August 2, 2019
By: Mike Ferguson
In an era where major media outlets aren’t very trusted, local news sometimes gets a bad rap as it relates to media bias.
Terms like “fake news” are often flung around when mentioning modern media. I would venture to say that most use that term with national cable news in mind or well-known national publications.
While it’s impossible to completely irradiate bias from reporting, my experience in local news leads me to believe that it is pretty rare in local reporting. Unfortunately, it is often assumed that local reporters intentionally slant their coverage. In many cases, these opinions are formed from misconceptions.
Look at the comment section on local news websites or social media pages and you’re sure to see accusations of political bias. Often times, you’ll see commenters arguing in the comment section about where the biases exist.
One big misconception people have is that national news stories are written in local newsrooms. Although the stories appear in local papers, they’re most likely syndicated from the Associated Press, a major publication like the New York Times, Washington Post, or outlets affiliated through the same corporate owner.
It is not uncommon for editorials to be written with a political bias, but in most cases, editorial or opinion sections are entirely separate from the newsroom. Editorial departments do weigh in on local issues and will use excerpts from previous news stories, but the conclusions drawn by the editorial section are not done in conjunction with the reporter.
Another misnomer is that letters to the editor can show a media bias, but letters to the editor can be written by anyone and submitted to the newspaper. On any given date, one may see contrasting views on the same issue. On other days, you may even see letters to the editor written in response to previous letters.
When it comes to newspapers, there is often variance between daily and weekly or monthly publications. The weekly or monthly publications will sometimes force reporters to wear multiple hats as a reporter and a columnist, but in most of those cases, columns pertain to local issues.
As for local issues themselves, very few are partisan along the Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative paradigm. In most cases, local reporters do a good job of getting both sides of the issue or at least attempting to do so. With local newsrooms being slashed across the country, reporters in many cases, are having to take on more responsibility than ever before.
Regardless of one's opinion on what is referred to often as the “mainstream media,” local journalism is still the best, most accurate way to stay informed on what’s happening in your backyard. If one takes exception to their reporting, reporters are usually willing to listen. More often than not, local journalists do their due diligence, work to get both sides of the issue and bring to light happenings -- both good and bad -- that a large segment of the public would otherwise know nothing about. They do so on modest salaries and while working odd hours.
About the Author: Mike Ferguson currently serves as the public information officer at the Haines City Police Department. A native of Polk County, Mike previously spent nearly five years as a full-time reporter at The Ledger. Mike contributes to a number of outlets and has work appearing in the Associated Press, Yahoo, FoxSports.com, Athlon Sports and Sports Illustrated online among other publications. Mike earned his bachelor's degree from Florida State University in 2009. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Davenport, Florida with their two children.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.