In Search of Good News

America needs a principled news outlet.

Today’s America is more politically polarized than ever, but almost everyone agrees on one thing: TV news is awful.  It is biased, it is puerile, it fails to explore issues to a sufficient depth to make them understandable, it fails to hold politicians to account for wrongdoing, it fails to inform the public.

One common response is that this is the natural result of most major media outlets being so politically biased.  If that’s the case, however, why isn’t the Left content with MSNBC and the Right with Fox News?  On the whole, nobody likes any news outlet, even the ones that nominally agree with their own preferences.

The problem is that modern news organizations have no underlying principles that drive their coverage choices – no beliefs, if you will.  Instead, they have political preferences expressed in an overtly partisan way: most news outlets choose to report or spindle stories to benefit their chosen side.  Thus we see Republican George W. Bush excoriated for arresting U.S. citizens like Jose Padilla and interning them in Guantanamo Bay without trial, whereas Democrat Barack Obama can order the specific targeting for assassination of U.S. citizens and the response is muted at best.  Similarly, we see Fox News trumpeting the horrors of Kermit Gosnell's abortuary while leftist house organs streadfastly ignore it.

This may produce temporary tactical advantage for the political party of choice, but it has degraded the general public's confidence in news organizations overall.  Indeed, a growing group of people have no confidence in the concept of "news" as we've known it for three centuries.  Large numbers of the young get their “news” from programs like The Daily Show that are overt parodies and satires; they pretend to be news programs only in the sense that an actor pretends to be a doctor, lawyer, President, superhero, or whatever. We all know there's no underlying reality to the pretense, and the actor most of all.  The fact that so many feel they get higher quality news from a show whose purpose is lampooning the news is damning.

It wasn’t always like this.  In the age of “yellow journalism” a century ago, newspapers were a vital part of every community and every literate person’s life, including the working class.  The journalism of those days would be roundly condemned by modern scribes, but it provided more immediacy and relevance to its listeners.  This is demonstrated by the historical circulation figures and raw political power of the New York Sun and World, the San Francisco Examiner, and many others.  Men like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer are remembered to this day.

Why?  They and their organizations made no pretense of being unbiased, but their “bias” was based solidly on their widely-known principles.  You might disagree with the perspective of Pulitzer and his World, but you knew what it was.  Readers were confident that the World could be relied upon to maintain that perspective no matter who or what it was talking about.

Any reasonably intelligent person of any political view could glean value from the World by simply applying an adjusting mental offset to each article.  Better yet, the reader could subscribe to a competing newspaper and mentally triangulate some semblance of reality between the two.

The newspapers of the turn of the last century were not “fair and balanced,” but they were consistently honest in a way that modern media simply is not.  Today’s news is more similar to Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (News) of Soviet times, where yesterday’s truth becomes tomorrow’s lie with nary a warning.  The result in the old USSR was the grim joke that “there’s no news in the Truth, and no truth in the News” – and that’s exactly how most Americans of all political persuasions feel today.

A Wide Open Opportunity

This leaves a significant opportunity to fill a market gap, offering both profit potential and the potential for political influence.  25% of the American listening audience is politically to the right of Fox News, but as the rise of the Tea Party shows, American conservatives are not wedded to the Republican Party as a political entity.  Instead, they hold to specific principles generally referred to as “constitutionalism.”

Tea Partiers are every bit as disgusted when Republican officeholders stray from those principles as when Democrats do.  Yet most conventionally “conservative” outlets emphasize flaying Democrats and approach Republicans with a more friendly tendency regardless of what they're actually doing.

As we’ve seen, this undermines the credibility of the media organization.  This leaves a giant credibility gap, and also a business opportunity

There is room for a new news outlet dedicated, not to a political party or even a political agenda, but to specific principles – beliefs, if you will, guideposts to orient all coverage and to clearly indicate which way things point.  This journalistic Empty Quarter can be summed up in two polestars: “Good Government” and “Personal Liberty.”

A media source which openly and proudly proclaims these two principles and attempts always to maintain its journalism in their twin spotlights would appear to be a crusading throwback to an earlier and less refined time.

Is that a bad thing?  The newspapers of those days mattered; people actually read and paid good money for them, and the vast majority of Americans were much better informed than our hordes of "low-information voters" today.  For all the global reach of modern telejournalism, nobody would dare to argue that the average American is more knowledgeable about what’s going on and what affects his life than his counterpart of a century ago.

What’s the target audience?  Well, what should the target audience be?  There are dozens of channels targeting the most ignorant, least logical, “low-information voters,” and the market for Jersey Shore and its equivalent in TV news is quite saturated.  This is why so many big-name media networks are having financial problems.

Instead, consider the sort of news network Thomas Sowell would value, to say nothing of Thomas Jefferson – not merely in terms of political perspective, but from sheer rationality and logical consistency.  This is an unfilled market, and if even a mere 25% of viewers would be attracted, that’s sufficient for a viable business.

Based on the history of American news, though, there’s a strong possibility that a news organization with a fundamental honesty and consistent, predictable, principled journalistic foundation would grow to earn a far wider appeal, with long-reaching consequences and financial potential.  Although their political views were not always successful, both William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer did quite well for themselves.

As we watch our beloved country sink ever deeper into the abyss of socialism and ignorance, it's tempting to think that we're too far gone.  Politically, maybe we are.  But remember Thomas Jefferson's observation:

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

The American people have been increasingly badly informed for half a century now, and it shows. Are there within the reach of this article any individuals, companies, teams, groups, whatever out there that would like to "do well while doing good"?

If so, the writers of Scragged would like you to make yourself known to us, and to pass on this plea as widely as possible in the hopes that it might reach the right ears.  It's time to try something different from the methods that have been failing, and failing, and failing again.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

A thoughtful and interesting article. HOWEVER, I think you're underestimating the normal American consumer. Far less than 25%, I think it's more like 1 or 2% that would value a news outlet of this kind.

Most people do actually like the filth and drivel of entertainment news, and they like political bias. It makes them feel like they're on the "side" that they're predisposed to being comfortable with.

In recent months and years, CNN has tried to position themselves as the middle ground you're defining. Have they succeeded? No, because people like you and I would say they're biased too. That's the other problem - how do you speak the truth without APPEARING biased? You and I believe the truth is more closely aligned to the conservative/libertarian world view. Thus, it would be impossible for someone to get high marks for being "truthful" and "fair" and "unbiased" from us while receiving the same high marks from your average liberal.

April 23, 2013 9:54 AM

Kudos for the effort at a real news channel/outlet but it can't happen. People are too lazy to think anymore. The advent of TV insured that we would not have to read and consequently think about what we are reading. It is far easier to simply listen to the news and that is for the ones that even want to be informed. If you were to try and explain freedom to the mass audience they would switch you off in a New York second. obama has figured it out. He forgets about 49% of the people and appeals to the rest, divide and conquer. The quicker he makes the 51% into government serfs the more power he has. He is ruthless at it. I for one have about given up on the American people wanting the American Dream anymore but rather the American Entitlement.

April 23, 2013 12:29 PM

Been saying the same thing for a long time (to my circle of contacts) but your eloquent appeal far surpasses my own. Kudos !

April 24, 2013 8:36 AM
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