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The case is often made that in our current culture that News Media is owned by companies with agendas. Many news outlets cater to specific populations or ideologies, it seems, in their political bent, etc. Is it possible to find really objective news sources or resources that have equivalent coverage to major news networks that don't have 'agenda'?

The greater question is in a free market capitalist society what incentive is there to offer news free from a corporations advertising? Do you imagine in an idealized society that news outlets will compete amongst themselves to be the most 'objective' in reporting? Will this be a highly sought out (and expensive) commodity?

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The case is often made that in our current culture that News Media is owned by companies with agendas. Many news outlets cater to specific populations or ideologies, it seems, in their political bent, etc. Is it possible to find really objective news sources or resources that have equivalent coverage to major news networks that don't have 'agenda'?

The greater question is in a free market capitalist society what incentive is there to offer news free from a corporations advertising? Do you imagine in an idealized society that news outlets will compete amongst themselves to be the most 'objective' in reporting? Will this be a highly sought out (and expensive) commodity?

As an assigning editor at a small-to-mid-sized paper that is corporate owned, and having worked at newspapers that were individually held or privately held corporations, as well as a "mom and pop" community paper long ago, this is easy for me to answer.

My experience and that of nearly all of my colleagues is that corporate owned - be they publicly traded or privately held - newspapers are the ones that are much least likely to have a corporate agenda, and the wall between advertising and news is the hardest to penetrate.

On the other hand, newspapers owned by individuals are more likely to reflect the desires of the owner. This was the case with Investor's Business Daily, where the owner's philosophies are actually a key cornerstone of that newspaper's coverage of the markets. In that case it is the reason to subscribe to the paper because it is decidedly pro-capitalist and promotes investing in the best, most innovative companies.

That's a good example of the owner's imprint on a newspaper. For a bad example, do a Google search of "Santa Barbara News-Press." I won't have to say much more than that. What you find will speak for itself.

The incentive for journalism to be objective is that it can appeal to the greatest number of readers and provide a credible source for the public to get the information it needs to be citizens. This holds true for advertisers as well. If I were a business owner who advertised, I would not want coverage to reflect my political views or play to my vanity. I would want it to appeal to as many people as possible so that the greatest possible number of people see my advertisements and patronize by business.

As a result, it is of absolutely no advantage for an advertiser to push a newspaper's journalism to reflect his political or philosophical views. That is, as long as he wants to make money. Money is a great motivator, so by and large with some extremely limited exceptions, in more than 15 years as a journalist, as a reporter and editor, I have had almost no pressure to placate an advertiser.

As far as corporate agendas, my experience has unanimously been that the corporations both privately held and publicly traded that have owned the papers I've worked at had a singular agenda: to make money. And the mantra to achieve this has always been through good journalism and value for advertisers. Good journalism means news that reflects a fair, accurate and complete report and good value for advertiser means growing circulation and readership - more eyeballs on those ads. Typically, corporate owners set financial goals for their newspapers and expect them to know how to meet those goals. In some instances, there could be collaboration on issues such as training or seminars, and corporations use their economies of scale to reduce the costs of commodities such as newsprint, wire services, etc.

When a publication promotes an agenda or a niche subject it limits its audience, and therefore commands much lower ad rates than a general-interest publications. That's not to say that they do not have value. For instance, there is a reason that Mercedes-Benz and financial services companies advertise heavily in Investor's Business Daily, but, say, not as heavily in a general newspaper. It's a better investment.

None of this addresses bias. That's another topic altogether. And the source of it is reporters and editors, not so much publishers or corporate overseers. Most journalists are of a liberal or leftist bent, largely, I have come to believe, because of their idealism, altruistic mentalities and because people highly inclined to individualism and free markets/capitalism tend to go into more money-making enterprises or careers or publications that play to that (like Investor's Business Daily).

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As far as corporate agendas, my experience has unanimously been that the corporations both privately held and publicly traded that have owned the papers I've worked at had a singular agenda: to make money. And the mantra to achieve this has always been through good journalism and value for advertisers. Good journalism means news that reflects a fair, accurate and complete report and good value for advertiser means growing circulation and readership - more eyeballs on those ads. Typically, corporate owners set financial goals for their newspapers and expect them to know how to meet those goals. In some instances, there could be collaboration on issues such as training or seminars, and corporations use their economies of scale to reduce the costs of commodities such as newsprint, wire services, etc.

