Bleeding the Black Ink

Objectivity, negativity, bias and balance

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Objectivity and bias are critical issues when it comes to journalism.

It is the basis upon how a publication's credibility is built.

Many of us are aware of the perceived "liberal slant" of the media. I always pictured a smoke-filled room somewhere in which all the big media moguls were gathered to decide just how far left an issue would be pushed. This decision, upon consultation with Barbara Streisand and Susan Sarandon, would then be disseminated to all other media outlets.

But I haven't received my memo yet.

Certainly there have been cases in which the media swing an issue one way or another. Whether it's NPR not being able to find any pro-Bush rallies in support of the war while not having any problems finding anti-war rallies, or Rush Limbaugh, whose blinders are on so tight that they have skewed his vision so that he can only see the world in black and white (i.e. conservatives, good, liberals bad, and there is no in between).

The fact of the matter is that human beings being human are ideological creatures. They think about issues and come to conclusions regarding these issues, thus formulating opinions.

To put it another way -- there is no "spin-free zone." Sorry Mr. O'Reilly.

The responsibilities of journalists -- if they want to report the news -- is to keep bias at a minimum and objectivity at a maximum.

The problem I see with today's news reporting is that media outlets have blurred the lines between reporting the news, analyzing the news and providing commentary about the news.

This is because in big and small media organizations there isn't always a line between who does what: this person reports the news, this person analyzes the news and this person draws up the organization's opinion on the matter.

We have news reporters going on news shows and sharing their opinions regarding the issues they are reporting on earlier in the week that they would never include in their news story.

But what does that do to their perceived objectivity even if they don't express their opinions in Wednesday's news story but fume about it on some Sunday morning talk show?

While it can provide some interesting commentary, it will color that journalist's reporting on that particular topic in the future.

While there can be obvious political bias in the news, the media also has been accused of showing "negative" bias.

According to the Freedom Forum's Free Press/Fair Press Project, readers complained that if 100 citizens attend a municipal government meeting and 95 agree with the position taken by the city council but five protest loudly and dramatically, the news story the next morning is likely to focus on the negative angle of the protesters. In other words, the story would down play the vast majority of citizens who think their council is doing the right thing for the city.

Stories should accurately reflect what occurred at a meeting, including the fact that an overwhelming majority of residents showed support for a city council while a small number protested.

At the same time, however, the media must not ignore that small minority completely. Just because they are the minority, just because they do not hold the popular opinion doesn't make their opinion any less credible.

And that's where the balancing act must occur.

There will always be a negative and a positive side to each story. Which one is reported? That depends on who reads the story.

The media has taken on a "watchdog" approach in its coverage of the community it serves. And newspapers serve an extremely important role when they shine a light on serious problems in the public and private sector.

But overzealousness can lead to unfair and inaccurate reporting, thus dulling the sword with which journalism professes to protect its readers.

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press, the First Amendment and the newspaper industry. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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