Where is the line? Think about it.
Where is the line between reporting a story, and rooting for failure? Does a journalist realize he or she is directly implying bias, or is the reporter tone deaf to the indirect bias he or she presents? Think about it.
When is the title of an article, or a brief synopsis of an article directly misinforming the soon to be reader in hopes of generating more clicks and a higher volume of viewers? Where is the line between this (media) is a business needing to make make money and this has become misleading in an attempt to make money or simply disparage?
All answers to these questions are entirely subjective. That’s our first problem. Even if they were objective, and we had a list of sorts explaining journalistic standards / integrity, the list itself would be argued by the masses due to our own interpretation.
So, here is our dilemma. We have a mass amount of content. More than ever before. We have a rat race to the top. We have an ever changing media industry rapidly going through disruption. It’s one thing to have your industry disrupted by technology. It’s another to have the President of the United States constantly calling you on your biases (whether, direct or indirect). How to combat both fronts?
I’ve yet to mention the third front. We, the readers. We have voices, now. We can comment, retweet, share, etc.. We can call a writer or editor out. We can point out inaccuracy with ease. We can notify others of bias, even if it is indirectly implied by our own subjective view.
What a cluster fuck, right!?
Back to the original question. Why does the media do it?
I have a few theories.
- The writer actually does have an inert bias. They are aware of it. They convinced themselves, however, they know better, and their piece will help others. The writer justifies his or her own bias.
- The writer has a grievance with the subject matter they chose to write about. The writer truly does take issue with the subject matter. They are writing to defend a stance or argue for their side. The writer is aware of their bias and has no problem hiding it.
- The writer simply wants to generate conversation, and / or click bait, therefore, the writer intentionally writes a piece meant to be provocative. This is, and always has been the goal.
- The writer is truly unaware that what he or she is writing is rooted in bias. This is because the writer may not have enough experience on the subject he or she is writing about. The writer doesn’t have enough information for the topic.
Here is the interesting part about all four pieces of bias that have just been laid out. Three of four are direct. There is no escaping it. The fourth instance of bias can be fixed, as well. Learn more about the topic you write about. Ignorance can not be an excuse. The writer should realize their argument may be weak or unsubstantiated. Even that description of bias could be uprooted from published content.
Ok, you’re probably saying that we’ve come a long way in this piece to essentially state the obvious. Writers are indirectly, and more often than not, directly showing bias. This bias, in the context of covering American politics can be viewed as either rooting for or against an issue, group, particular party, or individual. The bias is cheering for success or hoping for failure. How can this be avoided?
My suggestion is for the writer, editor, and publication to simply admit it. Provide context prior to reading. Give the audience insight to what was going on, or why this was written. Hand out a backstory. Offer an honest explanation.
So wait, did I just advocate for honesty? Did I just request a writer to admit his or her bias? Yes.
Think about this. WWE is fake. We all know it, and we all assumed it for a long time. The WWE finally came out and admitted it a few years ago. You know what happened? They didn’t skip a beat! In fact, it made the WWE more successful.
In an era of mass information, rapid transmittal of it, and unbelievable access; why can’t these outlets just outright admit to their bias? What’s wrong with that?
I believe an outright admission will help the industry, and us, the readers. Let me explain why. It repairs trust. Everyone, regardless of how much they like or dislike a respective publication can quantify their trust of each group. They are likely to trust an organization more based off of how much they like their content. They are likely to like their content based off of how much it aligns with their views. That is the problem! That means most of us are too wary of even venturing into another publication’s content just because we cannot trust them. Well, what if that changed? What if each writer began admitting their own bias? Trust would be repaired instantly. Once trust is repaired, you begin to see more appreciation for the material, and we are likely to consume a more diversified batch of content. This will enable all consumers of content to develop their ideas and become more of a free thinker in the process!
The reader needs to truly understand a writer’s perspective to actually appreciate the content. You see, the problem with written material today is we cannot relate to where the writer is driving the piece from. We are not aware of why the writer chose the topic. We are typically unsure of the backstory. We don’t understand the bias. What does that cause us to do? We make assumptions based off of our prior experiences with the publication/writer, and intentionally neglect or prejudge the piece.
I want to end with this example. Think of any moment in your life that you had a face to face conversation with someone who shared a different view than you. Think of why you took the time to listen, understand, and discuss the topic. Think of how, once the conversation wrapped up, the two of you were able to move forward from your differences on the topic you just discussed. I can guarantee it was because you understood the presenters backstory. You got to know where their bias was coming from. You appreciated the honesty.
Writing, editing, and major publications have the ability to do this for us.