Polls, #Politics, and Social Media – Where do YOU Get YOUR News?

Category: Weekly Columns

 I often say that “I don’t do politics,” though I’ve occasionally violated that assertion. I figure by touching politics I risk “losing” half my audience. I’d rather be myself and risk losing all my audience. But sometimes, it’s hard to avoid these taboo topics. We actually had a VERY civil discussion on politics at #DadChat recently.

At #DadChat, we’ve discussed religion, politics, and even racial stereotypes. I like to believe the #DadChat community can discuss these issues with respect. After all, our children will be and are affected by the big issues so avoiding them is just like avoiding having the sex-talk with your kids. It’s there and it’s better to deal with it than risk them learning about it from the Internet or ill-informed friends.

How we all get our information is actually subject to bias. Some say that most mainstream media has a political bias. Newspapers clearly do, television networks do, and certainly our college campuses display a bias that is very pronounced at many campuses. The irony is that this is really nothing new.

Newspapers have historically had a left or right bent, but were actually more open about it. Time and Newsweek used to be sort of flip sides of the political football. It’s ironic that Newsweek is finally going out-of-business just when they abandoned their left only point-of-view. I suppose it was simply too little, too late? I’m relatively sure Time will follow suit and be available only online, as well.

With a BIG election around the corner, I’m curious where you get your information and what/whom you believe? Do you believe most of the major polls? Do you believe statistics promoted by either party? Does the editorial page of your local paper sway your views…at all?

When I was getting my MBA from U.C.L.A., I was required to take a statistics class. If there’s ONE thing I got from my post-graduate work it was how easy statistics can be manipulated and how few people are needed to actually have a pretty reliable poll. It’s ironic because polls can be quite accurate, but also easily manipulated. And, these things do not go hand-in-hand, obviously, especially when an election is at stake.

Walter Chronkite "breaking down" upon announcing JFK's assassination

The Internet has significantly changed the way we learn about, process, and communicate The News. It was once only Walter Chronkite that provided the news. Now it is usually on Twitter before any of the networks are “on” it. Similarly, where we counted on our major newspapers for investigative journalism, I believe it’s the bloggers and the Twitterverse that searches faster and harder on the so-called “truth” than our mainstream reporters today.

For that matter, I don’t believe objective journalism exists much anymore. Whenever I express this, my college journalism professor friends get all exorcised and challenge me that that is not what they’re teaching. All I say in response is, “Please provide me a list of who’s spoken at your campus over the past couple of years? Would you say that list represents a broad spectrum of views?”

So, let’s take a poll of our own? Where do you get your news? You can vote once for up to three of the choices below, and afterward see the current tabulations/results. For that matter, you can take me to task with your comments below the poll.

Where do you get your news?

View Results

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  • Jack Durish

    Actually, I watch traditional “news sources” for opinions. Indeed, every choice on your opinion poll is an opinion source. I haven’t seen “reporting” since the late 1960s. Even the great reporters were subject to bias, however they kept their reporting terse to prevent their opinions from creeping in. Great reporters like H.L.Mencken could say more in one paragraph than most commentators rambling on for paragraphs and pages. Mencken was opinionated, very opinionated. He just didn’t reach his opinions until paragraph two. But the news was all there in paragraph one.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      VERY well put, Jack! 

  • http://twitter.com/gingerconsult Jen Olney

    I miss real reporting – real journalism. What we have now is bias opinions of those who call themselves “journalist” who do not hide their bias and pass it off as “reporting” I cannot watch MSNBC for this reason. I feel their best programming is “lockdown” and the so-called news they report is just their way of promoting propaganda for one party. It is shameless and frankly, it gives real news a bad name.  I choose to read reporting from Real Clear Politics and Breitbart and other outlets – even the UK papers which seem to be giving real news and real insight.

    I agree with you, Bruce. I do not like to talk politics on Twitter in particular because I was taught you never mix business and politics. It’s bad form and can turn off many folks.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      We SO agree, Jen. I’m just waiting for @profkrg:twitter to weigh in and give me he** again on this topic – which we’re going to eventually write in debate form together – Can’t wait for that, though I fear she’ll tear me to shreds!

