Local newsrooms strive to inform communities without bias

In the News
Steve Lavin

My name and email address is listed at the top of the station management contact page on our station website so viewers tend to send me the most emails with their questions or concerns. I get comments about anything you can imagine, and some are downright silly. A couple weeks ago I found out how critical “General Hospital” is to several viewers in our area. I guess live breaking news coverage of a violent attack on a school resource officer and the safety of 800 local high school students was not enough of a concern for them. Some viewers can’t understand why they received six inches of snow at their house when our meteorologists predicted 3-5 inches. Others are critical of our talents’ hairstyle or wardrobe. I could do a whole column on that subject.

The concern that I have seen most often lately are the comments like, “Although I have been watching your news religiously for 25 years, I can’t watch it anymore because your news is biased.” They rarely give specifics. They just claim bias. I enjoy corresponding with these viewers so I can learn more about their accusations. It’s funny how a local news station can be both conservatively biased and liberally biased all on the same day.

Can our local news organizations survive in our markets if we served up a favored slant in our local news coverage? The last time I checked, Wisconsin is a solid purple state. We would lose half our local news audience if we actually catered to one view or the other.  

I have had some conversations with others in the business, and this is what I think:

  • Cable outlets devote prime-time hours to opinion hosts giving their takes and perspective on the news. Many cable show hosts would admit they are not journalists as they clearly favor a certain political view.
  • For those who consume a steady diet of partisan cable news programming, watching (or listening to) local news outlets reporting facts without speculation or emotion can be quite jarring.
  • People hear what they want to hear.
  • Some news consumers are too willing to attack the messenger with accusations of bias even when established facts are reported.
  • These news consumers take out their fury on people who are thousands of miles away from where the national story is unfolding.

Wisconsin’s local broadcast newsrooms are full of excellent reporters and newsroom managers. They live and work in their local communities. They are focused on events in their communities and how events (both local and national) might affect the entire community. Their duty continues to be to inform, not entertain.

Steve Lavin, WBA Board Chair