Media Bias

Understanding curbs bias

Media+Bias

In journalism, there are many types of reporting – including news, graphics, columns, and opinions – most of which are meant to be unbiased, yet bias is present in most publications.
Media bias is when opinion is present in mass media when news is reported, and there has been a long history of opinionated reporting.
According to nyu.edu, prior to journalism becoming popular and the introduction to media ethics in the 1900s, newspapers would almost always reflect the opinion of the publisher, and sometimes would take a completely different view from others at the time.
Even then, since printing was invented, there has always been media bias, and it still continues in modern times.
Many Types of Bias Exist
In an article from AllSides.com, a website that shows news from varied viewpoints, there are several types of media bias that exist and are divided into two categories.
The first category of bias pertains to what news the outlets report on; it includes gatekeeping, visibility, and corporate/sensationalist.
Gatekeeping bias is common with major news outlets, like the New York Times from the left, or Fox News from the right. An example of this would be an event like the shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin: left-leaning news outlets were the first to report the event. This shows how it is up to the news outlet to decide what is newsworthy, and a shooting of this kind in a climate could sway a reader’s opinion.
Gatekeeping bias is one of the most subtle types of bias, and it can relate to visibility bias.
Visibility or coverage bias is when reporters report the news that is satisfying to the benefit of one side. According to study.com, an example of coverage bias would be an internet survey based on a digital divide in society.
That example shows bias because of how they are approaching people for the survey; they are all answering it online, rather than asking people on both the internet and people that don’t have access to the internet.
Another example of bias is corporate, or advertising bias, which is influencing news based on the financial interest of the news outlet; and sensationalist bias is to boost the ratings by prioritizing certain types of news.
“When it comes to larger media, there are certain markets that apply to certain people, so it is a step away from good practice to insert your bias consistently,” Associated Press Michigan Statehouse reporter Anna Nichols said.
The other category is how the news is shared by the news outlets, and the two primary examples are tonal and concision bias.
Tonal bias is the wording an outlet uses in its headlines – the choice of connotation and tone.
AllSides.com illustrates this by comparing the headlines of articles on the same topic in different outlets.
A recent topic on their site was Hunter Biden being put under federal investigation for his taxes, the site showed headlines from the left: Hunter Biden says he is facing a federal investigation over his tax affairs, by the Los Angeles Times, from the right: Hunter Biden says he’s being investigated for possible tax crimes, by The Daily Caller, and from the middle: Hunter Biden’s taxes under investigation by US attorney’s office in Delaware, by USA Today.
The words used by the three media outlets – “says he is facing”; “says he’s being investigated”; and “under investigation” show a lean in their coverage -, one uses a less harsh word, one uses harsh words, and the other one displays no bias and lists the facts.
This tonal bias is subtle and can have a subconscious impact on the consumer of the media. Concision bias has a similar impact on consumers.
When reporters are cut short on time for coverage of a story, they do not get to talk about all of the details and therefore have a more difficult time being balanced.
Going back to YourDictionary.com, readers have an average attention span of eight seconds, making it very common for reporters to write articles under 500 words. So this concision bias happens in print and broadcast media.
Governmental Influence Affects Bias in some countries
Governments can also influence bias, although Freedom of the Press is an amendment in the US Constitution, it isn’t a right in all other countries.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (cpj.org), Eritrea, a country in East Africa, is the most censored country in the world.
The country started the media censors with a press law in 1996, stating that the press must include the promotion of “national objectives,” meaning that the news that Eritrean journalists report is controlled by the government.
Not only does the Eritrean government control the flow of news, but they also control the flow of the internet and radio waves.
According to DW.com, in 2009, a radio station called Radio Erena began to broadcast on-air permanently, and in 2012 the Eritrean government jammed the signal from the station for several weeks, due to the amount of information received from the station, and influenced families about staying in the country.
