Bias and Journalism in the 21st Century

James Colgan of Xuropa sent me a piece by Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch regarding media bias and whether it is important for journalists to make overt effort to show where there bias lies.  Arrington submits that it is a requirement for all journalists to state clearly where they stand on issues and individuals in their reporting, while a journalist he was taking about claims his training keeps him objective... and he needs to keep his opinions secret.

As one of those trained journalists I have to say... I side with Arrington on this one.

Journalists are trained to approach what they are reporting on with as much objectivity as the possibly can muster.  I know some journalists that have never registered to vote in an effort to remain objective.  But my training clearly states that when we do have a bias, we are required to disclose that bias publicly.  Fox News, for all the crap that gets thrown at it, never makes an apology for it's right of center position, but it also clearly differentiates what it calls news and what it calls opinion.  That is clearly not the case with some other news organizations (MSNBC) that continue to claim objectivity though obviously biased and damage their own credibility in the process.

In the world of online journalism, most bloggers, including Arrington, clearly take sides and say what side that is.  You don't have to agree with them, but the audience has the responsibility of determining if the facts they present as the basis for their argument are acceptable.  Modern journalism is not about spoon feeding information to an acquiescent public.  It is about force feeding information and making the audience work on it.

This has historical precedent.  As I've stated in previous blogs, the focus on objectivity for journalism is only about 50 years old and began with coverage of WW II.  But even at that point, news coverage was biased.  Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid were obviously biased toward the Allied Powers, and since that side won, they became trusted sources.  If we had lost, they might have been tried as war criminals by the Nazis. But no one is ever truly objective.  Ever.  Even Woodward and Bernstein were driven to report Watergate by their shared hatred of Richard Nixon and is administration.  They were ridden by their bosses to "get back to work" covering daily news in the early days of their investigation but their zeal for bringing down the President drove them to complete that job, and we are all the better for it.

Arrington states that we "need more opinion, not less" in journalism today.  I'm not sure I agree with that statement because our news media is almost nothing but opinion.  But I do agree that a reporter's bias must be disclosed honestly so the audience can determine how to view the content and where to go to find balance and how to find a trusted source.

Incidently, I'm going to be talking about how to determine trusted sources in your social network tomorrow on Around the Coffee Bar on Vpype.  Check in with your comments.