The truth about media bias and what you should consider when listening to criticism of media

I've noticed a lot of stuff lately, particularly on Facebook, but also people talking to each other in public, about media bias. Usually this is jibes aimed at "liberal" media, but it goes both ways — certainly you've seen postings about "Faux News Channel"?

Some of this comes from the politically correct "cry-bully" movement — a term I only recently just heard for the first time here — you know, the people who want you fired because you said something they don't agree with.

Here's a criticism I've heard a lot: Why did media cover the Paris attacks on Nov. 13 but not the Beirut attacks on Nov. 12?

Here's the answer: Uh, they did. From "the liberal" CNN to "the conservative" FOX, every major national outlet had the story on Nov. 12.

Why did you hear so much about Paris, then? Because nobody clicked on the Beirut stories, so they fell off the front page. And then 200 of your friends posted on Facebook about Paris but not Beirut.

You didn't hear about Beirut because Facebook and Twitter are your news sources.

Here's the truth about media bias: Outlets are biased toward what will make them money.

Any bias perceived in media is really a bias of the journalist, and, while there's a slight shift to the right going on, over the past 40 or so years since they've started doing the study, journalists in America are by and large far more liberal than the general population.

What does that mean? If you want more centrist (or right-leaning) journalists, get more centrists (or righties) to become journalists.

Here's something else about human nature we don't often think about, because we tend to see the words on the page (or the website, really), rather than the person behind them: People get defensive when challenged (if you're not sure what I'm talking about, watch Hillary Clinton talk about her damn email or Donald Trump talk about those New Jersey Muslims no one actually saw celebrate after 9/11). So, if you just go on the offensive to attack an article, the next one's going to be further biased.

Know what also isn't going to solve a bias problem? Criticism that is more yelling than constructive. Like this. Try applying methods like this instead.

In my experience (16 years professionally, from print to web and a couple of years studying the industry in grad school), here are five things you can do to improve your own news experience in a developing story (like Paris or the AME Church shooting in Charleston):

Wait. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, news media thought over 10,000 people had died in the World Trade Center alone. The final number ended up being under 3,000. [This is not to belittle the attacks; it's to explain that the information coming out first isn't based on anything. The information you get later is fact.]

Hold off. If you're not sure if you can trust something, you probably can't. The only thing most reporters have that you don't is a list of contacts in the police and government and university structure. Don't share information you think might be wrong — if enough people do share it, it becomes "truthiness" instead of truth.

Don't embarrass anybody. If you call a reporter who reported some bad information an idiot (or something worse), you're going to get defensive babbling in return. If you point a reporter to a different source or give useful information, you'll get a thank you. You can either be a trusted source of good information, or a bully. Take your pick.

Diversify. It doesn't matter what your political leaning is. If you seek only sources you're likely to agree with (confirmation bias), you're going to receive an increasingly small amount of information. As an extension of this, don't discount something just because you find a bias you disagree with. We don't have to agree on gun control for me to accurately report that Ronald Reagan was both an actor and a president.

Stay skeptical. Just because it's published doesn't mean it isn't a load of crap — especially since news organizations everywhere are dumping editors and fact-checkers. Again, just don't be a jerk if you find some incorrect information.

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