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Media bias and quality news

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Media Bias Chart by Vanessa Otero, Ad Fontes Media

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay called ‘In search of quality news” which many people told me they found educational. The piece was sparked by a media bias infographic invented by US patent attorney Vanessa Otero.

Vanessa supplied an updated media bias chart for today’s main picture. It is self-explanatory in that the quality news outlets are clustered around the middle. The worst of the fake news and extreme right (or left-wing) biased outlets are consigned to the fringes, as they should be. If you want to see who’s who in the (US) online zoo, open this image in a new window and enlarge it.

She is currently working on a project to expand the Media Bias Chart into a dynamic, interactive web version with a lot of additional sources and features. If you are interested, a recent (lengthy) forensic analysis on her blog tackles President Trump‘s frequent claims of media bias.

My February 2016 essay introduced a few readers to an Australian collaboration between academia and journalism. The Conversation, funded by Australian universities, was launched 11 years ago to broaden the depth and variety of informed journalism. Like online news portal The New Daily (2013), The Conversation is free. Moreover whole articles can be reprinted elsewhere, with proper attribution the only proviso. The Conversation now reaches 10.7 million readers a month.

Bloggers need news and research sources like this which allow citation and lengthy extracts via Creative Commons. It’s quite an advance on the ‘Fair Dealing” provisions of the Copyright Act.

What doesn’t work is finding a likely article in The Australian only to be met with a paywall. You can’t blame them for trying, but The Guardian does not do this, nor does the ABC, SBS or Fairfax/Nine papers in general, although I have elsewhere seen ‘you have had your three free stories’ messages.

The latest Deloitte Media and Entertainment Survey (2018) found that the notion of paying for news was met with considerable reluctance. Only 10% of respondents said they would pay for news, consistent with findings over the past four years. Moreover, 22% of those who said they would pay for news would do so only if they could avoid advertising.

Gosh. So who were we selling all those newspapers to in the 1980s? That was possibly the last decade when newspapers owners could rely upon the ‘rivers of gold’ derived from classified advertising, From then, through the 1990s into the new Millennium, portals like realestate.com, domain.com.au, eBay, gumtree, carsales and ubiquitous travel sites like bookings.com or trivago.com ripped much of their traditional revenue away. Traditional media invested in these portals (investors call this hedging) but it is akin to cannibalism.

Nevertheless, news and magazine subscriptions are surviving, owned by 17% and 11% of respondents respectively (in 2017 both were 16%). “As residual hard copy subscriptions endure, there may still be non-digital opportunities for both mediums,” the Deloitte survey found. “This is especially true for magazines where print remains our most popular format.”

So yes, like me, 38% of respondents still prefer to read printed hard copies, with 51% favouring traditional news formats (2017: 55%).

I’m one of the last diehards, waiting for that Friday evening when the print edition of the Guardian Weekly arrives in my letterbox. Never mind that some of the stories in the magazine were published online up to seven to 10 days earlier.

I send links to people I think might have an interest only to be told they ‘read it last week’.

I have serious doubts about the definition of ‘read it’ in this context as a Pew Research Center survey of US online activity estimates the average time people spend ‘reading’ on a news site visit is two minutes 40 seconds. Crikey, it takes me that long to read a recipe for spaghetti bolognaise (and nip over to the neighbour’s place to borrow some parmesan).

In the US, 93% of people get some of their news from online browsing so that two minutes-something statistic is a little worrying.

So if news outlets are not attracting paid subscribers, how do they make money when online users are clearly ad-phobic? Deloitte’s 2017 survey found that one in three respondents employed ad blockers to preserve their online news feed. Almost 80% when perusing short videos skip the introductory ad and 50% abandon the video altogether if they cannot shut down the ‘pre-roll’ ad.

The most telling statistics from the Deloitte surveys (IMHO) are the ones that demonstrate how people have backed away from social media. In 2018, 55% said they use social media on a daily basis, down from 59% in 2017 and 61% the year before. Moreover, 31% say they have either taken a break or disconnected from social media.

There is increased awareness of the perils of fake news with 66% saying they were concerned about it and 77% believing they had been exposed.

As the Federal election is now just a minimum 50 sleeps away, this would be a good time to review where you are getting your news from and who can be trusted. It’s also a good time to look hard at opinion columnists of the right (and left), both in print and on TV/radio programmes.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to place Australian news outlets on Otero’s media bias chart, although be aware of your own biases! For mine, The Australian is becoming increasingly strident, its pet conservatives trotting out predictable rhetoric. Unhappily the takeover of Queensland’s regional newspapers by News Ltd has seen some of those polemical essayists (Paul Murray, Andrew Bolt), airing their views in rural papers.

Fair go! The preoccupying new stories in these country papers ought to be (a) “drought enters third year’ (image of dead sheep in dried up dam), or (b) ‘rain boosts crops’ (farmer in gumboots jumping for joy over muddy puddle).

Further reading (s) means paid subscribers, some free news

The New York Times (now with an Australian section) www.nytimes.com offers some free items and an affordable introductory subscription (s);

Investigative financial journalism www.michaelwest.com.au Michael’s expose of Australia’s top 40 tax cheats is compulsory reading;

www.thenewdaily.com free Australian news portal funded by Australian industry super funds;

www.newmatilda.com left-wing independent Australian website of politics, Aboriginal affairs, environment and media, active since 2004;

The Conversation www.theconversation.com.au as discussed above;

www.crikey.com.au. Launched in 2000, Crikey offers hard-hitting commentary on politics, media, business, culture and technology. Soon to include an investigative unit funded by John B Fairfax. Crikey used to have First Dog on the Moon (s);

The Guardian www.theguardian.com.au the go-to investigative newspaper, favoured by 7 out of 10 retired journalists and fans of FDOTM who defected there in 2014;

www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au notable for being launched in 2014 as a printed newspaper. TSP and The Monthly are paid publications, owned by Schwartz Media (s);

The NYT keeps a good handle on what’s happening in the US, but so too does www.politico.com;

https://bobwords.com.au/further-reading/ My list includes blogs and websites that specialise in long form journalism, interviews, reviews and creative non-fiction.

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Frankie's Dad
Frankie's Dad
March 30, 2019 10:00 am

The Guardian’s paid sub is a curious animal. It’s a bit Zen, so that the closer you look, the less you understand. There’s no paywall, but if you don’t pay up they plead with you and make you feel like a freeloader. Fair enough, so I do periodically pay up for a month or more (sadly, I if I’m costcutting it’s the paywalled sites that I tend to keep). It’s supposed to give you access to premium content but I don’t really see much difference whether I’m paid up or freeloading. There are a couple of sections of extra material,… Read more »

Carolyn WILLADSEN
Carolyn WILLADSEN
April 3, 2019 6:50 pm

Are you calling us ‘diehards’? The online Guardian and the paper copy are different beasts in my opinion.