Tag Archives: bias

Nothing But The… Bad News? (It’s all about perspective)

Do you know someone who doesn’t read the news anymore because it’s “depressing” or “always negative”? Perhaps those are some excuses you use to avoid keeping up with current events. If that is you, don’t worry, this post isn’t meant to call you out, but I do want to challenge our perspectives (yes, our, I’ll be the first to admit that I have had times where I have felt intimidated to approach all that is “the world of news”).

Anyway, what does perspective have to do with this? Well, if you will bear with me a little longer, I’m going to digress a bit further and then (hopefully) bring this back full circle to answer the big question of “Why is the news always bad?”

A Tourist In HawaIMG_20141209_232923_783ii

As you may or may not know, I’m from Hawaii. If you’re not from Hawaii, you probably are thinking I live in paradise, and in many ways, you’d be right. Hawaii is beautiful, the weather is relatively nice (especially this time of the year), and it is my home. However, growing up here, as with growing up anywhere, hasn’t been easy. So, tied with my view of Hawaii is the valleys I’ve faced in life, the fact that I’m not on vacation somewhere else, and the high cost of living! And recently with transferring schools, being in Hawaii also means that I’m no longer enrolled at Houston Baptist University. That said, this isn’t meant to be a complete downer about Hawaii because ask any tourist who has paid their whole life’s savings to spend a week here and they will tell you how amazing Hawaii is and how they cannot wait to be back here. Now, there’s nothing different between my Hawaii and that tourist’s Hawaii, but there IS a big difference on the perspectives we have… see, I told you I’d bring this back around.

Perspective and News 

While there are a lot of unpleasant things that are going on in the world today, a lot of how we see the news depends on how we read the news. What is the perspective you have prior to even reading that first article? If you’re expecting a story about a tragic event or social injustice, you’ll definitely find it. BUT, if you’re expecting an inspiring story of someone who survived a tragic event or took action to right a social injustice, then you’ll find that too. Combining my Hawaii analogy and this lesson on perspectives might be a stretch, but sometimes, we need to see our news like a tourist sees Hawaii. I’m definitely in need of a perspective check, how about you?

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What is the Purpose of a Journalist? pt. 2

unnamedIn part 1, I talked about the challenges that come with journalism being both a business and a service. However, in this post, I want to key in on the service aspect of journalism. Something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is who do I serve? Yes, the news media should exist to inform the public, but when you really think about it, there at least two different ways to approach this “service” aspect of journalism.

Currently, as the editor in chief of my university’s newspaper, I’ve been faced with the challenge of determining who the school’s publication exists to serve – the students or the administration? As a newspaper, especially of a school, you represent something whether it be your organization, cause or country. However, you also have a responsibility to keep your audience informed whether the news about what you represent is positive or negative; otherwise, you walk the fine line of being biased. The dilemma I have found myself facing quite frequently is wanting to keep students informed while at the same time respecting my school’s reputation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I really love my school and I believe it has so much to offer. There is definitely a lot of good news to cover, but when things come up that concern students, I would like to be able to give them the information they want to know. After all, isn’t that what a newspaper is for? Even if the article addresses a “problem” in the school, I believe being transparent and maintaining open communication with students is more advantageous than only covering the great victories, improvements and on-campus conferences. If there is nothing being released from the administration or people who are involved in the issue, students will eventually start filling in the gaps on their own whether it’s with facts or with rumors. That’s why I think there are definitely pros to publishing “bad news” (by “bad” I’m referring to the topic, not the quality… just wanted to clarify that).

As a student and an editor in chief, I definitely want to respect my school and highlight all our accomplishes. I want our newspaper to be a great representation of the university, but does that mean we can’t publish stories that address areas of improvement or weaknesses in our school as well? Isn’t it biased to only publish good news? How do you respectfully publish “bad news”? Thoughts?


The Dangers of Neutrality

Over a year ago, I tried to answer the question: “Is it possible to be unbiased?” In the time between that post and now, I’ve been dealing with a new challenge in trying to define “unbiased.”

Without taking back anything that I said, I have a slightly different approach this time. In my quest to be unbiased and fair to both sides, I discovered that trying to remain “neutral” is also not always a good thing.

As a reporter, it is important that you have a clear understanding of what you consider to be fair, because it is not always as easy as just covering both sides equally. When I was reading for my Writing and Reporting I class, I came across this quote which goes along with what I have been learning about “fairness” and being “unbiased.”

“…while journalists strive to be fair, fairness doesn’t require all sides to be presented equally in a story. A dictator (or a school bully) can justify his or her behavior, but the journalist is not being unfair to say that behavior is wrong.”1

You see, I discovered (or am in the process of discovering) that if you try to be right in the middle, you’ll either end up being tossed by the wind, or by choosing not to take a side, you will end up taking a side. It’s just not in human nature to be without opinions and personal values.

I still hold to the fact that everyone, especially reporters, should strive to reveal the truth, but sometimes it’s a little more tricky than that. The quote above brought up a really good point. Does being unbiased mean that you have to report everything as being okay or acceptable?

I found this happening not only when it came to reporting or journalism related tasks, but in everyday life–especially when it came to my faith. (I feel like you can’t talk about bias without mentioning faith because what you do is influenced by what you believe in.) In an effort to “not offend” people who didn’t share my worldview, I found myself in a very dangerous area of compromise. That’s the problem when you don’t have a standard to go by, or, in journalism, that’s what happens when you don’t have a clear definition of what is considered unbiased.

I’m not advocating that we go in the opposite direction and be stubborn about what we think is right, ostracizing anyone who disagrees with us. That can be even more dangerous. There has to be a balance between being respectful and aware of others’ opinions without becoming too “wishy-washy” when you report. I don’t have all the answers and definitions but I just figured I’d just give you some food for thought.

 

  1. Wilkinson, Jeffrey S., August E. Grant, and Douglas J. Fisher. Principles of Convergent Journalism. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.