We Need More Fact-Based News and Less Propaganda from News Media


Mainstream television news has been going downhill ever since the corporate owners decided that news divisions should be profitable. It did not take them long to realize that telling people what they wanted to hear and even what they should think was far more profitable than trying to inform the public with fact-based information. As fact-based journalism was quickly supplanted by opinion journalism, growing numbers of us have turned off the TV news in disgust. While understandable, I cannot help wonder whether this might not come at a cost.

Is it possible that we are serving someone else's interests - but not our own - by checking out and paying less attention to what is going on? And is it possible that now could be a time when we should be paying more rather than less attention? I really don't know. I find most of today's mainstream television news so objectionable that I feel physically ill after watching more than a few minutes of it. Despite whatever benefits it might have, it is hard to imagine willingly inflicting it on myself. And yet, I sometimes wonder if it might be helpful to know what those who do watch it are being told to think. That might enable us to make more sense out of what is going on with our neighbors.

Obviously, mainstream TV news is not the only source of information. Perhaps we aren't less informed; we are just informing ourselves in different ways. I'd agree with that, but I'd insist on adding at least one consideration before we begin praising ourselves too vigorously. Not all alternative "news" sources are worthwhile. Just look at the number of people who seem to be getting their "news" from assorted YouTube personalities! I have a hard time imagining that this is preferable to having no information at all. Misinformation is different from information, and I am unconvinced that the opinions of some random person on YouTube are any more valuable than the opinions we are trying to avoid in our mainstream TV news.

Journalism is not dead yet. Mainstream TV news, as objectionable as it is, is still much better than some of the alternatives. I'm not suggesting we jettison it and pretend that all opinion is equally valid regardless of source. What I am suggesting is that we fix it. This probably has to begin with organized campaigns to demand better paired with a willingness to follow through on threats to stop watching. If we really want news, we cannot accept what we are currently being offered as an alternative.

Opinion can be valuable. Op-eds are often thought-provoking and can sometimes be more helpful than straight news. What I'll not put up with is the opinion and op-ed stuff passed off as news. In the ancient newspaper format, there was an editorial page and there was the rest of the paper. In the early days of mainstream TV news, there would be an opinion segment that was clearly identified as an opinion segment. I'd like to see these formats come back. Provide the opinion, analysis, and punditry to those who want it, but clearly label it as what it is.

I'm also not looking for "news" that merely echoes what I already think. Real news should challenge me at times. It should inform me of things I don't know about, and it should invite - but not direct me - to form my own opinions about the information I am encountering for the first time. I don't want liberal news or conservative news; I want factual news based on solid investigative reporting. And I want the investigative reporting to be extra skeptical of whatever elected officials say, regardless of their party affiliations.

But isn't it too late? Yes, it might be. When ratings drop, we aren't getting more news; we are getting even more breathless sensationalism, manufactured or exaggerated controversies, and talking heads. And yes, I am well aware that the number of people who want real news like I do may be trivially small. If that is the case, then I will just have to retreat and mourn the loss of what was once a pillar of democratic society. But if there are others like me who want fact-based news without all the propaganda, opinion, and pontification, then I think we need to make our voices heard.