American newspapers are struggling to survive. Most cities are down to one daily paper. So a trip to England is an eye-opener, because even the most dedicated reader couldn?t finish all of London?s 10 daily papers. But why are so many people over there reading newspapers?
Part of the answer is that the free market works. The United States has always had a (relatively) free entertainment market. But in Britain, state support made television a socialist medium for many years. And while socialism is many things, it is not entertaining. London?s newspapers, on the other hand, have always been entertaining. That?s helped them thrive even in this television age.
But a major factor in the survival of British newspapers is that they make no secret of their political bias. Most papers cover the same stories, but do so through slightly different political lenses. One newspaper will tend to support the Conservative side, while another will back Labour. And the reader always knows where his paper is coming from, not simply in its editorials, but on the front page, too.
Compare this with the state of journalism in the United States, where the major media outlets all claim to be unbiased. But they?re not.
In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, more than 40 percent of journalists surveyed admitted they believed reporters often allow their biases to come through in their stories. And, since the same survey showed that one third of national journalists describe themselves as ?liberal? (less than 10 percent called themselves ?conservative?), it?s pretty clear what those biases are.
Meanwhile, as our media cling to the myth of ?nonbiased? coverage, the public at large becomes ever more polarized. ?This is the most deeply divided electorate in the post-World War II era. There?s no centrism here,? says David Bennett, a professor at Syracuse University?s Maxwell School.
We already know the 2004 election will deal with some difficult issues, including the War on Terrorism, the Iraqi intervention and the Patriot Act.
Furthermore, voters already know President Bush?s stand on these issues. And they already know that Sen. Kerry opposes President Bush?s positions on these issues, even if his own policies aren?t always clear. Neither of these men is likely to change his positions between now and Nov. 2, so why should voters change theirs?
In fact, what?s surprising is that about 20 percent of registered voters still describe themselves as undecided. Then again, maybe they?re just hoping to get one of those coveted focus group slots on the major networks next fall.