  • http://GrowMap.com/ Gail Gardner

    Anyone who wants to know what is really going on should go to YouTube and search for and watch G. Edward Griffin’s The Collectivist Conspiracy. It is time people realized that the wealthy few control all the major media and almost everything else on the planet including most publicly traded corporations and governments. (Enough money – or blackmail – can take care of that.) They create two polarized positions so they can divide and conquer the masses who refuse to use their own brains and apply some common sense.  Professional journalists can rarely write what they want because any media that relies on advertising does not want to bite the hand that feeds them. Statistics are easily manipulated – and so are stock prices by using the media. Anyone who does not see the big picture is a pawn in someone else’s game – a game where the odds of you winning are about the same as playing solitaire with a deck of 51. 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Gail, I’ll have to take a look. Did you vote in the poll? 

      • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

        Hi Bruce, 

        Yes, I voted in your poll. I use the Internet to find alternative views about everything and then draw my own conclusions. I would share with Jack that even back in the day when reporters wrote supposedly impartially that was never really true. Very few people present all sides of any issue and those who believe they are impartial are only accepting that their views match the current socially accepted norms. All views are opinions. 

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          TY Gail and we fully agree. There was never full impartiality – it is just less transparent now. In the past, papers were open and proud of their points-of-view!

  • Bev Wieber

    I was a reporter/ investigative journalist in the days when you wrote news based on facts that could be substantiated / verified. Opinions were only published as ‘Letters to the ‘Editor.’
    Sadly, news sources are now biased based upon what corporation owns the outlet. ‘Free press’ has become ‘political bias.’
    There are a few true journalists remaining & we are surviving as freelancers & entrepreneurs in publishing.
    Enjoyed your post.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      TY Bev. I get a lot of blowback when I say the things written in this column. I’m glad for the affirmation you made and appreciate it very much. That’s why I call journalism now, “opinionism.”

    • http://cirquedumot.com/new-readers/ Susan Silver

      Bev, you echoed the words of one of my teachers. She was an ex-journalist that got out when she saw an invasion by the corporate interests. She taught us about the behind the scenes stuff from the news. Kind of scary how paid content becomes “reporting” when a station needs time to fill. 

      • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

        Not to mention the HEAVY BIAS of so-called big-shots like Dan Rather, who had to resign FINALLY over his manipulation of facts!

  • jetts31

    I get my news from all over.  Local paper, major networks, Twitter, my Uncle Bugs (I really do have an Uncle Bugs).  From all over because I think each and every outlet, no matter where you look, has some sort of slant either to the left or to the right.  Some times it is obvious (MSNBC/FOXNews) and other times I think its a little more subtle. 

  • Brian

    It seems we live in an era of soundbites with the internet and multiple 24 hour news channels. I always try to dig a little deeper if the topic is of great interest to me. I’ve learned to somewhat generally ignore headlines in news articles. I find by reading an entire article and not just the first few paragraphs that towards the end you’ll often find the author saying something almost the opposite of what the headline implies. Doing your own homework is what I find works best, even if the answer doesn’t fit in with what you already thought.

    At the risk of alienating half the audience I enjoy listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. One of my favorite things he does is what he calls “random acts of journalism.” These acts normally occur when a reporter working for a media outlet (leaning left of right) digs a little deeper an finds something that doesn’t always fit the stereotypical narrative.

    I can see the good side of today’s news cycle though. There’s always another side to a story that you can easily find. Back in the days when you had a couple network news anchors and some large newspapers maybe it was easier to spin information without worrying about what someone else might report? That’s just a thought, and I’m 32 so someone wiser may need to answer that one.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx for weighing in, Brian. What is so true in what you’ve written is that WE can find the other side of the story pretty easily now – Thank God!

  • http://cirquedumot.com/new-readers/ Susan Silver

    Wow, so many filter their news through the internet. I keep up by watching some people on Youtube that I like. But, I am pretty afraid to stick my neck out  for all the bad news out there. It brings me down because I know there is very little I can do to help.  

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Yes, the poll results are quite revealing Susan. Don’t believe YOU can’t make a difference. If only one person at a time – we ALL can make a big diffrence!

  • ginavalley

    I have trouble trusting any news source anymore.  It is so easy to put on an air of authority now with the ease of online credentials.  Statistics are very easy to manipulate.  It’s almost frightening to consider how intentional one must be to attempt to get at the actual truth in any matter now what with the free flowing glut of information overwhelming us.  More frightening to consider how few people  bother to search  beyond finding someone who says what they want to  hear.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I so agree with the last part of your comment, Gina – it is frightening how few people really make the effort to learn about the issues – really learn them!

