Paluzzi: Media consumers must demand unbiased news

October 22, 2012

Who can rescue trust in the media? You.

As someone who has been a journalist for more than 30 years, I was extremely disappointed and dispirited by a recent Gallup survey that showed distrust in media coverage at an all-time high. A whopping 60 percent of the Gallup survey respondents claimed little or no trust in the ability of mass media to accurately and fairly report the news. Ouch.

Unfortunately, trust in media to "get it right" has been deteriorating over the years. It wasn't all that long ago -- during the 1970s -- when Gallup reported trust in the media at 72 percent.

While this survey finding deserves to create hand-wringing, introspection and actual changes within my industry, the purpose of this column is to focus on a power far greater than media that does have the ability to demand and get the kind of changes that are needed to earn people's trust. I'm speaking of the people who consume media. You.

A free press -- wisely protected as a foundational tenet of our nation's Constitution -- is not just about what is reported or purported. It's also about consumer choice. If you believe a reporter or news organization is biased, there are some simple remedies: Don't read, listen, watch or engage with that reporter or his or her news organization. Consumers are the lifeblood of any news organization, and I encourage you to exercise your choice because executives who make decisions about news standards at these organizations pay very close attention to the choices you make.

I can hear the groans coming from both the left and right: "The only thing we're guilty of is giving people what they're asking for." In today's fragmented, agenda-laced world of media, there is truth in these statements.

But here is where consumer accountability lies: If you're choosing a news source only because it reflects the political views that you hold, then you're relying on a news organization that can't be trusted to provide fair news coverage. If that description fits your consumption of news, you're actually part of the problem, and I challenge you to get out of the echo chamber that you're in.

Solid news reporting -- the kind that can earn your trust -- is neither red nor blue. It's about the presentation of facts and all sides of the story. It's not about a reporter trying to sway you to one side or the other. It's constructed to lead you into a space in which you make the decision about what you believe to be right or wrong.

Of course there is room for opinions to be expressed by reporters or columnists. But there is an obligation by these news professionals to disclose their potential for bias or actual bias. Unfortunately, what the recent Gallup poll revealed is that biased positions all too often are presented as news. Hence, and not surprisingly, trust in news media has eroded.

Finally, in these remaining weeks of what has been a very nasty election season, demand that reporters report answers to their questions and not settle for a candidate's or party's talking points that all too often are crafted to avoid answering questions. Demand that reporters not let candidates off the hook until a question is answered. "How much will it cost? How much time will it take? How will it get done? Who will it affect? What is your position? When will you tell us?" ... and other straight-forward and simple questions are highly deserving of straight-forward, simple answers.

We can argue all day long about which side is the guiltiest party in this erosion of trust with the media, but nothing will come of this argument other than more noise. The power to change and improve the quality of news coverage to a point where it's trusted by a majority of Americans, like so many other things in this amazing democracy of ours, rests with your choices.

Jim Paluzzi is vice president, division of public service, at Rio Salado College, which owns and operates KJZZ, KBAQ and Sun Sounds of Arizona.

One Source, My Connection!