Recently a friend of mine asked what I thought about the bias he senses in many news organizations. As journalists we hear that question a lot. From my perspective there are several biases:
· Intentional bias
· Normal bias
· Viewer bias
Intention bias -Conservative white men listen to talk radio longer than anyone else. Roger Ailes used that data as a basis to formulate the FOX News philosophy. It worked and FOX continues to beat CNN. Why? CNN viewers spend considerably less time watching than the conservatives glued to FOX. Does that make FOX wrong? No. It is fine to present an alternative point of view as long as people know what you are doing. However, FOX’s “Fair and Balanced” line strikes many as a distortion of the truth.
Normal human bias - affects all journalists. I was born in Pittsburgh when it was a dying steel city. My parents were middle class. They were socially liberal and fiscally conservative. They usually (not always) voted Republican. I grew up as a Rock and R&B drummer, and was lucky enough to play a few songs with BB King. I have a degree from the University of Miami. There are two very nice cars in my garage and I rarely get stopped by the police. All of this affects the way I process information. I have many friends who are black and have similar upbringings and backgrounds. They have told me that they are stopped by the police on a frequent basis. But this post is not about the police. It is how we view the world. As hard as I try, I can never view life through the eyes of a black man. My black friends and I have had different life experiences, starting in childhood. That is an unavoidable reality and precisely why newsrooms need Black, Hispanic and Asian managers, anchors, reporters and producers. They offer a different point of view based on their own individual life experiences.
Viewer bias -Like most people who work in news, viewers have their own perspective of reality. Taken to the extreme, some viewers feel that television news is biased because it does not take their point of view. If they are pro-gun, the so-called liberal media is biased. The media gets the same biased reaction from both sides of the abortion issue, immigration, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The list is endless. Spend 15 minutes on Facebook and you find a lot of one-sided posts that are not based on fact. That is viewer bias and that is not going to change.
The best thing for journalists is to recognize your human bias, get the all of the facts, make sure your “facts” are right, and present a fair and balanced news product on TV, online and on mobile.