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The Media Is Under Fire For Being Too Biased And Not Biased Enough

Salt Lake Tribune file photo

The following op-ed appeared in the Dec. 17, 2017 Salt Lake Tribune.

As a journalist I hate to hear complaints of bias in the media. Bias exists, of course. Reporters are people like anyone else, full wells of unique and fervent beliefs, and when a reporter’s bias bleeds into their work it diminishes the news, and hurts the credibility of all journalists.

What’s really astounding is the more recent phenomena of media being assailed for not being biased enough. We’ve entered an era of social-media tribalization in which it’s become fashionable for all manner of groups and advocacy journalists to allege unbias. News consumers are now so precisely targeted with all the news that fits their pre-existing belief systems that they are outraged by the time-honored practices of traditional media. They criticize the media for seeking counterpoints to views they disagree with. At the same time they assume lack of coverage of a particular topic is proof reporters have been bought off – rather than a sign that today’s newsrooms, hit hard by the internet, are stretched thin for staff and resources.

The media is under attack, and it is from all sides of the political spectrum. Our president spews 280-character spasms openly challenging the legitimacy of the Fourth Estate. He’s cheered on by his supporters, even those who proclaim to revere the Constitution, while seeming to forget that the only profession the Founding Founders felt essential enough to be protected by name in the Bill of Rights was the press.

On the left, baseless allegations of corruption in the “mainstream” or “corporate” media diminish support for all media in the process. Beyond maligning the integrity of hardworking reporters, however, the ultimate victim of our collective cynicism is our democracy.

Lack of public support for the media could not come at a worse time. Newsrooms are overwhelmed and understaffed, and many reporters run themselves ragged from courtrooms to press conferences to council meetings, struggling to keep up with the day-to-day breath of the city.

I have worked for years as a Utah reporter. I know the women and men of the local press. I don’t know their politics, only that they work long hours with little pay because they believe – as I do – that free and vigorous media is the cornerstone of American government.

It has become clear now that the press needs help in its efforts to continue to be a watchdog for our Democratic institutions.

At The Utah Investigative Journalism Project our response to the media crisis is to help. The UIJP is the only 501(c)3 nonprofit in our state dedicated solely to helping media in Utah fulfill their investigative watchdog reporting role. We develop hard-hitting, impactful stories provided free to our media partners. This year our reporters have uncovered a company’s plan to bring industrial waste to the shores of the Great Salt Lake, showed how two state legislators stand to profit privately from the building of a major public freeway project, and most recently we located the inmates tortured in the Daggett County Jail to hear their stories directly.

We also provide free trainings and consultations to all local media organizations, and have worked already with organizations from major daily papers to community journals to TV stations and college newspapers to help improve the quality of reporting in our communities.

By all means, demand the most of your local media. Hold our feet to the fire. But if you are a believer in the power of the people to turn the tide against waste and corruption, I ask you to join me in supporting the local institutions looking to arm our citizens with the facts they need to do battle for the cause of truth.

Subscribe to the local paper. Patronize businesses that advertise local. Dial into the local station during your commute and check out the local broadcast at night. Click on the local story first rather than the national story copied off the work of Utah journalists. Give to your local public radio station or to your friendly local journalism nonprofit. Write the one thoughtful remark on a comment thread littered with ALL CAPS vitriol. Read, watch, listen, and above all else — think.

Eric S. Peterson is the executive director of The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit,

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