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Are Communications Professionals Worried about Media Bias? Survey says

Most comms pros involve some concern about bias across eight different media sources; at one end, 54% expressed strong concerns about social media marketing, while at another, 28% expressed strong concerns about professional journalists

Is there still two sides to every story?

Not, according to a survey of 11,889 U.S.-based journalists conducted for Pew Research Center by SSRS. Over fifty percent (55%) of journalists surveyed say that each side will not always deserve equal coverage in the news headlines.

In comparison, 22% of Americans overall say exactly the same, whereas about three-quarters (76%) say journalists should make an effort to give all sides equal coverage. The survey polled 9,388 Americans for his or her views (methodology).

The Pew Research article identifies this as a decline in bothsidesism in journalism, which sounds if you ask me such as a euphemism coined in PR circles. Pew points to blatantly false information released by the extreme right because the catalyst.

I dont believe reasonable people disagree with denying voice to proven liars. But this idea can easily turn into a slippery slope, however, given the long set of well-documented cognitive biases which exist in human psychology.

Our brains evolved to prefer shortcuts and its own just too possible for any human, trained journalist or not, to lean towards the medial side you’re inclined to trust. Compared to that end, the left has extremes on the fringes of the bell curve plus they are susceptible to propaganda too.

Politics, bias and B2B tech

Generally, I avoid politics the normal catalyst for discussions of media and bias. It has less of a direct effect in my own focus regions of B2B technology but its not zero. Moreover, today, bias has seeped in to the algorithms so central to technology. The truth is, if the bias is real or perceived, its our job to steer employers and clients through the morass.

Thats why this question about bias in the media, in the 5th Annual JOTW Strategic Communications Survey for 2022 is pertinent. We asked 483 communicators should they were worried about bias across eight different resources of media.

Its worth pointing out, these are seasoned professionals 70% of respondents have 11 or even more years of experience and several are former journalists. Heres how their answers stacked up:

  • Social media marketing: 91% have at the very least some concern about bias in social media marketing; 77% are in least moderate concerned; 54% have become or extremely concerned;
  • Social media marketing algorithms: 90% have at the very least some concern about bias in social media marketing algorithms; 69% are in least moderate concerned; 45% have become or extremely concerned;
  • Influencers: 87% have at the very least some concern about bias among influencers; 67% are in least moderate concerned; 41% have become or extremely concerned;
  • Internet search engine algorithms: 84% have at the very least some concern about bias browsing engines; 65% are in least moderate concerned; 38% have become or extremely concerned;
  • Blogs: 86% have at the very least some concern about bias among bloggers; 66% are in least moderate concerned; 33% have become or extremely concerned;
  • Traditional news: 83% have at the very least some concern about bias in traditional news; 56% are in least moderate concerned; 33% have become or extremely concerned;
  • Podcasts: 80% have at the very least some concern about bias in podcasts; 61% are in least moderate concerned; 27% have become or extremely concerned; and
  • Professional journalists: 76% have at the very least some concern about bias among professional journalists; 46% are in least moderate concerned; 28% have become or extremely concerned.

Heres how that looks graphically:

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And heres how that looks as a weighted average:

(click image for higher resolution)

The outcomes suggest social media marketing is just about the least reliable way to obtain information while real journalists will be the most credible. As you respondent noted about their organizations rely upon the media, Most traditional media outlets still have what I’d call checks and balances (e.g. editors) and try their finest to have the story right.

However, theres a good little bit of concern over the board. Another respondent put it in this manner: Depends upon the media source. Some have earned reliability, others not really much.

What should communicators do about bias?

Bias is actually a concern for communicators. The question that remains is what should communicators do about any of it?

I’ve several suggestions like the following.

1. Obligation to help keep an open mind.

Professional communicators have an obligation to stay curious and keep an open mind. Folks have an all natural tendency to gravitate toward information that supports our existing type of view so an implied task would be to challenge ourselves to search out new resources of credible information. To paraphrase the adage to be ready to entertain ideas even though we dont, after careful examination, necessarily accept them.

2. Challenge assumptions and verify facts.

In a few respects, communicators serve the conscience of a business. As such, we have to be certain of the info we share which requires challenging assumptions and verifying statements our organizations purport to be fact. Perhaps it is a matter of PR ethics, but Id prefer to believe that it is more of a matter of homework.

As Stacey Miller of the Auto Care Association put it in her contribution to the report, My antennas have piqued more regularly than usual in the last couple of years when consuming traditional news and Ive found myself generally examining several sources on one topic merely to ensure Ive received probably the most complete information possible.

3. Responsibility to remain informed about technology.

Search, social media marketing and the algorithms that power these technologies will be the biggest resources of concern over bias in this survey. The algorithms are engineered to feed us more of the stuff we select, which given our nature, may be the stuff we already believe. We’ve a responsibility to remain informed about how exactly these technologies work also to have the ability to explain the implications to executives and leaders.

This isnt just limited by algorithms either. In addition, it means learning new skills, such as for example identifying deep fakes, as Karen Swim of Words For Hire, LLC and Solo PR Pro noted in her analysis of the survey data.

Navigating the communications landscape

Bias exists in lots of forms and its own section of our job to review it and help our employers and clients to navigate the communications landscape. When weve checked off all of the boxes with this list, and bothsidesism continues to be in decline, we have been left with the work of persuasion and advocacy.

There should be room for a rational voice, a contrarian, a maverick, having an opposing view grounded in verifiable facts. Theres a solid sense of purpose found for the reason that role, even yet in B2B technology.

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