When I was an undergraduate student, I studied electronic media. Part of my education was in journalism, both print and electronic. One of the guiding principles that all journalism students are taught is that news reporting should be fair and free from bias. The reality, however, is that I think that much of what we call news reporting is neither fair nor bias-free, and in reality often crosses the line into the realm of quasi-news entertainment.
Last night I watched the presidential debate between Obama and Romney, just like millions of others. I thought the debate was fairly interesting, quite entertaining, and hopefully informative for some. Following the debate, I channel surfed so I could get a flavor of how the media were reporting the events of the evening.
As you might suspect, Fox News was unapologetically sympathetic towards Romney. Nothing he said was wrong, he won the debate by a landslide, and Obama and the Democrats would likely be cowering in a corner by daybreak. On the other hand, outlets like CNN and MSNBC were more left-oriented (MSNBC very much so). And while there was some concession on CNN that Romney might have out debated (maybe out performed) Obama, there was downright consternation and perhaps anger even on MSNBC that Obama didn’t come out swinging and harp on some of the key tenants from the campaign.
The fact of the matter is that bias exists. Not just in American politics or reporting, either. Bias exists within the realm of triathlon reporting as well. Take, for instance, the two most well-known triathlon related publications in the US: Triathlete and Lava. These publications – both of which I typically enjoy, by the way – often tend to place differing levels of reporting on races put on by multiple race organizers. For example, Triathlete will often post an article and pictures about a Rev3 race on the Monday or Tuesday following a race. Lava is often much slower to post any article. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Lava isn’t an independent news organization, but more of a propaganda tool owned by a competitor of Rev3 (WTC). This delay in reporting is a form of bias, just as putting a particular political slant on a presidential candidate. It could be that Lava’s owners have placed some editorial constraints on the editor limiting how much press can be given to non-WTC events, and the timing of that press.
Is that wrong? Well, it is what it is.
Bias is the state of media in our country (and perhaps the world). Often, the press is not truly independent. Media companies are often owned by for-profit companies, whose primary function is to make money for their shareholders. It’s natural to understand why a company would identify a target customer and then provide a service that fits the demographic style of that customer. I mean, why wouldn’t they?
By the way, bias in reporting doesn’t only exist at major news organizations. Even lowly bloggers show bias. I know I have. There are, quite frankly, likely hundreds of examples on this blog and my Twitter posts where I show my personal bias. The thought is, that if you agree with my perspective or bias, you’d be more likely to come back to my site, to mention it to others, to link your blog to it, etc. It’s Marketing 101, right?
Here’s where I stand: bias exists. It’s a part of being an individual. It’s part of having an identity. Even though news should technically be bias free (“Just the news, ma’am!”), I think it’s likely impossible in this day and age to render an article, post, tweet, or comment that is bias free.
Our job as consumers of news (or consumers of entertainment) is to recognize, know and understand the bias of the media outlets we partake in. Moreover, our duty is to take in thoughts and information from multiple (biased) sources so that we can form our own, personal, well-informed decisions as to what is real and what isn’t real.
It’s just sad that far too many people don’t take that duty seriously.