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J.E. McReynolds | July 13, 2021

Oklahomans say media, social media greatest threats to American democracy

For a crusty (retired) print journalist such as myself, the following could not be more disturbing: Few Oklahomans these days value metro newspapers as a primary source for information. While troubling, the scant percentage of folks who turn to The Oklahoman or Tulsa World isn't surprising. As for me, I quit reading printed media years ago.

A survey conducted last month by Amber Integrated polled 500 registered Oklahoma voters on diverse topics. Results show that fewer than 5 percent listed “local newspapers” when asked about preferences for getting news.

“Which of the following would you say you prefer for getting news?”

  • Cable news (CNN, FOX News, MSNBC) ….. 23.16%

  • Local television news ….. 20.76%

  • National news broadcasts (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) ..... 17.41%

  • Getting news from a news website or app ….. 6.78%

  • Social media site (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat) ….. 5.46%

  • Local newspapers (The Oklahoman, Tulsa World) ….. 4.98%

  • National newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post) ….. 4.67%

  • Radio (NPR, talk radio) ….. 3.20%

  • Spanish news (Telemundo, Univision) ….. 0%

  • Other ….. 13.57%

Republicans are more likely to remain traditional (print-based) journalism consumers than Democrats. As for gender differences, women tend to be more inclined toward local newspapers than men. Somewhat surprising is that the 18-29 age group is more attuned to local papers than any other demographic—except survey respondents aged 70 or older.

This is the group which grew up reading the printed page, getting their news from papers in the morning and sometimes in the evening as well. They watched the national news at 5:30 and local TV news afterward. Cable news and internet versions of newspapers didn't exist. Today, this older group rarely relies on social media for information.

Turns out that the 18-29 age group is more keen in getting information in general than other age cohorts. They get news from virtually every source available. Again, though, relatively few of them get it from The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, or other local newspapers.

I have anecdotal evidence (as opposed to gleanings from a scientific survey) that readers are bailing because they're tired of paying more for less. They want to hold a newspaper, but they're finding little to interest them. They're finding more content that turns them off or discounts their values. Some of this is due to the political orientation of the state's largest newspapers. While the Tulsa World has been left-leaning for years, The Oklahoman started tilting that way more recently. The editorial pages (what's left of them, anyway), and increasingly the news pages, don't reflect the values and opinions common to a majority of Oklahomans.

The same survey that tracked information sources also polled people on a variety of political topics. Nearly 47 percent described themselves as being either somewhat conservative or very conservative. By contrast, less than 21 percent self-identified as somewhat liberal or very liberal. Nearly 31 percent placed themselves in the moderate category.

When asked which extant developments represent the greatest threat to democracy, respondents were given six options:

“Which of the following do you believe is the greatest threat to American democracy?”

  • Media or social media companies ….. 24.85%

  • Liberal or left-wing extremists in the U.S. ..... 21.73%

  • Rival foreign nations, like China and Russia ….. 21.63%

  • Conservative or right-wing extremists in the U.S. ….. 15.85%

  • Other / something else ….. 12.65%

  • None / refused ….. 3.28%

Amber Integrated also asked which issues the Legislature should prioritize. The overwhelming leader is the economy. Scoring low were racism and COVID-19. Contrast this to what’s dominated local newspaper coverage in recent days: racism and COVID-19.

I started by mentioning my own alienation from traditional journalism. I don't watch cable news or local news. I get little or no information through social media. For big events such as the Florida condo collapse, I use the Associated Press iPad app. Otherwise, AP's blatant bias and political correctness are repulsive.

My main source of news is The Wall Street Journal (digital version). The Journal remains one of the few traditional news sources for which many readers pay for content primarily for the opinion pages. Unlike The Oklahoman and others, the Journal does not stifle opposing views on the pandemic or climate change. It condemns the Orwellian suppression of free speech and woke censorship. Its news columns may sometimes seem as left-leaning as The New York Times, but balance is obvious to the discerning reader. A digital subscription is expensive (about $40 a month), but it's worth it for those who seek balance, thoroughness, and a lesser emphasis on the topics the woke crowd pushes.

As for local news, an ideological majority of Oklahomans are simply not getting much of it that's relevant to them from the state's largest newspapers.

J.E. McReynolds is a retired professional journalist. A former managing editor of The Journal Record, McReynolds worked at The Oklahoman from 1985-2015, serving as a general assignment reporter, business editor, and opinion editor.

J.E. McReynolds

Independent Journalist

A former managing editor of The Journal Record, J. E. McReynolds has served as a general assignment reporter, business editor, and opinion editor of The Oklahoman.

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