Genius Panel: The Fragmentation of the News Industry

blue 01In this day of fragmented news media, the rise of social media, and myriad news outlets with ideological agendas, how do you stay well-informed? Do you read a printed newspaper? How does the decline of traditional media impact society?      

(Publisher’s Note: One of Utah’s great senior statesmen, Nolan Karras, responded to this question with a fairly lengthy essay. Because of the length, we’ve placed it at the end, but Nolan provides some great insights worth reading and contemplating.)

Bryan Schott, managing editor. Social media has completely changed the game when it comes to media consumption. Most people get their news from Facebook and other social sharing sites, but there’s a devil hidden in the details. The news articles you’re likely to see are based on who your friends are and your browsing habits. If your friends mostly lean to the left, then you probably haven’t seen much positive coverage of Donald Trump or other Republicans in your social newsfeed. Alternatively, if you are on the right side of the political spectrum, you’re probably inundated with stories about how Hillary Clinton is on the verge of being indicted due to her ongoing email scandal.

Even your online searches using Google are affected by your political leanings and browser history. Instead of serving up the information you’re looking for, Google’s algorithm shows you what it “thinks” you’re looking for. It’s a concept put forward by MoveOn founder Eli Pariser in his book “The Filter Bubble.”

As a result, we as news consumers are becoming more and more segregated. Our exposure to conflicting viewpoints is becoming less, and we are more intellectually isolated. That’s a reason our political discourse has become more tribal.

We are also becoming self-segregating in our media habits. It’s not just stereotyping to suggest that Republicans watch Fox News while Democrats and liberals gravitate toward MSNBC. We like news reports that tend to confirm our biases. The prevalence of partisan news organizations means we don’t have to dig very far to find someone who agrees with us on a point. 

Trying to find balance in our news consumption habits is hard. It means we have to actively seek them out, instead of having them served up to us by Facebook, Twitter or Google. Sadly, that small effort seems to be too much for many Americans.

Todd Weiler, attorney and state senator. Although I still enjoy a printed newspaper, I do not read one every day.  And I doubt that will ever change. 

The problem with the decline of traditional media is that people know will only see what they want to see.  If you are a Glenn Beck fan, you may only read The Blaze.  Some others may exclusively rely on Huffington Post, Fox News or MSNBC. No one will be exposed to the type of information that may challenge their respective worldview.  This is not a healthy development.  I expect the extreme factions of both major parties will become increasingly polarized as a result of today’s fragmented news media.

Boyd Matheson, president, Sutherland Institute. Staying well-informed in a world of fragmented media is dependent on resisting our natural inclination to be well-insulated while feeling well-integrated.

It is actually easier than ever to stay uninformed or to see only those things that confirm our point of view, even if we spend all day on the Internet. Self-serving bias is our innate tendency to accept things we support as truths and reject those things we don’t as false. The rise of social media, combined with the fall of traditional media, has created a prime environment to self-serve, usually from the comfortable confines of our self-created echo chambers. 

We have become experts at surrounding ourselves with like-minded “friends,” while we “hide” people from our timeline and Twitter feed who cause us any level of discomfort or cognitive dissonance. We tend to get our news from like-minded outlets while avoiding contrarian opinions, portals, and places. The irony is that by participating in this pattern, we create a world that limits progress and, sadly, sustains mediocrity.

We should remember that new ideas rarely spring forth from the fount of Facebook unless we consider cats being scared of cucumbers “new.” Instead of focusing on the old and comfortable, we should reach beyond our current echo chamber and search for challenging sources of news and commentary along with diverse and civil dialogue. 

