Lacey Smith

No such thing as unbiased media

In Current Events on May 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

In America, our news media functions from a claim that they are unbiased. It’s a claim that supposedly helps their credibility and ensures journalistic integrity.

It’s also an idea that some Americans buy into. However, the popularity of Fox News (which claims to be “fair and balanced” but not unbiased) and other conservative-leaning news outlets make it clear that not every American believes that the rest of the media is what it claims to be.

And, speaking as an insider, those people are right.

We have to get over this idea of an unbiased media. Not only is it not happening, it’s not possible.

I learned this lesson within the first month as a journalism student in high school. Everything from the words I picked and the way I put them together to the quotes I chose and the pictures I used presented the facts as I saw them.

I tried very hard to be honest and fair in the way I told the story, but I was still the story-teller.

Since then I’ve spent more years watching television news from behind the scenes than in front of the TV and repeatedly I have seen evidence that there is no such thing as “unbiased” in the news business. There is “fair and balanced” but there is not “unbiased.”

One way to tell which way a newspaper leans is to look at it’s editorial board and the regular editorial columns it publishes. Do the opinions sit to the left or two the right?

TV news unfortunately has no equivalent. However, once we start looking for the bias that does exist, it’s not hard to see which way a national network leans.

This is also true of anchors and reporters and news stations on a local level.

One anchor I worked with was an advocate for public schools and didn’t like the charter school addition to public districts. She worked on a story that presented material on how charter schools harmed traditional public schools.

I knew her bias because I knew her. I doubt many of the viewers at home were savvy enough to see through a well-crafted story to the message between the lines.

The news media, especially television, would do Americans and themselves a favor if they outed themselves and admitted what their bias was.

We would know which way they leaned and they would earn trust for being honest. It’s win-win: we want honesty and trustworthiness in our news sources and they want our business.

Of course, with 75% of the country leaning conservative or moderate and a 4:1 liberal-to-conservative ratio among national journalists, being honest about the product might just be bad for business.

Sources:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/120857/conservatives-single-largest-ideological-group.aspx
http://www.stateofthemedia.org/files/2011/01/Journalist-report-2008.pdf (page 18)

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