We just experienced the conclusion of the Presidential election cycle and the beginning of a new Presidency. Anyone, who reads this blog must have concluded by now that I am not a “Trumpeteer”. I am a conservative with libertarian economic leanings.
I spent the majority of my professional life in local government. As a result of my time spent in government, I am familiar with what I like to refer to as proximity bias. This occurs, when you spend the majority of your waking hours within an employment defined sphere of social and idealogical thought. As a result of your daily cultural confinement, you begin to to perceive others and the world based upon your professional goals and problems. Most individuals recognize this as a bias. It needn’t be bad or good either. It can become problematic, when it interferes with your world perception to such an extent that you can no longer report accurately to others what occurs in the world.
l am not nor do I claim to be a journalist, but like many, who embarked upon an educational path in Arts and Sciences, I took the obligatory journalism survey course. These classes seldom provoked strong curiosity within me, however occasionally an exercise or assignment stood out and proved to be of value in evaluating life’s events.
I had a task from a survey journalism class, which struck a chord with me. As with many true learning experiences, the task was not complex. It was simple actually and involved watching television news and logging content, content order and content duration.
News was different in the 1970’s, when I was an undergraduate at a midwestern university. News was consumed by watching one of the three news networks. My assignment was to watch the three news networks and log their story topics. I dutifully tuned in to watch the broadcast and manually flipped between channels logging the order and storyline from each network for future class discussion.
The class reported back with each network’s stories their order and duration. As a group we discussed our findings. We were all astonished by the similarity of news content as well as the similarity in broadcast order and even the duration of stories. This similarity was explained as journalistic professionalism. These editors and reporters had the nose for sniffing out the important story of the day.
The experience now tells me a different tale. We now have more sources of news than ever before, yet major news organizations across multiple media platforms all too frequently choose not only the same story, but all too frequently even weigh in using the same keywords. Can you recall the first time you encountered widespread use of the word “gravitas”? What about use of the terms “feckless”or “mainstream”. My bet is your experience is similar to mine. These terms weren’t originated as a result of casual Sunday evening dinner conversation, but became part of common parlance only after seeming constant bombardment with the terms on the network news broadcast.
These are fairly recent examples that come immediately to my mind. My guess is you could recite your own litany of terms and stories, which have been repeated ad nauseam, so that they now are now have earned a place in our community daily banter.
So how is it possible in a “diverse society” that we choose to elevate the same stories and sometimes even describe them using the exact same terms? Allow me to say after experiencing life in a government agency that I no longer believe it to be simply “a nose for news”. I also do not believe it to be a knowing left wing media conspiracy. It is I believe a proximity bias orchestrated by an elitist bi-coastal news, higher education and entertainment industry, which still dominates news gathering circles
This phenomenon is the natural result of the dominance of east and west coast universities as well as the bi-coastal location of news organizations. Individuals in these organizations share a common daily experiences and share common associations, which are foreign to many of us in the country’s interior. As a result of this “proximity bias” the public conversation is frequently centered on what many in the remainder of the country would characterize as “bi-coastal minutia”.
We live in a time when information is more readily available to all in this country. The coasts no longer should dominate and be “news central”unless the populace chooses to continue to consume their product.. Isn’t it time we ask what are we doing rather than what did President Trump or Senator Schumer do today? Isn’t it time to report the truly spectacular innovations that occur daily in our country yet receive very little attention as compared to the latest Washington Ad Hominem fresh from the popular social network site?
Think this proximity bias is restricted to the major networks? Listen to Fox News or Fox business then tell me there exists no proximity bias. Listen to the questions asked of guests. At their worst they sound as if they are pleading with their guests usually from DC to lead them from out of their ignorance to the promised land. This is a rewrite of history, if ever I heard one..
Our once uniquely proud and self reliant people now are captive,listening intently to dissociated east coast news readers beg our public servants to guide their subjects in their daily life rather than reporting the important life changing events occurring outside their coastal silos. They don’t even bother to research their questions anymore, so they don’t even know what to ask or where to raise objection. They precede their questions with the now seemingly universal”I’m no expert but…or I’m not an Attorney, but..”. As if this admission relieves them from their responsibility to do research. Hey media Associate degreed para legals do much better research. They continue to operate within their sphere of information, never truly questioning their own biases.
It is time this east coast proximity bias ceases and is replaced by reports of who,what, when,where and why.
If you agree or disagree, please let me hear from you. Add your voice to this discussion by commenting. This is not a test. There is no grade given and there are no wrong answers.