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean, David Eccles School of Business; Director, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. I stay informed by scanning headlines and reading articles online from a diversity of news sources such as the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times. Increasingly, I value the insights I learn from magazines (both printed and online products) such as The Week, The New Yorker, and The Economist. I follow a variety of Twitter feeds and spend a few minutes each day on Facebook. I like the direct and unfiltered content I find on both platforms, as well as the links to news stories and commentary posted by others. The decline in traditional media has been going on for so long I feel I’ve made the transition to the brave new world of media. I’m troubled the media’s watchdog role has diminished. I think society is lesser for this change. I’m encouraged by the volume and diversity of information available and think it’s important to read and listen to content that challenges your comfort

Steve Handy, state representative and former Layton city council member. I’m a bad Dad! I spent 17 years in the newspaper business working for both the Standard-Examiner and the Deseret News. It was a fun and heady career and sometimes we took two newspapers! Our family was always talking about the news and reading newspapers; but today, only two of my six children take a print version and only on the weekends. And that’s sad.

Not only is it sad, but it’s bad, too.  As a society, we’re becoming shallower because fewer people are availing themselves of the critical thinking skills fostered by daily newspaper reading. And this shallowness is directly reflected in low voter turnout. People don’t care because they don’t know!

Look, I get my name and photo in the paper occasionally but it’s a rare thing for even my family and closest friends ever to comment because they just don’t read a newspaper, they’re clueless.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the convenience of social media and sample Twitter and Facebook throughout my day along with the Trib and News apps. It’s great and convenient but sampled quickly, little critical thinking required.

It’s both bad and sad that traditional newspapers are struggling, and I hope they survive.  I love to touch, feel, and smell them and think about what I’ve read. And that’s a good thing.

Val Oveson, former state auditor, lieutenant governor and former National Taxpayer Advocate. I read the print additions of the Deseret News and the Wall Street Journal each day. I have access to the online version of the Wall Street Journal and read it there if I miss the print addition. I look at the Washington Post and Politico on a daily basis and review the Sydney Morning Herald two or three times a week. I receive email daily from several national trade groups that I am associated with, e.g. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the National Association of Corporate Directors and the American Bankers Association, essentially a daily newsletter is included in each email. I subscribe to several tax services that I review daily. I spend 20 minutes or so a day watching Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, but I don’t like it, it gets me all riled up. I listen to KSL and NPR on the car radio.

The decline in traditional media does impact society for the worse. I believe we are less informed and our tendency to read those publications and outlets with which we agree limits our exposure to conflicting points of view. The advent of partisan news, e.g. MSNBC and Fox News also has a negative impact on our society and creates a polarizing influence.

It would be wonderful all citizens would read several publications daily with differing points of view.

Robert Spendlove, state representative and economic and public policy officer for Zions Bank. I haven’t read a printed copy of the newspaper in years.  In the digital age, the news is delivered directly to consumers on an immediate and ongoing basis.  I get immediate news through email breaking alerts.  On a daily basis, I subscribe to several news sources, including Utah Policy Daily (of course), The Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, Politico, and Morning Consult.  For more in-depth news analysis, I subscribe to several magazines, such as The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, and Business Week.  

Nontraditional sources of news are also valuable resources, but they tend to be more sporadic, and they don’t always cover all sides of the major issues.  They are more of a way to measure the pulse of the community.  

The decline in traditional media has shifted the responsibility of filtering news to the individual.  Each person can now decide what kind of news they receive.  For those who want to be informed, this has opened a world of possibilities.  The ability to research and understand the world has grown enormously.  However, it also enables people to isolate themselves from differing points of view, if they choose to do so.  

Randy Shumway, CEO, Cicero Group. I watch the PBS NewsHour.  I really like the panel discussions with opposing views; it provides me good context for complex issues. I DVR the NewsHour so that I can skip through segments for which I’m not interested. 

Dan Liljenquist, former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate. I am a news junkie and spend at least an hour each day reading articles, almost exclusively online.  I start with the local papers, primarily the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, and then I browse through the DrudgeReport for interesting stories. 

Next, I work my way through the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, FoxNews, CNN, Politico, and RealClearPolitics, scanning for articles and editorials that pique my interest.  I also subscribe to several daily Google alerts for news articles on subjects where I am trying to cultivate a deep knowledge base (i.e., healthcare reform, public sector pensions, federal entitlements, etc.). 