When a publication promotes an agenda or a niche subject it limits its audience, and therefore commands much lower ad rates than a general-interest publications. That's not to say that they do not have value. For instance, there is a reason that Mercedes-Benz and financial services companies advertise heavily in Investor's Business Daily, but, say, not as heavily in a general newspaper. It's a better investment.

None of this addresses bias. That's another topic altogether. And the source of it is reporters and editors, not so much publishers or corporate overseers. Most journalists are of a liberal or leftist bent, largely, I have come to believe, because of their idealism, altruistic mentalities and because people highly inclined to individualism and free markets/capitalism tend to go into more money-making enterprises or careers or publications that play to that (like Investor's Business Daily).

Thank you for your post.

My questions were more toward why Good journalism as you describe it should result from rational self interest. Specifically if it is to my benefit to leave out that the forest being knocked down will allow for a highly efficient factory because of my tree-hugging readership, why shouldn't I? Wouldn't it be to my advantage to write things my readership will like (and hence attract better advertising)? Are lies of omission in this business tools of the trade?

Where does bias arise from and how is it beneficial? Does being corporately owned require that you have a wider variety of writers (in writers' perspectives, audiences, etc)?

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Thank you for your post.

My questions were more toward why Good journalism as you describe it should result from rational self interest. Specifically if it is to my benefit to leave out that the forest being knocked down will allow for a highly efficient factory because of my tree-hugging readership, why shouldn't I? Wouldn't it be to my advantage to write things my readership will like (and hence attract better advertising)? Are lies of omission in this business tools of the trade?

Where does bias arise from and how is it beneficial? Does being corporately owned require that you have a wider variety of writers (in writers' perspectives, audiences, etc)?

Lies of omission are absolutely not tools of the trade in journalism. By journalism I refer to news gathering and reporting.

The situation you describe of a tree-hugging readership would be beneficial only for a niche publication such as a magazine or an advocacy journal.

In good journalism, a judgement is not made as to whether cutting down a forest or a highly efficient factory is good or bad. That is for the reader to decide. It is our job to provide our readers the information they need to make that decision - that is, the information they need to be citizens.

It is in my rational self interest to provide the public with the truth and let our readers decide what they think because that is the foundation of our democratic republic. I don't need to tell people what is good or bad. They can decide that for themselves. In deciding to become an Objectivist, that's what I did. I was raised and taught in a religious family, but I decided to be an Objectivist after I decided upon learning of that philosophy that it was good, and that my religious upbringing was bad.

When it comes to providing my readers with information, it is my opinion that success, innovation, fiscal conservatism, job creation, free markets, capitalism, courage and other values - including Objectivism - are so good that I don't need to tell people they're good. People who see reason will agree. Others, such as radical environmentalists, Islamo-fascists, statists, victims and others who are not rational are not, as Ayn Rand put it in her 25th anniversary foreward to The Fountainhead, not of my concern. If they read about an innovative business, for example, and decide that they are evil bloodsucking capitalists, that's their problem because they aren't rational enough to know why they are wrong. I can only control what is reported - and strive for that to be the truth - but I cannot control what some other individual is going to perceive.

It is my experience that bias comes from the frame of reference of the reporter or editor. Oftentimes, their bias is all that they know. That is why a newsroom should have a diversity of backgrounds, political views, religions and philosophies, ages, races, sexual orientations and other demographics in order to ensure that nobody can create a majority that would dominate minorities - or that a minority dominate what views are reported.

As far as being corporate owned, all that it requires is that we make money. But being corporate owned is advantageous because it offers an economy of scale that can reduce the fixed costs of production. Being free of the influence of a domineering indivudual owner is advantageous because it allows for diversity to occur naturally in a newsroom. In a corporate environment, there's no monolithic or megalomaniacal sole owner who could, if he or she chooses, to butt in.

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Here is another example of what, for the most part, is a well-presented story because it has a catchy photo that ties to the story subject, and it presents both sides of this health issue very well.

There is one portion though, where some of the writer's, more likely, or maybe the editor's bias might show.

Read the story at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/fashion/24virus.html.

