I have been a Fox News viewer for years. You can ask my son, who had become somewhat annoyed at my tendency to watch nothing but Fox News for hours on end, I would have been considered quite the Fox News junkie. I even had the opportunity this past year to participate as a Nielsen ratings viewer, and after filling out my TV diaries was a bit surprised to see that about 80% of my TV viewing included Fox News programming. No doubt that my diaries helped contribute to Fox News' huge ratings. But, all that changed, in a big way, during this 2012 election process. I no longer watch Fox News, but instead rely on my own independent research and analysis to gather my daily news from dozens of different news sources. It has been quite the journey, and it isn't over. But, I must say, I've learned quite a bit about what drives news organizations and news coverage. Breaking the habit of daily Fox News viewing wasn't particularly easy. Here are some things I've learned about news during this break-up with Fox News.
Every news agency has an agenda. If you are watching any news programming on television or reading a newspaper, odds are great that your thinking is being directed by those who are writing the news stories. I used to think that bias in news reporting was the sole property of news organizations like CBS and MSNBC and of newspapers like the New York Times, but really, every news outlet has a point of view. In the past, the agendas of particular news writers were held in check by standards of journalism that required those reporting the news to have verifiable sources for their news reports, and it was standard practice to present both sides of an argument on any controversial issue. In the past, on news programs designed specifically to debate the issues (like the McLaughlin Group), you would see an evenly split panel of pundits on the left and the right arguing their positions. These journalistic practices have died out over the past decade with the rise of Fox News and the movement to the far left by cable networks like MSNBC. It is no longer a given that the news you are receiving represents both sides of an argument. It is now your job to figure out what is really news and what is opinion. The lines have definitely blurred.
You have to read news stories from a variety of sources to find out what is really going on. It has been quite eye-opening to read the news coverage during the 2012 election. I have a long, long list of sites I visit daily to see what is being written/said about the days events, and the differences in the news from one to the next can be stark. I have also learned to appreciate that you really need to hear the opinions on both sides of a news story, because just hearing one side doesn't give you a full picture. Even if I don't agree with the agendas of liberal news organizations, I must say that I would be a lot less informed if I never read their news.
Conservative news isn't always reported by conservative news outlets. There are lots of news stories that would be of interest to a conservative audience that are not covered. One example that comes to mind are the tea-party rallies of 2012. If you recall, there was a surplus of news reporting done on the tax-day tea-party rallies in 2010, but it is likely you heard little (if any) coverage of these rallies in 2012. Perhaps this was because the novelty had worn off? Or, perhaps the numbers participating the rallies had diminished? From my own independent news gathering of these events, I am not convinced either of those is to blame. Participation in tea-party rallies was quite high in some cities, and this will be the first presidential election where the tea-party has been a driving force, so that, of course, should be newsworthy. A more likely reason for the lack of coverage? ..the tax-day tea-party rallies did not serve to advance the agenda of those writing the news this year. Fox News' Sean Hannity was scheduled to speak at a Tea-Party rally in Cincinnati earlier this year, but was pulled by his boss, Rupert Murdoch. Apparently Fox News no longer supports the aims of the Tea party.
C-SPAN is probably the best source for unbiased news coverage. If you want to hear political speech directly from the mouths of the politicians, you will get much more of it on C-SPAN. Coverage of political events on TV news channels is diminished to small sound-bites that really don't fairly represent what is being said. C-SPAN offers live coverage of campaign events where you can hear full-length speeches of candidates and town-hall events. Tuning into C-SPAN instead of network news during this presidential election has been really educational. It may not be as flashy or entertaining, but if you are seeking information, there really isn't a better alternative. Another site where you can find every campaign speech and ad for the presidential candidates is ElectAd - full length speeches and a peek at the commercials that you may not get to see in your local market.
Twitter is one of the fastest ways to hear about breaking news. If you want to know what is happening at this very moment, the best way to find out is to follow all the various new organizations on Twitter. The story of Whitney Houston's death broke on Twitter a full 27 minutes before it was broadcast on the cable news networks. News for other national and world events regularly is tweeted before it appears on the news. But, with the fast paced release of news on Twitter comes the inevitable false alarms.. reports that Joe Paterno had died came 12 hours prematurely on Twitter. Similarly, there were reports the Gabriel Giffords had been killed in the Arizona shooting incident. So, faster is not always better when it comes to news; it is a good practice is to seek out original news sources before believing any breaking news story on Twitter.
I have had to do a bit of re-arranging of my daily routine since I quit watching Fox News. I do tune in occasionally just to see what they are reporting these days, but today I haven't even turned on my television. I can go weeks without watching any television news at all and often rely solely on online news sources. I have noticed the coverage of the presidential race on CNN this year has been much better than I would have expected. I hear much less open critique of candidates and far more coverage of actual events and data. For election night returns coverage, I think the team at CNN has done a stellar job. I've never been a fan of CNN, so I was a bit surprised to discover I actually preferred their coverage of election news. There are times I miss the days when I actually enjoyed watching Fox News around the clock, but I think I am far better off and more informed now that I've pulled the plug. This election is a big one, and I think any responsible citizen owes it to themselves and this country to find out all they can about the candidates in the 2012 race. To do that, we can no longer rely on television news to learn what is necessary. We must seek out the news in new and different ways.