Breaking News: The Impact of Media On Its Audience
by John Dough on April 25, 2017 - 4:53pm
In recent years, the power of the media to influence the public’s decision has been greater than ever. With almost every household in America having a TV or phone their opinions and headlines have the possibility to change the opinion of millions of Americans. The 2016 US election was one of the most brutal campaigns in recent years as Hillary Clinton, representing the democratic party, and Donald Trump, representing the republican party, constantly argued over points from their past, and personal lives. Every week revealed another controversy after the other, and the media being a business that runs off breaking news, and big headlines, focused their attention on these topics rather than the policies that the people should be concerned about. Over their battle, less than 1/13 of coverage time was spent by the top ten news agencies on policies which led to various consequences (Patterson, 2016). From a deontological framework, the media should have done their duty and reported the policies of the candidates rather than the controversies that surround them.
The media has always had the same role, to serve the general public with information that enables the people to make judgments on the issues of the time. Their reports should be told with truth, accuracy, independence, fairness, and humanity (Collins, n.p) which allows a journalist to be unbiased, but also to serve the people for the greater good no matter their subjective opinions. When it comes to politics the same moral code should apply, the reporter should bring up arguments for both sides of a story and present material that keeps the viewer informed. The media has this power to direct the attention of the public, and with 7.31 million viewers on average watching the top three cable networks for Monday to Friday primetime news during the election their power to change an opinion or strengthen one is heavily in their favour (Baragona, 2016). Most media companies’ revenue runs on the amount of viewers they get daily. Therefore, continuously reporting on stories that cause a greater emotional response, and a higher view count are favoured. This creates a dilemma within the media, should they tell a well thought out news story with facts, and gives the viewer information for both sides of the campaign, or tell a story that will get more viewers based on its shock value even if the content gives no useful information? Unfortunately, the media sides with more controversial material rather than fact and thoughtful material.
In the 2016 US elections, many media outlets had to made this decision as well, and with multiple stories regarding the candidates’ character and lifestyle, their policies were put aside. In the battle between Trump and Hillary, 42% of coverage by the media was on the horserace which has been the dominant topic since the 1970s (Patterson, 2016). Polls are the most dominant topic because they constantly give new information, and tension for a 24-hour news cycle, but also they are easy to understand, without the need for words, and any viewer will know who’s winning and who’s losing at any time. On the other hand, policies only got a mere 10% of coverage, which is a little less than one-fourth of the coverage that the horserace got (Patterson, 2016). This is because the candidates’ policies rarely change, in other words, they are old news, which means policies will only get coverage when the candidate announces a new development within his campaign or policy. Where the most viewers tune in are on controversies, which had 17% of coverage. Controversies do not help with answering who is a better candidate, their job is to disrupt the cycle and can potentially change the course of an entire campaign (Patterson, 2016). A good example would be Hillary’s emails, and how constant bombardment of her email scandal potentially ruined her campaign. During the convention week, Clinton’s emails took up 8% of news coverage while her policies only took up less than half, while specifically, CNN spent a surprising 17% on the topic (Boehlert, 2016). By covering controversies this creates a sort cause, and effect where the polls decline which creates more news, and headlines then the cycle repeats until another controversy is found.
So, did the media do their duty as a journalist who informs the people with truth, accuracy, independence, fairness, and humanity? From a deontological perspective, the media’s actions were morally unjust because they did not follow their duty, and their actions did not follow the thoughtful journalist they should be. Voter turnout was also the lowest it has ever been with 46.9% of eligible voters did not vote (Mei, 2016). On top of that, the majority of voters said their vote was more of a vote against the opposing candidate than a vote for their candidate. While in previous elections, more than 65% of voters supported their own candidate based on their campaign (Geiger, 2016). This can be due to a multitude of reasons, but if the public were more informed perhaps knew the certain benefits and flaws of each candidate perhaps the election could have also been vastly different. Some could argue that the candidates are to blame as both Trump, and Hillary attacked each other daily not on policy, but on their past. This is true, but the fact that the media never stopped their coverage of controversies does not change that their duty was not followed. With an uninformed audience, where only 34% of the population can name the three branches of federation, the lack of policies only leave the public deciding who is the less worse candidate rather than choosing based on their campaign (Meyer, 2016).
The problem with the media is that they no longer fulfill their deontological duty in society. A business based on creating false headlines to manipulate their audience is not something the public should support. Elections should be a time where the public is the most informed where choosing the right president can decide the fate of an entire country based on their actions.
Baragona, Justin. "Fox News Tops Cable News in Total Viewers and Demo, CNN Enjoys Best Month in Eight Years." Mediaite. N.p., 30 Nov. 2016.
Boehlert, Eric. "How The Media's Email Obsession Obliterated Clinton Policy Coverage." Media Matters for America. N.p., 02 Nov. 2016. Web.Collins, Ross. "Media Codes of Ethics." NDSU. N.p., n.d.
Edkins, Brett. "Study: Trump Benefited From 'Overwhelmingly Negative' Tone Of Election News Coverage." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 13 Dec. 2016. Web.
Geiger, Abigail. "For many voters, it's not which presidential candidate they're for but which they're against." Pew Research Center. FactTank, 02 Sept. 2016. Web.
Gleckman, Howard. "Character Vs. Policy In The 2016 Presidential Election." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 01 Nov. 2016. Web.
Mei, Gina. "Almost Half of Eligible Voters Didn't Vote in This Election." Cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitan, 10 Nov. 2016. Web.
Meyer, Jared. "The Ignorant Voter." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 June 2016. Web.
Patterson, Thomas. "News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters." Shorenstein Center. N.p., 04 Jan. 2017.