Finally, I regularly scroll through my Twitter feed and receive breaking news alerts on my phone.  As I write this all down, my process seems a little excessive, but it works for me.

It is hard to say how the decline of traditional media will impact society.  I suspect that credible news sources will continue to thrive, albeit with new revenue models on new platforms.  I suppose there is a risk that we could become less informed should we choose only to read those things that interest us, but that’s a risk that we’ve managed as a society for well over two hundred years, ever since the days penny newspapers exploded onto the scene.  I think we will all survive.

LaVarr Webb. I’m old and old-fashioned. I take both Salt Lake newspapers, and I still enjoy turning the pages of a printed paper. I like the sections and the typography, and I like the fact that some (hopefully) smart editor has organized it with large and small headlines and stories on the main pages and inside pages, helping me see what’s important. I like the serendipity of newspapers, finding interesting stories that I wasn’t looking for.

We no longer sit around a common campfire of common news sources. No more Walter Cronkite. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but it is certainly different.

Nolan Karras, former Utah House speaker, gubernatorial candidate, education reformer. Yes, I read a newspaper (Standard-Examiner, hard copy), Deseret News, Tribune daily (on-line) and the Economist magazine weekly.  I also subscribe to a news service that provides me with information about world events daily (called Stratfor) and due to my investment advisory business I read certain publications weekly plus I subscribe to the St. Louis Federal Reserve email service.  Today’s was on the federal deficit (a huge issue that is not discussed today by the Media or politicians).

This issue of the decline in the impact of traditional media does cause me concern.  It is the lack of depth of the coverage but more importantly perhaps is a lack of attention to the depth of issues by the public that worries me more.  I maintain that the public is often fooled in the short-run (I hope only the short-run), and public opinion is fickle and often wrong.  Whether it be in selecting a presidential candidate (think Trump), maintaining slavery, thinking we can borrow and run up huge federal deficits without paying a penalty or opposition to WWII (before Pearl Harbor) the public is often wrong.  I just finished a book “A Man Called Intrepid” that spells out how much President Roosevelt had to do behind the scenes because of the public opposition to assisting Britain during the war.  I have in my possession the Standard-Examiner of December 8, 1941…which includes an article entitled “Isolationist Trend Fades” and it took an attack to do so.

I would guess many have read The Bully Pulpit by Doris Goodwin. If Colliers magazine did not enjoy a huge influence at the time, Theodore Roosevelt would not have had the ability to make the changes (anti-trust, child labor, etc.) that we all benefit from today.

In politics today, the only way to gain our attention is to shock us with half-truths or slogans that may come undone in the light of day, but they work over and over again as catchphrases determine how we will vote through the 20-second sound bites served on the news or even social media.  I love to challenge a Trump voter and ask him or her how Trump will reform Social Security (he says he will not) or how he can afford more veterans benefits or how he can increase spending on the military and cut taxes?  No answer, he has fooled so many, and he is not alone.

We face significant challenges as nation and as a state.  We can face such challenges, personally through our own involvement, head on and make a difference or we can be indifferent and apathetic and let others try to solve the issues we face.   The lack of solid information breeds indifference and apathy.   In order to avoid indifference and apathy, to make a difference one needs to be informed. 

David Stone in a wonderful LDS conference talk made a point which will help me make my point (Ensign May 2006)…and I will quote him as follows:

What an insidious thing is this culture amidst which we live. It permeates our environment, and we think we are being reasonable and logical when, all too often, we have been molded by the ethos, what the Germans call the zeitgeist, or the culture of our place and time.

Customs which are perfectly acceptable in one culture are viewed as unacceptable in another; language which is polite in some places is viewed as abhorrent in others. People in every culture move within a cocoon of self-satisfied self-deception fully convinced that the way they see things is the way things really are.

Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty…All too often, we are like puppets on a string, as our culture determines what is “cool.” (emphasis added)

Only through being informed can we keep off the slippery slope of being worked upon rather than working upon…to avoid being puppets on a string.

