Conservatives watch Fox news. Liberals watch MSNBC.
According to veteran television journalist Ted Koppel, Americans are increasingly choosing news outlets that they believe match their own opinions.
Koppel, speaking Monday evening at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said Americans feel like they are entitled to this type of news. It could spell disaster for the country, he said, much like Americans' sense of entitlement to wealth led to the current financial crisis.
"I think we have gone totally nuts on the issue of entitlement," said Koppel, who spent four decades as the anchor and managing editor of ABC's Nightline. "We want news that resonates our own pre-held opinions. ... That is the worst possible recipe for a country that prides itself in democracy."
Koppel was the speaker at a discussion, moderated by Poynter dean Keith Woods, titled "Journalism in Crisis: Who's to Blame?" The Poynter Institute owns the St. Petersburg Times.
Koppel said the media's desire for big profits has led to more reporting that is sensational and dumbed-down. Because of this, many media consumers have lost faith in news outlets. He cited recent cable news coverage of the health care crisis to describe a tendency by the wider media to play to emotions without explaining the news.
"How are we ever going to resolve the issues in Congress if we can't agree what the facts are?" Koppel said to applause.
In its heyday in the 1950s, before the airwaves were deregulated by the Federal Communications Commission, television journalists were compelled by the agency's rules to report facts, Koppel noted. Now, they are more driven by Madison Avenue advertising companies that care only about the bottom line.
Regarding newspapers, Koppel said that the future of news will need to adapt to technology to survive. One day it may become impractical to continue printing on paper, he said. But journalists will still be needed to analyze the news, and editors needed to compose it into packages that meet standards of accuracy and fairness - something a Twitter feed or independent blogger may not always do.