FAQ's for Lesson 5 - Bias

faq_icon_noun_like.svg.pngMedia Bias FAQs

How many instances of unfairness constitutes a pattern?

It’s a matter of judgment, which you will develop over time. The important thing is to not jump to the conclusion that a news outlet is biased.

How is advertising not biased?

Advertising is biased because it is not independent. Remember VIA? But the appearance of advertising in a news outlet does not mean that news outlet is biased. The people who sell advertising work for a different department than those who do the reporting and editing. Traditionally, there has been a virtual wall between a news outlet’s journalists and the business or publishing side. The two sides are not supposed to interfere with or even talk to people on the other side of that wall. Unfortunately, that wall has become much more porous of late as illustrated by native advertising, though it still is solid in major news organizations such as The New York Times and CBS News.

Is there ever a case where bias is justified in journalism?

In the news section, never. Remember that opinions are in the clearly designated opinion section and columns.

What responsibility do news outlets have in reaching out to biased people in order to work against bias?

In the interest of fairness, it’s often necessary for reporters to reach out to partisans and other sources who are not independent. News outlets have been criticized (rightly) for too often falling into a he said/she said structure, in which each side has equal say and news consumers are no better informed at the end. What interviewers and reporters should do is keep their subjects and sources honest by keeping the facts handy and challenge them to support their assertions. Such encounters can seem uncivil but they are essential to prevent well-trained advocates from dominating a debate with falsehoods.

Audience Bias FAQs

Cognitive dissonance is something a news editor also must overcome, as well as news consumers. How does a journalist recognize and overcome it?

Journalists are human, too, so they have implicit biases and prejudices that may keep them from being personally impartial. However, journalists learn how to interview, to gather information, to analyze and organize the evidence and to convey what they have found to the public.

But they must also learn to recognize their prejudices and to make sure that they do not influence their work. It becomes a habit of the mind, and it is essential for a professional journalist.

The other guard against implicit and explicit biases and predispositions is something discussed in "Is it True?" This involves peer review both by journalists from competing news outlets and by fellow reporters and editors. Journalists are hypercritical people always ready to point out a colleague’s or competitor’s shortcomings.

Why do people continue to believe ALL news to be fake and biased even though it is clear they have been looking at opinion journalism?

Not all news outlets do a good job of labeling opinion. The Huffington Post web page, for example, is a stew of aggregated content, news reporting and commentary, but without clear labeling. On television, it’s even more difficult. A morning show host, for instance, can shift in a heartbeat from giving the news to commenting on it.

Another reason is that we all have personal beliefs and biases and if we hear something we don’t like, we are likely to dismiss it as biased or fake simply because we don’t want to believe it.

A third reason is that people in positions of power — politicians, business leaders, officials, people in uniforms — have a self-interest in deflecting and diminishing reporting that portrays them in a bad light. When they dismiss it as biased or fake, people are less likely to believe it, even if it is true.

How can you overcome bias when social media sites such as Facebook provide content based on your likes and interests? Are there techniques to prevent a reader from having bias?

First, become aware of your own biases so that you can actively challenge them. Seek information that you expect to contradict, or add nuance to your view of the world. Think of the principles of VIA in every search for information, make the search for truth the priority, regardless of whether that true thing aligns with your view of the world.

Do you think it's important to hide your own left-wing or right-wing bias from the students you teach News Literacy?

Just as is the case for journalists, it is important as educators to identify our implicit biases and to overcome them to the best of our ability. We don’t always succeed, but we try to be transparent and honest about political leanings as well as about, for example, our observations on the strengths and weaknesses of journalism.

As with journalism, academic inquiry is based on gathering evidence and then drawing rational conclusions that are as unaffected by personal belief as possible. If students or other academics question those conclusions, then it is incumbent on us to take those criticisms seriously and to address them head on.

How can cognitive dissonance be avoided?

Cognitive dissonance — holding contradictory beliefs at the same time cannot be avoided but the coping mechanisms our mind uses to deal with it can be resisted, at least some of the time. The more you expose your brain to information that contradicts your closely-held beliefs the less painful it is to you when you encounter contrary ideas and facts. The brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it – no pain, no gain – the stronger and more flexible it becomes.

What can news consumers do to avoid an echo chamber of like-minded media?

At a minimum, seek news outlets with different viewpoints. Watch Fox News if you’re a progressive and MSNBC if you’re a conservative. Do the same with online news sources. The following link lists left, right and center online news sites: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/2/2/1274385/-A-List-of-Political-News...

In addition, when you search for news stories, make sure to open a ‘private’ browsing window in Safari or an ‘incognito’ one in Chrome. Both let you search without the search engine using the history of your past searches and confirming your biases.