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« Hizbullah TV's 'Road to Palestine' | Main | Dershowitz at Berkeley »

Wednesday, June 2 2004

Jay Rosen on bias, balance, and fairness

Big discussion on Jay Rosen's blog regarding issues of media bias, balance, and fairness.

Rosen doesn't think 'bias' is a helpful term at all, since

any work of journalism is saturated with bias from the moment the reporter leaves the office--and probably before that--to the edited and finished product.

There's bias in the conversation our biased reporter has with his biased editor, bias in the call list he develops for his story, bias in his choice of events to go out and cover, bias in the details he writes down at the event, bias in his lead paragraph, bias in the last paragraph, bias when his editor cuts a graph. The headline someone else writes for him-- that has bias. There's bias in the placement of the story. (No bias in the pixels or printer's ink, though.)

Two of Rosen's readers reframe the question, therefore:

Any selection of facts will necessarily represent a bias. I think the main problem most Americans have with the current incarnation of the mainstream media is not that they have biases, but rather that they all share the same rather narrow biases, a reflection of the fact that almost all the media is now controlled and produced by a very narrow and unrepresentative slice of the population.

And:

The overriding value in journalism, along with accuracy, must be not objectivity but fairness. Not the kind of fairness wherein for every Hannity you have a Colmes, but the kind of fairness where, regardless of the journalist's personal feelings, he or she can judge a piece of reporting on whether all the important points of view have had a legitimate chance to change minds.

Though we at HonestReporting sometimes use the term 'bias' to describe problematic Mideast coverage, 'fairness' might be a more appropriate term in many cases. And there is certainly a narrow, pack mentality among many Israel correspondents that results in unbalanced coverage of this conflict.

 

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Comments

Hi, Backspin and thanks for the link and comment. Here's the deal. If you say you have found bias, then the remedy is: tell the truth, don't add your spin, don't be so subjective. Not very helpful. If you say the coverage we saw was too narrow, then the remedy there is: let's broaden it, and the burden is on you to say how. Now that really could be helpful. Very often--and I am not saying it's so in your case--bias hunters adopt the ideas that place as few burdens as possible on the critic. So there might be more here than a choice between similar nouns: biased, narrow.

Thanks for responding, Jay.

Critique at HonestReporting takes many forms, but the work that has the greatest impact tends to focus on factual mistakes, omission of key information/context, and misleading terminology.

We always try to support our claims well, then encourage journalists to take them into consideration the next time around.

"I think the main problem most Americans have with the current incarnation of the mainstream media is not that they have biases, but rather that they all share the same rather narrow biases, a reflection of the fact that almost all the media is now controlled and produced by a very narrow and unrepresentative slice of the population."

I think there is more to the problem of the mainstream media's biases than that it is "controlled and produced" by an elite which understands its purpose is to advocate positions it deems correct (affirmative action) or even righteous (gay marriage) for the entire country. I think there is such pressure to produce news copy that most reporters find it easier to repeat what others have already published rather than to conduct their own research. In other words, the big problem is a herd mentality and simple laziness. Such a culture promotes plagery, which is rampant in the media, the blatant manufacture of incidents and details passed off as "facts" (the Jenin "massacre"), and encourages reporters to observe events through the distorted lens of their own, their editor's, their herd's preconceptions rather than to take the time to think for themselves.

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