Bias in News Reporting

According to an August 2020 poll by Gallup/Knight, 46% of Americans believe the media to be biased, so it is no wonder it has become such a common theme. There are many breakdowns showing the bias of news organizations as a whole, and most Americans favor news media that is more in line with their own views. But bias in news reporting is a disservice to Americans who want to get the facts of the story, without a narrative. 

As consumers, we have the power to dissect through the news and only absorb what we can process to be unbiased information. Below is a way to help understand what bias is.

Any key words used are defined at the bottom of the post.


News Reporting vs. Editorials/ Op-eds:

What is an editorial?

An editorial is different from a “regular” news article reporting the facts. They take the facts of a news event and make a prediction on the future, explain a new perspective, or simply provide an outright opinion on events. Editorials usually have a mark up or disclaimer somewhere to let you know it isn’t typical reporting and has an opinion angle. These markups are not always easy to spot – especially in T.V. journalism. 

What is news reporting?

A news report is different from an editorial because the purpose is simply to inform the reader of what is happening in the world. A good news report is balanced and fair to both sides, and does not include personal opinion. If someone’s opinion is quoted, the addition of a contrasting opinion is used to even out the perspectives. 

What does bias in reporting look like?

If it’s not an editorial, you should not be able to tell the reporter’s own opinion. For example, the use of adjectives to describe someone is a good way to spot the use of an opinion. (Ex. The congressman was convincing in his report of events. The word convincing is an adjective that implies this subject’s “report of events” should be trusted.) 

What isn’t bias?

If someone is simply reporting the facts, no matter how the facts make someone look it doesn’t mean that organization is biased against or for that person. Specifically NOT reporting the facts on something or on someone because of how it may look would actually be biased – this would be called bias by omission. 

What are some other forms of bias:

  • Bias by omission is when stories are purposely suppressed. 
  • Bias by emphasis is when certain stories are run repeatedly, sometimes from different angles. This also includes those which are kept in the headlines even if no updates come. 
  • Bias by use of language is when the reporter uses specific language which may sway the readers perception of the subject. These are words that are usually used as labels. 
  • Bias in photos is when the article uses an unflattering photo, which may be taken out of context of the story, to elicit an emotion from you and create a negative impression. 
  • Bias in numbers and statistics is when the article frames a poll or statistic to make it fit the narrative better. For example, in the beginning of this post I said 46% of Americans believe there is bias in the media. If I framed this as 64% do not believe in bias in the media, you’d think it isn’t as big of an issue. This is especially true if I had said, “ More than half of Americans do not believe bias in the media is an issue.” This would be useful if I was writing an article to convince you bias is not a serious issue. 

When you are wondering if an article is biased, ask yourself:

What is the writer’s point of view? If you can answer that question because of something written in the article, it is probably biased. 


Glossary:

  • Bias means a “preconceived opinion about something or someone.” In this case, the bias would be coming from the reporter or the news organization as a whole.
  • Editorial is a “a newspaper article […] that gives an opinion on a topical issue.” 
  • Fact is the “the truth about events as opposed to interpretation.”
  • Opinion is “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact.”

Sources:

  1. https://knightfoundation.org/press/releases/gallup-knight-poll-americans-concerns-about-media-bias-deepen-even-as-they-see-it-as-vital-for-democracy/
  2. List of forms of bias from: https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/foundation_gr9/blms/9-1-3g.pdf 

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