This is the lead:

"HOW cool are those Gardasil Girls? Riding horses, flinging softballs, bashing away on drum sets: on the television commercials, they are pugnacious and utterly winning. They want to be “One Less,” they chant — one less victim of cervical cancer. Get vaccinated with Gardasil, they urge their sisters. Protect yourselves against the human papillomavirus, or H.P.V., which causes cervical cancer.

But someone’s missing from this grrlpower tableau.

Ah, that would be Gardasil Boy.

Gardasil Girl’s cancer-related virus? Sexually transmitted. She almost certainly got it from him. And ther is this exceprt that explains what I wrote above (emphasis in bold added): "Gardasil got off to a rocky start. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006, for girls and young women, ages 9 to 26, it came under attack for its high cost. Conservative groups feared it would encourage promiscuity. But buoyed by recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Merck has distributed 13 million doses in the United States alone; insurance picked up much of the tab. In 2007, worldwide sales of Gardasil brought in $1.5 billion."

Instead of saying that "conservative parents" do not like the practice of vaccinating young girls against HPV, it should instead say that "some parents" or "many parents," because, for instance, I am not conservative, and niether are many of my friends, and none of us will allow our daughters to be vaccinated against HPV. Our reasons are largely that this is a new vaccination whose long-term side effects are unknown, we don't trust the FDA's blessing because it could have rushed this to approval to enforce its collectivist public health agenda and because we frankly do not expect our daughters to be sexually active at ages of 9-to-preteen. And even if they do become sexually active later in their teens, we're teaching them to be safe and to have high standards to be very discriminating about sex partners - in keeping with Objectivist teaching. If you're safe, infection is much less statistically likely. If you are very picky about partners, even less so. And sex is the only way to get HPV. So it's just not necessary.

Note: None of that has anything to do with conservatism. It's good parenting. And there are good parents besides conservatives. However, like society in general, those views are associated with the religious right. Most people that I run into say that they didn't realize that someone who can be atheist, favoring drug legalization, accepting of gays and lesbians and have other enlightented views favoring the rights of the individual can be "so conservative." What? That's just the trap that reporters and editors have created out of its general disdain for religion and conservatism.

Note also that it counterweighs the conservative criticism with the decisions of a government agency, that, it would infer by using it as a counterweight, that it is doing it for "the public good." Sure, I am reading into that there, but I know this from my own tendencies in writing, and I have to watch myself as an editor.

Overall, the story is good because it presents various points of view, including, surprisingly, the view of enlightened self interest and natural human selfishness, in that it is less likely that parents of boys would bother with this vaccine because it has "no direct benefit" to them, as the story words very well. I would suspect that most fellow Objectivists would fall into that camp.

However, the bias creeps in. Maybe not on purpose, but it does. This is a tough call for me as an editor. The conservative referrence annoys me and if I were proofing the page in my paper where we picked up this wire story I would have fixed that. But overall, the story is fair and provides a lot of good information.

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  • 3 weeks later...

In this story on rising gasoline prices, here is another example of an angle often missed by the mainstream media in economic and business stories: the fact of inflation and relative value of fiat money over time.

Some of this is that the phrase I wrote above would make the head of many mainstream journalists explode. It's simple economics, and most journalists are smart enough to understand it. But too many are too lazy to bother.

For one, sensationalism or emotional extremism sells more papers and brings higher ratings. So they think anyway. The result is sometimes inaccuracy or incomplete reports.

In this instance, my paper picked up a New York Times story on gas prices because it was focused on a small coastal hamlet not far from our circulation area.

I had the good fortune to edit this story to tailor it for our local audience, so I was able to add the context of price inflation in addition to the average gas price for our region - which is historically much higher than the rest of the nation.

On the latter, I never understand why local news outlets, particularly here in California, almost never bother to look up what the regional average is for the markets they serve. It's very easy and it's an important context. In our case the average here is even higher than most of the rest of California.

The original New York Times story didn't mention inflation or, obviously, any regional context. What's great about this though, above all, is that the Drudge Report (www.drudgereport.com) picked up our version of the story.

This is great because when Drudge picks up our links, they go through the roof with hundreds of thousands of readers visiting - and hopefully activating a little spark in the brain with the more useful context I was able to edit into this story for our readers' benefit.

http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/story/304197.html

Edited by Antonio
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