Journalism Bias Sheet
Skewed News Tutor founder and journalist Colleen Bradford Krantz has proposed that journalists and news content providers use what she refers to as a Journalism Bias Sheet. In the past, journalists were taught to play a role of unbiased observer. Many journalists now realize that it is difficult – impossible, really – to completely isolate a person from their way of viewing the world. You are a product of your upbringing, and many influences throughout your life affect the decisions you make as a reporter. It can be as simple as which sources you choose to call. In acknowledging this, however, some journalists seem to want to give up on the idea of being observers of the news, and freely or deliberately allow their viewpoint to set the direction of their reporting. We should clarify that a reporter’s bias isn’t always a negative thing; their background might mean they are interested in an investigative story that other reporters have ignored, for example. But, we also don’t think it’s healthy to give up on the idea of honestly giving all sides a fair hearing in a news report. Otherwise, the public will either lose faith in the media completely or simply listen to one-sided news sources that fit their viewpoint. In other words, conservatives will turn to conservative media outlets, liberals to liberal media outlets, and none of us will learn about other viewpoints in any meaningful way.
This is where the Journalism Bias Sheet comes in. Krantz’s idea is to have journalists fill out a form, which we will make available here soon. (At the bottom of this page is an example of Krantz’s own Bias Sheet she prepared for the first Skew Set, which focuses on livestock housing.) The form creates an opportunity for a journalist to identify areas in which he or she has particularly strong feelings that might influence their ability to fairly report both or all sides of an issue. This form is then shared with an editor, producer or news director, whoever already serves as as the “gatekeeper.” Ideally, that gatekeeper now has greater awareness of potential problem areas for various reporters. Ideally, they will watch for flawed or weak attempts at explaining certain viewpoints. In some newsrooms, this is already happening because the staff knows one another well, and the journalists are conscientious. In other newsrooms, it doesn’t happen enough. Regardless, this new measure would show that a journalist cares enough about balanced reporting to take this step of making his or her views known to a supervisor. If you are part of a newsroom or run a news-based site, please consider trying this. Share your observations with Krantz by emailing Colleen[at]SkewTutor[dot] com
Example of Bias Sheet:
Name: Colleen Bradford Krantz
Topic of News Report: Livestock Housing
Information about Possible Influences Related to this Topic: I grew up on a cattle ranch. Most of the cattle were kept on pasture, or had access to open lots. I loved this childhood so generally feel positive about my experience on a farm. I also feel badly about seeing animals mistreated because my family always made sure their animals were well-fed, watered and otherwise healthy. In some cases, the animals were like pets.
Why Do you Think You Should Still Report on this Topic: Everyone is either familiar with farms or not so we all have a bias in that regard (positive or negative, depending on the experiences). While I recognize that I have a preference for raising cattle and horses with some access to open pastures or lots, I also understand enough about the benefits of having animals indoors (temperature control, for example) to not be judgmental when talking with those who raise hogs or other animals indoors. I don’t feel particularly negative about indoor housing (with exception of extreme crowding and mistreatment in regard to not feeding and watering properly), and my family used barns for sick cattle or those about to calve during cold weather. In other words, I believe I can be fair in hearing their perspectives.
How Does The Reporter Plan to Overcome these Possible Influences: Because I am not in a traditional newsroom where an editor would go over my work, I asked a journalism professor to evaluate my work (thanks, Stephen Coon) as well as several peers.
How Strongly Do you Feel about this Topic (answer mild feelings, moderate feelings, or strong feelings): Moderate feelings
The following are great places to read more about journalism ethics:
- Society of Professional Journalists: http://www.spj.org/ethics.asp
- Committee of Concerned Journalists (now defunct but they shared their material with the Reynolds Journalism Institute): http://www.rjionline.org/ccj
- Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which has great stats as well as some links to journalism ethics codes: http://www.journalism.org/