Reporting bias in U.S. media outlets

Record-breaking flooding hit South Dakota in the last two weeks, causing huge damage to fields, livestock and homes and forcing citizens to evacuate certain areas including several Native American reservations. However, there was very little national coverage given to the natural disaster or its effects. Potential reasons for this include the media’s tendency to be city-focused. South Dakota does not boast a huge population and therefore is not the first choice for media attention. Second, news organizations face significant challenges as the twenty-four hour news cycle rages on.

The national media has a habit of being largely city-focused. This is partly because of the high volumes of people living in those small areas. However, there is a discrepancy in this form of reporting, as rural areas in the United States account for almost 97 percent of the nation’s land area but only hold about 20 percent of the country’s population. This means that while reporting on primarily big cities covers a large number of people per event, the coverage only extends to three percent or less of the nation’s land area, missing large groups of people when reporting on events. Leaving out rural areas leaves out natural disasters like the floods, environmental issues and challenges facing the farming industry, all of which impact the lives of all Americans, if we can take the time to examine them in their complexity. This trend is likely to cause anger and feelings of marginalization in those who live outside of big cities. When they are not represented the way that those in big cities are, especially during times of stress and struggle, it can lead to mistrust among rural communities in the ability of national media to cover what they consider to be important. 

This distrust of the media can lead to far-reaching negative effects for the country as a whole. When parts of the population do not trust what they read from reputable news sources, they are susceptible to manipulation by less accurate sources, and spaces are created for misinformation to fester and leads to millions subscribing to misinformed ideologies, like the ones found in the anti-vaccination movement. Not only can it leave rural Americans feeling slighted and left out, but it can give those in the big cities the impression that the issues that they face are the only important issues, leading to a feedback loop that only encourages further narrowing of the scope.

In order to combat widespread media distrust, it is essential that newspapers and media outlets represent the voices of the American people and report on issues relevant to everyone. As journalists, it is our duty to recognize what is not being given due attention and work towards fair and unbiased reporting for everyone we represent.

It is with this in mind that the new editorial board of The Lawrentian begins our 2019-20 cycle. We aim to represent this community to the fullest, from student recitals to headlining performers, home games and those far away, board game nights in the dorms to the Great Midwest Trivia Contest. To us, every event is an important part of the Lawrence community and deserves reporting. We see the danger in overlooking any crucial part of this community, and hope to be a uniting force for this campus rather than a dividing one.