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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Opinion

The media and their biases: people control the content


media tamor

Media bias may exist, news outlets tend to report on what people want to see. | Tamor Khan/The Cougar

Audiences are primarily responsible for the pieces and materials that begin to trend and receive media attention.

Working at The Cougar, I’ve experienced firsthand something that I’ve always known but never fully realized: the public controls the media.

I watched the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance go from a local issue to national television in less than three days.

Opponents referred to it as the “bathroom issue” while proponents received over $1 million in donations in October. Both sides spent over $1 million in advertisements because they knew that in order to succeed, their position had to become popular.

HERO was trending online and on every major media network.

Both Democrats and Republicans at every level complain endlessly about how the media distorts what they say, or fails by misinforming the public.

But for the most part, it’s our fault as readers and viewers.

We tend to comment and share only what elicits a powerful response. These types of materials are what begin to trend and appear more frequently in the media.

Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, said online comments “are extraordinarily aggressive, without resolving anything,” according to Scientific American,

I understand that each of us have at least one issue that really strikes a nerve, and we feel personally disgusted when a news source neglects even one aspect of an issue. Or when we completely agree with a piece, we must rave and bask in its glory.

But there are also countless pieces that we read, enjoy and then ignore.

This creates a two-fold problem first initiated and perpetuated by commenters, viewers and other members of the digital audience – myself included.

First, viewers control the media by choosing to only respond to pieces that either cause a powerful negative reaction like outrage or a strong positive response.

Afterward, the media notice this and begin to produce more and more popular material fully knowing how the audience will react.

But why does this happen?

Some of us are familiar with Search Engine Optimization and how companies like Google use algorithms and data centers to bring us the relevant information we seek. For example, the more popular a particular piece is, the more likely it will appear when we search for it.

It’s about marketing. The public and online audience are the consumers, and for media outlets, success depends on our ability to captivate them.

“The media should control itself and not depend on the public, but sometimes that is not always the case,” marketing junior Hoc Nguyen said.

Not everyone agrees. Some experts believe it is not the responsibility of the audience, but the media.

Edward Wasserman, professor in journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, supports this idea.

“Unfortunately, mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other, offering up Jerry Springer, Crossfire (and) Bill O’Reilly,” he said.

However, just as with any business or organization, the media seeks to be useful and cater to its consumers.

Even if the media decided it was time to move on from HERO, the public continues to revive it and make it relevant to the public so the media must follow its lead.

Assistant opinion editor Sarah Kim is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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