters intend not just to share news, but also to increase revenue and push political agendas. Normal events are dramatized to increase clicks and views, biased reporting sways public opinion, and balanced, responsible reporting is hard to find. How does this affect the American electorate?
Minor Events are Dramatized
When media consumers are riled up about the news, media outlets can increase their revenue. This is why minor events involving topics people are passionate about are ushered to the front page. Dramatic or inflammatory headlines increase clicks, purchases, and shares, and the increased traffic and viewership results in more revenue. Meanwhile more important – but less lucrative — news is often pushed to the back.
For example, if a gun was found in a local student’s backpack, a news outlet might emphasize that story rather than news of a major municipal investment that will change thousands of lives. It might even dramatize the story to stir up emotions. Few people are passionate about local governance, but many people are passionate about gun control and gun rights, and media plays to the interests of its audience.
When minor events are dramatized in the news, people’s lives are adversely affected. Stress, concern, and fear can all increase as a result of political news, and can ultimately impact how people vote and engage in civic life.
Media Bias Leads to Skewed Viewpoints
Many of the country’s most popular news outlets present biased views of current events. In some cases, these outlets’ owners have special interests they’re seeking to serve by promoting biased viewpoints. In other cases, the bias serves to increase engagement among a segment of consumers, thereby increasing revenue.
For busy consumers, it can be hard to determine which news outlets are presenting fair, balanced news, and which are biased. Many people choose to follow one or two news outlets and are rarely exposed to alternative presentations of the news. As a result, their understanding of American politics is incomplete at best and incorrect at worst.
With a growing number of news outlets presenting biased news, and a growing number of Americans consuming this information, there are big implications for the country’s future. Voting tendencies are changing, community relations are becoming strained, and public policy is affected as a result.
Is due diligence a thing of the past?
Responsible journalism requires careful research. To present accurate, trustworthy news, a news outlet should do its due diligence before publishing information, and should clearly denote opinion pieces.
With an increased focus on generating revenue and providing nearly instantaneous information to readers and viewers, many media outlets aren’t fact-checking or doing adequate research before publishing information. This short-changes consumers, who trust the outlets they’re getting news from, and leads to the spread of potentially damaging misinformation and confusion.
Staying informed and unbiased
How can the American electorate break through the media noise, drama, misinformation, and bias? One option is for consumers to diversify their news sources, relying on several outlets to present different perspectives. Another option is to look to sources like the Associated Press that provide basic information to more consumer-driven news outlets, which may later put their spin on the news.
By consuming more accurate and balanced media, consumers improve their own understanding of political news and current events and they bolster responsible journalism.