Larry Atkins has always had an interest in journalism – and given the changing media landscape in recent years, he’s had a lot to think about.
So much, he decided to write his own book.
“Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias” hit bookstores back in August, and features Atkins’ critique to how the news media has played a role in biases.
“I have an extensive view of the media and how it’s evolved over the years, especially as far as bias,” said Atkins.
He touches on outlets like traditional network news to cable news media outlets like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, to emerging types of journalism like social media and blogging. Atkins gives readers a view of the history of journalism, and the history of bias in the media from colonial times, to muckraking journalism, yellow journalism, up through talk radio, cable TV and the internet in today’s journalism.
The book also features a chapter on how to be a savvy media consumer.
Some styles of journalism, Atkins said, have morphed into what’s known as advocacy journalism, meaning journalism with a transparently biased agenda. Atkins said in this type of journalism, writers and broadcasters try to persuade their audience with their own view.
“They’re not lying, they’re not misrepresenting, but they kind of cherry-pick facts that support their argument,” he said. “There are good things about advocacy journalism and negative things about advocacy journalism.”
This agenda-driven journalism, he said, even dates to colonial times.
“Ben Franklin and Jefferson and his party had their own newspaper, and then Adams and his party had their own newspaper. Then journalism evolved towards a more straightforward approach with the inverted pyramid in the 1860s,” said Atkins.
Atkins is no stranger to news media himself. The adjunct professor writes op-ed pieces regularly for news organizations including the Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Baltimore Sun to name a few. He’s written more than 400 articles.
As a professor, Atkins teaches writing for journalism courses at Temple and Arcadia University. He also has a background in law after receiving his law degree from Temple Law School in 1985.
In recent years while teaching his students, Atkins learned many of them veer away from traditional news sources, like NBC News or CBS News and watch satirical news shows like The Daily Show on Comedy Central or find news through social media.
“There are surveys that at one point, Jon Stewart was the most trusted person in the media, and it has its pros and cons. On one hand, it’s kind of like an entertaining way to get the news. A lot of my students don’t like to watch the nightly news,” he said.
Along with social media, his students are getting their news when they want, but not always from the most reliable sources. That’s alright, he said. But he wants them to fact-check stories and news sources that may not be reliable.
“I tell them to go to a variety of sources and to also know their sources as to what their biases are and their reliability and credibility.”
Atkins frequently finds himself quoted by national news organizations.
NBC News quoted Atkins in a story on the media and Donald Trump published during the 2016 election season.
Not left out of his new book is discussion on the somewhat unconventional election season and the media’s role in that cycle.
Fact-checking the two candidates through different websites, he said, is perhaps becoming more popular than ever.
“Don’t just take what the candidates say for granted and as gospel. Do your own research to confirm the information.”
As for Atkins’ message to all media consumers today:
“Don’t stay within your own echo chamber, meaning don’t just watch Fox News, don’t just watch MSNBC, get news from a variety of sources. Don’t just get news from your aunt Judy on Twitter. Be a skeptical news consumer.”
“Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias” is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble stores.