  • http://twitter.com/BarryBirkett Barry Birkett

    Since you can’t turn to ANY one of those sources and know you are getting the full story without any bias, you really have to either use multiple sources or just stick your head in the sand and hope it all goes away!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Or, do your own homework and apply common sense! I wish we could simply hide…

  • David Weber

    First, a list of who has spoken on a campus is not an indication of the state of journalism.  These are separate issues and it is not obvious to me (maybe I’m missing something) how they intersect.

    Second, it can’t be much more likely that a Twitter feed (or any social media messaging) about an event is going to be accurate as it is going to be inaccurate.  It think that it certainly can relay someone’s direct and immediate impression of what is going on around him or her — that is what was happening in, for example, the rioting in Iran a couple of years ago.  As far as being a news report, though, I wouldn’t put it in that category.  A news report of any real quality would include information from this kind of source, as well as from a variety of others.

    Third, I can’t imagine what the percentages are, but it seems to me that some percentage of bloggers are acting as reporters or investigative reporters; another percentage of them are operating as commentators on news stories they are encountering through one means or other; and another percentage are serving as curators of a bunch of stories on one topic or several.  Because of the commitment of time and resources necessary to be a citizen journalist (the first category I described), I am going to presume that the percentage of them is smaller than the percentage of persons in the other two categories.

    In those other two categories you have a couple of forces at work.  One is that the commentator-blogger is, however intelligently or articulately, commenting on news he or she has come by through someone else.  This doesn’t seem to me to qualify as getting at some kind of truth other than what the blogger-commentator would claim is some kind of truth.

    In the third category, I would want to know what basis serves as the sorting mechanism for what stories do or don’t get into the mix.  If it can be shown that the blogger-curator has assembled a range of stories on a topic and those stories reflect a wide range of perceptions, opinions and stances, then I would say there is some likelihood of “getting” what is going on than if the range is relatively narrow. 

    But neither of those two categories (blog-commenting, blog-curating) seem to me to be functioning in a manner equivalent to being news-gathering persons or agencies.

    Fourth, please consider that the news-gathering and -reporting endeavor is fundamentally an exercise in telling truth to power.  It is, to use an old cliche, “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”  Its status as a watchdog phenomenon means it is not an exercise in supporting the status quo.  It is instead an exercise in asking, “Beyond the obvious, what’s going on in such-and-such a situation?  What are we taking for granted as we live our lives?”  This endeavor may best be thought of as “emancipatory” in intent and potential.

    There is perhaps some connection between emancipation and truth — after all, what’s the old saying, “the truth shall set you free”? — but really, emancipation is ultimately about freeing us from chains.  In the political environment, those chains may be in place thanks to a government’s conservative OR liberal policy, and the best journalists call attention to what is chaining us. 

    Too many people condemn news stories as being biased when what is happening is the information in those stories is unsettling to those who condemn.  Too many encounters with that which is unsettling and the entire journalistic endeavor gets dismissed as irrelevant and useless.  Yet the heart of this experience is nothing more — or less! — than bumping into something you just don’t want to hear.  Much of the ire aimed at journalists and journalism, therefore, is ultimately an outcry against being told something you have no desire to hear or know.

    Fifth, and finally, it is easy to dismiss statistics and their analysis as meaningless because they can be bent.  Well, I agree, they can be.  That doesn’t mean that all conclusions derived from statistical analysis is the product of  bending to prove what you want to prove.  Megyn Kelly on Fox News put it very well when she asked Karl Rove, who was arguing that his statistics showed that Ohio was not necessarily going to go for Obama, “Karl, is that just math that you’re doing as a Republican to make yourself feel better; or are those numbers real?”  Megyn was basically suggesting that, yes, numbers can be pulled and shaped to fit our needs — and they also can be powerful indicators of various conditions. 

    The lesson, I suggest, from that statistics prof is not that the weaknesses of statistics as a way of knowing something (or thinking that you know something) are always present in a statistical report.  The lesson is more like (a) we must all be knowledgeable consumers of statistics and (b) sometimes statistics can be informative and enlightening.  The trick is be able to recognize when “b” is so, and that can only happen when “a” is so.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      As usual, Professor, you offer a compelling, smart, and logical response to my often not-academically-rigorously thought out rantings. BUT, my biggest counter argument to your logic is something we overlook too often – Common Sense. My gut tells me what is “true” more than anything else. Do I have a relative bias on certain issues – of course. 

      But, common sense is seemingly not a measure anyone uses any more! If it smells like a fish, it probably IS a fish…