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Different news for different views

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On a basic level, more-opinionated news is what the public seems to want in this so-called 50/50 nation, with feelings fanned by battles over the Iraq war, gay marriage, and the Florida recount of the 2000 election. Many see the media as biased and are looking for other sources.

The trend also reflects top-down efforts by both sides to galvanize political support. In a field pioneered by conservatives such as talk radio's Rush Limbaugh a decade ago, Al Franken's Air America radio program is now offering a sharp-edged brand of liberal commentary. And a younger generation is "blogging," creating their own media with like minded people on the Web. Recent limits on political donations have also driven some organizations to try to get their messages out via traditional media. Most notably, the NRA is looking beyond its new radio show toward the possibility of buying a broadcast network.

Technology has also played a role, as TV's once-limited dial has expanded to hundreds of channels, and anyone with a computer is a potential Thomas Paine.

Some analysts think media companies are biased less toward the ideological than the sensational - that which sells papers and causes people to tune in. It's staying in business, not ideology, that motivates most newspapers.

Whatever the reasons, the rise of opinionated journalism appears to have taken a toll on media credibility. In 1987, 58 percent of Americans said the news was objective, according to the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Today, 36 percent say they find that kind of balance when they tune in or pick up a paper.

Extreme media? Not like it used to be

Still, the nation's news outlets are nowhere near as blatantly political as they were during the country's first 150 years. Publishers such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst used their papers to express their own agendas, and those crusades often colored the truth.

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