Subconscious Bias Affecting Reporting

May 2, 2016 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Subconscious Bias Affecting Reporting

The importance of objectivity with controversial topics has been discussed. There is no argument that news media should present factual unbiased opinions. However, a separate issue lies in the realistic nature of that expectation. Is there such thing as unbiased reporting? This post argues that there is no such thing as unbiased reporting, because subconsciously, everyone has bias.

According to several journalism professionals, unbiased reporting is not realistic. “Objective, unbiased, nonpartisan news is a unicorn. People claim to believe in it but it doesn’t exist.” This is because no matter the effort people put forth to gain all sides of a story and present information objectively, there is still one problem. It is PEOPLE writing the story. If robots were doing reporting then this could be a realistic expectation when looking at news, but because human beings are doing the writing, does true objectivity really exist?

Andrew Kirell, a senior editor at The Daily Beast, said, “Every journalist has a political point-of-view and they don’t magically check that at the door the minute they land a job… Every good journalist is informed about the subjects they cover and it would be near-impossible to be informed and not have an opinion.”

This poses a serious ethical dilemma in the media world. An expectation is for news to be reported so that the public can come to a personal opinion about it. Instead, some news outlets, and even specific reporters, leave out some sides of stories or interject bias. That is a problem, because it can have an affect on society’s view on issues.

Don’t agree? I don’t believe that this is done intentionally. Truly ethical journalists do not enter the media world to share their opinions and make everyone agree with them. But, as Kirell stated, people’s opinions do not simply disappear when they get a job in news. Some bias may be unintentional or even occur on a subconscious level.

I recently took a “test” in a class. My teacher had each student go to a Harvard website where there were several options to take various tests. The tests were supposed to reveal any bias. I decided to take a test about age, because I worked in a nursing home, took care of my great grandma, and volunteered with the elderly often. I have always said that I adore older people, BUT the test that I took, constructed by Harvard, revealed that I was slightly prejudiced towards elderly people. I would have argued that I wasn’t had I not taken the test. Yes, I do believe in its credibility, but if you don’t use the link provided to see if you have any bias.

With all this being said, even if bias is unintentional, does that make it okay?

This unintentional bias reporting can be done in several ways. Information simply may not be included in an article. Or a journalist may not fact check both sides of an argument. This was a discussion that was presented in my senior capstone class. During one of our discussions, someone said that often times opinions or bias in reports are not intentional; the majority of the class agreed that it is hard for people to be completely objective with no forms of bias.

To provide an example, think about a time you read through an argument on a topic you had strong feelings about. If you agreed with the statements being made, would you research it further or would you nod your head in agreement? If the information was persuasive but was opposing your stance, would you just accept the information or would you look into it to disprove the facts? This can relate to journalists, too, and their fact checking process. If a journalist agrees with a story, would they not take it as it is? Generally, if the story or situation opposes their views, they may look into it further.

While the lack of truly unbiased information is an ethical issue, what can be done? I believe it is a matter of the public staying informed and looking into all information or following numerous media sites (if they are only presenting one side) in order to get a variety of information regarding the topics.


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