Recently I was speaking to a university journalism class as a guest lecturer. During our discussion many of the students complained that news today is so polarized and so opinionated that they have no idea what the truth really is. When I asked what they were watching, they told me mostly CNN, the Fox cable news network, and MSNBC.
Judging by social media posts, it’s not just students who are feeling confused by what is real news. There’s a reason for that. It’s obvious that CNN and MSNBC lean toward the Democratic Party while bashing President Donald Trump. And it’s just as clear that Fox leans strongly toward supporting the president, defending the Republican Party, and bashing Democratic leaders.
But here’s where the news confusion lies: If you’re watching those networks, you’re not watching “the news.” You’re watching hosts sharing their opinions on real-life happenings. Then they bring on experts to support what they’re saying. No wonder people are confused and sometimes hostile toward members of the media. These stations call themselves “news” and open just about every show by shouting, “breaking news!” But they are not real news!
Let me explain the difference between news and 24-hour “news” formats. If you’re watching the nightly news on NBC, CBS, or ABC you’re getting, almost exclusively, facts. The anchors try to keep their opinions to themselves, and the reporters tell their stories without obvious bias. These stations are not about commentary or editorials.
And if you want to avoid “fake news” entirely, watch your local news stations and read your local newspaper. In my opinion, they are the last bastions of pure news. For the most part, they report facts about things happening in your communities — without bias and without opinion.
I’m not saying the 24-hour opinion programs don’t have value. They serve an important role in sorting out what’s happening in government, with the president and with other national events. If you choose to watch these programs, try to divide your listening time evenly among the networks to get a dose of both sides of an issue and hopefully get enough pure information to make your own informed decisions.
Barbara Reyelts of Duluth retired in 2017 as news director at KBJR 6 and CBS 3. She had been news director 10 years. In her 38-year career, she also was an anchor and reporter and hosted a news talk show. She works now as an international news consultant and guest lecturer in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Canada, and the U.S.