I see Trump as good as an example of how people can be led by a nose ring without understanding anything more than their anger at the “establishment.”   Apathy, a lack of understanding, whatever one calls it, it is of great concern.  Ironically the 24-hour news cycle with a need for ratings does not provide a clearer understanding but rather enforces one’s own beliefs.  Listen to Hannity (I cannot) for a night and see what he does to someone who dares disagree with him.  Other channels do the same thing as they seek ratings and feel no need to balance the news with thoughtful disagreement.   They are there to reinforce are already held beliefs…so we can move “within a cocoon of self-satisfied deception.”

If you have not read Elder Enzio Busche’s book “Yearning for the Living God” it is worth a read, but the reason I bring it up now is the chapter on his growing up in Germany before WW II under Hitler. He will give one a wholly different perspective of being a German in his Chapter called “A Terrible Time to Grow Up.”   

Here are some excerpts from Elder Busche that might be of interest and it makes me wonder if I had grown up in Germany what I would have thought of Hitler:

“I am not saying that the system was good; what I want to carefully explain is that the system had expressed a moral goal that was very successfully portrayed to the population. Everything that happened, we were told, was in pursuit of achieving that moral goal. My father, together with most German people, believed in the basic premise of Hitler’s alternative to the chaos that had occurred in Germany’s past. There had been inflation, prostitution, starvation, terrorism, anarchy. My father told me that there was a time when there were 30,000 prostitutes in the city of Berlin alone. Corruption was devastating German society. When the new system began, there was a growing hope and a vision of purpose. There was meaning and an understanding of the need for order and discipline.”…

“Perhaps the strongest proclamation of the party was that of the need for unity. The slogan was “One for all and all for one.” All of the adults I knew in my limited circle were grateful that Hitler had come to power in Germany. My father told me often how terrible life had been after World War I. He told me how millions of people had been unemployed and hungry. He talked about the anarchistic terror organizations that threatened the core of society, my father included. I was told that the new regime brought law and order and the establishment of respect for the dignity of human life.”…

“We were told, as young people, that the world was in a state of corruption and moral decay and that Western liberalism and Eastern communism would destroy the roots of human civilization. Democracy was described as a plutocracy where the wealthy ruled by dictatorship of money. Our other opponents were the Bolsheviks who enslaved people for their own gratification and gain. The only way to establish a society of righteousness, we were told, was to elect honest leaders, people who did not work for personal gain but for the welfare of their society. There was a great deal of talk about a world conspiracy with secret combinations. Certain names of rich families were mentioned as well as members of many royal families in Europe. Supposedly, they wanted to establish a world government that would use democracy and communism as tools to fulfill their own purposes. We were told that Germany was the last enemy standing in their way, so they wanted to destroy it permanently.”…“History is written by those who win the war. The truth is much more subtle, much more complicated, and generally unwanted. Those who lose the war are not willing to discuss what they know and experienced because it contradicts the victors. They are afraid of ending up on the losing end again. In my experience, very little is known about the whole complexity of that period. I have always been reluctant to talk about it because I have never wanted to be blamed or branded as a “Nazi.” In truth, my whole soul rebels against what was done by the Nazis.”

I have not done justice to this good man by selecting only a few quotes…it is worth a read and forces me to consider what I might be learning now that is incorrect.  Am I a puppet on string…perhaps?

Yes, I am concerned about the lack of depth to the media, but I am more concerned about the lack of depth in the citizens who use the media.  Another Book by Doris Goodwin called the “Team of Rivals”  had a section about slavery that I don’t have time to share but it reminded me of how reprehensible such practices were and yet if I grew up on a plantation and did not know any other way would I have justified it?  Perhaps. The Supreme Court did!

The issue is whether the citizenry is being properly informed by the media (usually no) and perhaps more importantly… in my mind…is whether the citizenry is willing to be make the effort to be informed (not usually)! 

Who knows, maybe I would have been like Jefferson and kept my slaves!