By Mike Smith, SVP of PR for Yes&

Northwestern’s Medill Media Research Prof Provides Insights
into Creating your Own Fairness and Balance

Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communication Professor Rachel Davis Mersey recently offered insights on the state of media and how we as media consumers can better sift information and judge what constitutes truth. In today’s pandemic environment, more than ever, discerning the value of news and the relative honesty of what we view or read is critical. You can view her webinar here.

According to Gallup, American trust in the media has edged down to 41 percent with a paltry 13 percent of those polled saying they “trust the media a great deal.” The new number represented a four percent drop from 45 percent trust in media. Gallup first started reporting on trust in media in the early 1970’s when Americans trusted Walter Cronkite and other news delivery by 68 percent.

Professor Davis Mersey is the associate director of research at Northwestern’s vaunted Medill School specialty is audience understanding. Professor Davis Mersey recently spoke to a group including author Daniel Pink, and I was privileged to attend. Here are the research prof’s suggestion as to how we arrived at the era of Fake News:

-Inaccurate News from Public Officials. Professor Davis Mersey specifically cited public comment on the actor Jessie Smollett, reporting in Chicago, but elevated this trend to Washington, DC of course.

-Social Media Rewarding Volume. News gets more attention and more followers (the more titillating it is) as volume push and clicks have become king. Fox News produces more than 400 posts a day while other media companies average about 100 posts per day. Local producers simply cannot keep up with the Fox machine.

-Social Identification with Echo Chambers. We tend to reinforce our existing belief systems. Or we become more strident in our opinions if they are reinforced by our media choices? “Fox is considered both the #1 most trusted news source in America. Fox is also number one as the least trusted source of national media.”

    1. There is huge bifurcation in news sourcing – we reinforce both the positive and the negative media impressions
    2. Liberals only see about 25 percent of the opposing content. Conservatives will see up to 35 percent of oppositional content

The primary issue is – “people don’t see diversity of viewpoints” in present news consumption. 

-Need for Affect. We seem to need higher touch, especially during this pandemic of Covid-19. If a person needs interaction with people, one might tend to tune-in or be online watching more news. 

“If you need interaction, you think you are right with very little information. It’s an emotional response,” said the research professor from Northwestern. “The newer generations seem to need more affect than prior generations (millennials more than boomers). “In this generation, there is more value in being right. This creates strident viewpoints and has a negative consequence on audience understanding of news.”

Professor Rachel Davis Mersey offers these suggestions for combatting our biases:

  • We need to pay for local news and subscribe. Support your local paper or online Patch media 
  • We must consume content with which one does not agree. Try conservative radio or TV for 10 or 15 minutes a week to develop empathy for the other side!
  • We should consume international news. BBC and other global news feeds truly have a different worldview than American cable news. Davis Mersey also recommended Al Jazeera English for the Arab world perspective. 
  • We should read several Hill publications every day including Politico, Roll Call or the Hill (or the Examiner on the conservative side) to get the inside scoop on Washington politics.  

The Yes& PR Team is ready to help clients with creating news digests, writing blogs, or offering media analysis to help you navigate this cacophony of voices. 

Mike smithMike Smith is SVP of PR for Yes& Agency. He has nearly 40 years of experience in working with the news media. Mike has a master’s and bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill in Chicago, Ill. He is a member of the NU Leadership Council and Medill Signature Society. 


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