University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

There is no impartiality or accountability in modern news media

Devin Thomas

ByDevin Thomas

Mar 2, 2017

Every paper you glance at the front cover of, every article that’s shared on Facebook, every headline and every paragraph and every word is biased.

Most sources of information no longer attempt to hold up the thin façade of neutrality that has been generally expected of the media: fake news and alternative facts, as ridiculous as the President’s examples of them may be, are very real. Nobody seems to care if the contents of an article past the headline are true: the number of debunked stories, botched statistics and skewed arguments that grace the headlines of every website claiming to offer information prove this. When it comes to stories that are later debunked or highly contested, most people reading the articles never even discover that there was an issue- our collective attention span as consumers of information these days is alarmingly brief.

As a result, there is nothing to be lost for spreading misinformation, and everything to gain: the pageviews-based online model of contemporary news media means no matter how widely discredited your sources and the way you present them are, as long as you get people to click on them there is no issue. A two-week-late amendment will suffice legally, and with nobody really checking the validity of your information in the first place, there is little risk involved in “misrepresenting the truth”. There is an argument to be made that there is no expectation of impartiality in our news: anything written will have to be written by a person (until we perfect AI, at least) with a unique worldview and a personal set of particular ideas they want people to take away from the piece. I would argue, though, that there is for most people an idea- perhaps hopeful and idealised, but definitely existent- of the neutrality of the people who control what information is fed into the public consciousness.

Video of a woman chasing down her catcallers, which went viral very recently, has been more recently reported to be likely faked, and the numerous news platforms- the Mail, the Telegraph, the Mirror- that published the story have been criticised by some for their lack of any process of verification. Unfortunately, even with the calls for higher standards being made by some journalists in an attempt to draw attention to the issue, the video only seems to be growing greater in popularity, and nobody- on the social media I use, at least- seems interested in questioning its validity. It is the frenzied, first-come-first-served attitude prevalent in the climate of contemporary news media which means things exactly like this are not only likely but guaranteed to happen with any story that has the potential to become huge.

When successful clickbait translates into literal currency, not much can be done to prevent journalists attempting to cash in on a story before its truthfulness has been even considered, let alone verified. I would estimate that the majority of things I see shared on Facebook are either completely untrue or not even newsworthy. What I mean by the latter point is that complete nonissues are inflated to a ridiculous degree because they relate to a subject popular in the mainstream. What this builds to is a ridiculous amount of articles being published with headlines like “JK Rowling completely destroys alt-right twitter user in heated argument”. If any time a popular celebrity tweets a sassy comeback at a twitter aggravator it is worthy of twenty headlines from popular news sites, that says something about the state of our relationship with media.

I don’t have a solution for this problem- it is not so much a problem with journalists, or with news consumers, but with the systems that cause the distribution of information to be monetised in the first place. Without establishing Communism in the journalistic community, I don’t see how it is plausible to expect standards to rise. I suppose this is a general plea to the average news consumer to take a critical look at what they’re consuming before they accept it as true on the basis of a reputable paper’s logo being present at the top of the page. At the same time, it is my bias as a person tired of these kinds of story causing me to write this piece in the first place- so according to my own argument, perhaps you should consider ignoring everything you’ve just read.

Devin Thomas

By Devin Thomas

Features Editor & Third-Year English Student

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