In addition to the jamming of internet and radio signals, there are also journalists that are imprisoned in Eritrean prisons.
According to cpj.org, as of 2018, Eritrea has 16 journalists imprisoned, which doesn’t compare to Turkey, with 68 journalists imprisoned. This happens throughout the world to these professionals whose job it is to report the news.
Journalists Train to Try to Curb Bias
Journalists go through years of practice to get to where they are now, starting with high school newspapers.
“I teach them what kind of criteria go into making something news, and I also teach them how opinion should not be in news coverage, and how they can avoid opinion in what they are writing,” Wy-News advisor Janet Haddad said.
The Wy-News does have opinionated articles, but they are clearly labeled as opinion or have a running head title.
Haddad teaches Wy-News reporters about bias by putting in certain rules such as minimum sources for all articles.
“The best way as a reporter to avoid bias is to make sure that you’re getting a variety of sources for all your pieces that you’re covering,” Haddad said.
If there are points where a reporter is showing bias in sources, Haddad can ask a student to find a different source.
“There will be times where students turn something in and they think they’ve avoided the bias, but because of their own bias, it kind of sneaks in and I have to encourage them to find a source that thinks differently,” Haddad said.
If students want to pursue journalism as a profession, they move on from high school journalism to college journalism.
Wendy Guzman is an RHS alumnus and is currently an Academics and Administration reporter for the State News, which is run by Michigan State University. Guzman was a part of Wy-News through her high school tenure and was an Executive Editor.
“As a journalist, when you try to cover something, you try to be mostly objective, you try to see things from both sides of the story. When you become biased, it’s because you focus on only one side and then entirely disregard the other side of the story,” Guzman said.
Obtaining both sides of a story is critical for Guzman.
“It’s good to have both sides so that way the reader can make up their own decision and make their own assumptions from the story,” Guzman said.
When it comes to avoiding bias, Guzman follows the same standards from Haddad at Wy-News.
“…It’s impossible to actually be objective, so you have to keep that in mind, and talk to every person involved because people have different things to say,” Guzman said.
Once the journalist graduates from college, they move on to a news outlet.
Nichols is an MSU alumnus and is working for the AP, which according to Allsides.com, the Associated Press has a rating of being in the center for all of their news; and Nichols goes through a lot of guidance to be unbiased in her work.
“We get a lot of guidance on bias since AP is kind of the golden standard for just not having a bias… It’s the most central of any news source consistently,” Nichols said.
To add on to the guidance, AP journalists also go into Zoom meetings and receive emails from their editors for reminders, and often occurs most in times around the election.
“There’s a lot of communication about how to avoid looking like you have bias, especially on your social media platforms with how you conduct yourself,” Nichols said.
For AP, a critical way to avoid bias is the people that they interview.
“They’re really open to talking about diversifying your sources, they make sure you’re not only talking to men, or only talking to women, or only talking to a certain demographic of people,” Nichols said.
No one is off-limits, and journalists are encouraged to interview people outside their comfort zone, according to Nichols.
Constant unbiased reporting is a lofty goal
However, even when journalists avoid bias, there is always a rule that is accepted by Haddad, Guzman, and Nichols: There is no such thing as a reporter with no bias.
“We all slip up. I’m not going to try to hide that certain practices bother me… I used to report for criminal justice, and I’m pretty sure it was very clear I was not on the side of many criminals.” Nichols said.
For Haddad, it’s social media that helps boost the bias.
“I feel like over the last 20 years social media has existed and media has become so much more instant with the internet… and I feel like today everybody is racing to get the story out. And in that race, a lot of times, they have bias,” Haddad said.
For Guzman, she believes that bias should be taught at an earlier level than college.
“If we teach bias to people when they’re younger, I think that we can start to avoid bias and be better about it if people aren’t just learning it in college because not everyone goes to college,” Guzman said.
However, learning about bias doesn’t mean that it can easily be avoided.
“You need to know your outlets, where you’re getting your information from, if you find an article about something, always read multiple sources because they all have different things, they all contact different people,” Guzman said.