There are significant differences in the way journalism is practiced today than as briefly as 10 years ago. A decade, is not so long in the history of a profession that dates back to the first colonial newspaper of 1690 (coincidentally suppressed after its first edition). In a number of year-end discussions with my former journalism colleagues, many of my newsroom experiences circa 1979 to 2001 came to mind.
Some of the journalism bias conversation wandered into the never ending debate over social media and personal branding by our new media. Others led to back alleys of lesser known public moments where debates in a newsroom over content and context don’t always see the light of day (or Twitter). Identity politics, political correctness, bias and ethics are discussed more now than ever before. And that’s a good thing. Putting the practice of journalism under the microscope is healthy – as long as it’s done fairly.
In epidemiology, reporting bias is defined as “selective revealing or suppression of information” by subjects (for example about past medical history).
In artificial intelligence research, the term reporting bias is used to refer to people’s tendency to under-report all the information available.
We can go on for a while about personal bias, but let’s talk about journalism a bit more. These are some basic and best tenets of practice that not everyone follows: Assume nothing is true. Go directly to the source. Don’t rely even on official paperwork – as it is also sometimes wrong. Be systematic in authentication. And, ask yourself: What are my points of my ignorance going in that I need to note?
The last one is always the most challenging because it’s the final check for journalism bias. You can’t take back the words once they’re out there – you can only apologize or correct if you’re wrong. And you may be wrong. If you don’t ask, you won’t know what you haven’t reported. You’ll only hear about it after the fact. By then, it’s often too late. And you can thank the internet.
Bias is a tricky word. Like ethics, surprisingly, it means different things to different people. And no amount of Merriam-Webster definitions will change the direction of your own internal compass. Remember as legislating, politicking and news gathering begins anew in 2019, check your journalism bias. It’s as important for journalists as it is for the rest of us.