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Should newsrooms remain neutral?

July 21, 2021 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN @Randeloo

Accurate and impartial storytelling has long been considered an essential component of effective newsrooms. However, in recent years some news outlets have taken a far more partisan approach over the provision of objective news and information. With plenty of opinion-based commentary available, how significant is objective journalism to audiences?

The latest report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism questions the importance of impartial news reporting to audiences. The new study offers insight into whether objective news coverage, or point of view offerings, appeal to consumers. Reuters’ findings are based on survey results from close to 100,000 adults worldwide and in-depth interviews with 50 adults in Brazil, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.

Impartial vs. opinion-based reporting

Overall, respondents say they want to hear different and impartial views on social and political issues. In fact, three quarter (74%) report that social and political news coverage should present a range of different views. Just 15% of respondents believe that news outlets should argue for the points of view that they think are best.

Importantly, respondents often recognize the difference between news reporting and opinion-based commentary. However, they also think newsrooms should be very clear and identify when they report opinion-based commentary.

Significantly, Reuters’ findings show that consumers are interested in understanding opinions that are not their own. The majority (72%) of consumers in all markets think that news publishers should give equal time to all sides. A mere 17% think news outlets should give less time to sides with weaker arguments. Respondents agree that there should be a fair balance of opinions in objective news reporting. 

Neutrality is not always an option

Interestingly, 30% of people in the U.S. think that sometimes neutrality is not an option when reporting the news. Specifically, younger respondents, along with those who are left leaning, think there are some issues where it is impossible for newsrooms to be neutral. In fact, a minority think that there is ethical justification, in some cases, for a non-neutral approach. Importantly, respondents express discomfort with newsrooms excluding points of view entirely.

Reuters’ findings show the desire for truthful storytelling in news but also for the inclusion of different perspectives. Yes, consumers want the facts. However, the report also suggest news publishers should offer different perspectives and different points of views. This approach will assist in breaking echo chambers and offers opportunities for healthy news discussions about multiple points of views.  

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