– Ben Martens

NewsNation Three Month Review

Long time readers of this site will know that I started off listening to a lot of talk radio and repeating the same rants. I eventually decided that wasn’t something I wanted in my life and I almost completely disengaged from the news, only hearing about the most important things through conversations or by reading raw studies and data. Last fall I decided to try a news source again because I was impressed with the approach that NewsNation was taking. Their stated goal was to remove all bias from their news and just present the facts. Lots of places claim to do this but NewsNation laid out a plan that seemed like it could work.

For the first couple weeks, I was surprised at how dry the content was. I could read an article about anything without being led to some kind of emotional response. More than three months in and it’s still something that I flip through every day. I can’t speak for their TV content, but using their app has let me slip through a very divisive news season without getting dragged into either side. The facts of the story are presented and I’m left to decide how to fit them into my own moral framework. They sit in the middle of the spectrum not by arguing both sides or giving equal time but by ignoring both sides and just presenting what happened. And any time they reference a study, Congressional bill, etc, they link directly to it so I can read it myself and get the raw info with full context.

I like to think that their writing style has helped me in my own writings. I’m sucked into a lot of tough conversations for my elder position at church and I think I’m getting better at editing my emails to remove things like inflammatory adjectives, metaphors, and virtue signaling that are really only there to prompt a reaction if I’m being honest with myself.

But in the back of my mind, I always wondered how unbiased NewsNation really was. I’d spot check it myself by taking an article and reading the same thing on multiple sites. It always seemed like NewsNation was in the middle and on the rare occasion that they’d slip up, it was obvious, but still… was I just being manipulated more subtly?

Yesterday, I found the Ad Fontes Media group who analyzes stories from a variety of news sources and ranks them for reliability and bias. You can read more about their methodology on their site, but they produce a giant chart that shows how each news source lands on those scales of reliability and bias. I’ll let you click the link to view it because it seems highly copyrighted, but there were a few interesting observations for me:

  • NewsNation scored high for reliability (45.82) and almost squarely in the middle of the bias range (-0.44).
  • The web versions of MSNBC, CNN and Fox News all scored high in reliability and more centrist in bias than their corresponding TV versions.
  • There are quite a few news sources that scored similarly to NewsNation and I’ll add those to my mental list of alternate sources.
  • As sources get more biased, they almost always get less reliable.

The Ad Fontes Media Facebook post does a good job of covering an extremely important caveat about the “middle”.

On the chart, “Middle” does not mean “best.” Notice that there are sources that are close to the middle yet mid-low scoring vertically, like Daily Mail and Worldtruth.Tv

Middle is also not “most morally correct.”

A source can be in the middle because it is:
a) minimally biased (neutral)
b) centrist (a political position) or
c) balanced (presenting two sides)

The left-right axis is anchored by:
a) contemporary (not timeless)
b) political positions of elected officials
c) in the United States (not worldwide)

Therefore the middle part of the axis represents the middle political positions in the US right now. Not what they should be. What they are.

What’s left, right, and middle shifts over time. Think back to before the Civil Rights Act. One side was for segregation and one side was for integration. One was morally right, and it wasn’t some middle position between segregation and integration.

Also, everyone thinks the middle should be closer to where they are personally.

Being in the middle isn’t always the right place to be on every issue, but I like having my news presented to me cleanly and succinctly. I can take it from there and have opinions about what should be done to improve the situation or even go seek out opinions. But at least I get to read the news without picking a team.