Bias - Seeing Both Sides of the Story

Monday, September 12, 2011

When writing a recent story a highly newscast sporting event, I constantly found myself having to use the backspace key to rework a sentence. I kept having to step away from the computer and collect my thoughts before returning to the screen to take another stab at what I was writing. Why was this so hard? I thought I could write without bias no problem, but every time I went to type about how my favorite team screwed up, I found myself regretting the story. How do you overcome bias in journalism?

A recent blog I came across that hinges on overcoming bias in journalism had an interesting article by Robin Hanson detailing bias in journalism and what readers are really searching for. One comment by a reader really struck me when dealing with my own bias.

"I wouldn’t say that this is really what customers want. I think most readers want
opinionated journalism that affirms their biases. Newspapers used to be much more partisan.
If you read 19th century newspapers it’s startling how opinionated and partisan they were,
but that’s because there were a lot more newspapers per city. In the early 20th century
newspapers started consolidating and cities came to be dominated by one newspaper, which,
in order to maintain its monopoly, had to present at least the appearance of an unbiased,
even-handed perspective. When tv news sprang up, it was built on this model. Now the world
of blogging has revived the former world of partisan journalism. This is advantageous for
assessing their truth claims because readers can take into account the writer’s biases, and
also because readers have access to genuinely ardent and articulate defenders of both (or
many) sides of an issue. The problem of the journalist taking the middle ground, is they may
not really understand one or either position that well. It’s valuable to hear both sides of the
dispute for readers presented by people who understand and can defend that position well
because then you much better evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the various
opinions. In short, I think presenting the middle ground is fine, if you understand the debate
well, but it’s unlikely that most journalists will understand both sides of a controversial
question well."

I believe the reader makes a solid point that with today's changing media outlets, readers are becoming more adverse in their knowledge and seeking differing views in hopes of detailing the story in their own perspectives.

A common saying better illustrates this ideal, "History is always written by the winner." Throughout history, the victor in a war was the one who made history and as the other nations crumbled, no one remained to tell the other tales. How would our history books look today if both perspectives were written on many notable times? Would we feel the same way about bias in journalism if we understood both sides of the story?


Mike Tweeton September 12, 2011 at 8:34 PM  

I often find I have the same problem. We are by nature opinionated. However, we have been trained to reject news from a biased source. Everything must come to us fair and balanced. This is, in a way, how our country runs. How life runs. There are two sides to every story (sometime more), and in today’s media, each side deserves an equal showing.

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