Recently, I noted that it is mainly older people who rely on dying legacy media for news.
Media watchers have noted that the New York Times marked Christmas Day with two different stories about atheism, here and here. And that Newsweek took a desperate swipe at the integrity of the Bible just before Christmas. It raises a question: Are legacy media inherently anti-religious?
Maybe. But first let’s distinguish between three terms sometimes used to criticize such trends: bias, prejudice, and bigotry. They sound the same but mean somewhat different things.
Bias: As I noted in a response to a comment on my recent column on dying legacy media, bias is just—for example—the spot where you were standing when you saw a traffic accident, about which you are called as a witness. You had to be standing somewhere, didn’t you? That affects what you saw and what you didn’t see. As I said then, “All publications have always been “biased,” in the sense that our bias is where we are standing when covering a story.”
So a judicious observer takes this unavoidable bias into account when determining what to believe.
Prejudice: If we refuse to credit verifiable facts or continue to believe discredited facts, we show prejudice. As legacy media struggle for niches in popular culture, we will probably see more of this problem than formerly:
Due to waning public influence, traditional Western media increasingly promote government agendas. That means tacitly accepting agendas that are sympathetic to government control of (accompanied, perhaps, by bailouts of) compliant media. For example, traditional media opposed and criticized “religion,” but they do not risk criticizing Islam today. That just means they can’t be where the action is or even honestly discuss what the action is (or at best, only half-heartedly, often long after new media are disseminating the news on Twitter, Facebook, blogzines, and blogs). Their biases end up making the most basic functions of news gathering impossible.
Due to the conflict between self-interest and news-gathering, traditional media are increasingly unable to tell us things we need to know and – in a way – do know. In my view, they are becoming, essentially, the “Pravdas” of a supposedly free world.
Bigotry: A lifetime of refusing to credit verifiable facts and dismiss genuinely discredited facts can cause us to live in a world we have created for ourselves where external facts don’t matter much. Arguably, the media fronting atheism and irresponsible skepticism at Christmas (hardly noticing that the new atheist movement is plagued by serious problems, here, here, and here, for example) are bigoted with respect to any mention of Christianity in public life.
Possibly, they are marketing to a secularist/atheist minority who are the growing edge of their readers. Others drift away—in an environment where there are, after all, many sources of news. At any rate, such media increasingly act as though they sense this outcome.
In short, they are becoming a niche market that must market to its remaining base
Incidentally, among media who think like legacy media but try to live on line, the ranks thin across the board. Huffington Post, for example, is dumping Associated Press, which would put HuffPo on track to market increasingly to a progressive niche rather than try to expand.
There is nothing wrong with a niche market. But there is plenty wrong with a situation where the niche is taken for an elite or a group that represents a majority that it just does not represent.
In short, yes, the legacy media are prejudiced against religion. But it is much less clear than formerly that they represent a middle ground of opinion.
Possibly, a straw in the wind: Not even the best legacy media raves could turn the “abortion comedy,” Obvious Child, into a winner. That is because no one outside the school system or institutions can be forced to see it. So few did.
At some point, facts do begin to matter.
Are traditional media dying? Who will they take down with them?
Will our elders be left behind with dying media? Legacy media are losing the ability to provide serious news
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.