Monday, October 31, 2016

Is Fairness Really Fair?

Nicole Dascenzo

As evident in our readings for class, fairness from the perspective of the reader and fairness to journalists are, oftentimes, two very different things.

Election cycles and other various times where public opinion is more loudly broadcast through forms of social media bring up the issue of journalistic fairness more so than in relatively calmer times. While readers may think they are calling for more fairness in what is being reported, this is sometimes not really the case.

In his article for Politico, Jack Shafer says that "...a news story is not a town hall in which every citizen gets to express his view. Rather, it is a distillation of what the reporter and editor decide is true." As fact checking becomes more popular with the media, especially during presidential debates, the argument of what is and is not true should be brought up when deciding fairness in stories.

As Shafer later states, every A-list source in a story should not have to be counteracted by a D-list source just for the sake of fairness or balance. An example of this that sticks out in my mind is climate change - a topic that is so widely agreed upon by scientists internationally. Stories about climate change should not require both a supporter and denier of the concept as the scientific evidence behind climate change massively outweighs any evidence against the concept.

Stories such as the example described previously create a sense of false balance. Some news stories simply do not need two opposing view points to get the message across to viewers. Rather, having the other side could distort the message being reported on or even diminish its value.

Going back to Shafer's quote on fact checking, an additional message is given in David Uberti's article for the Columbia Journalism Review, where he describes that because it is relatively common for politicians to bend the truth, it is increasingly difficult for reporters to gauge a politician's intent with their statements.

Uberti goes on further to describe instances such as Donald Trump in the 2016 election season, where journalists who would typically not question the truthfulness of a statement are put into a position where they must.

Especially in the case of Trump's repeated questioning of President Barack Obama's place of birth, with numerous pieces of evidence that Obama was in fact born in the United States, Trump continued to bring the issue up. In times such as these, journalists are put in a position where they must call out a subjects lies or risk being deemed an untruthful media source.

It is hard to argue that the topic of fairness does not have an important place in the discussion of the reporting styles of media outlets.

But oftentimes, the public perception of fairness and the true journalistic description of fairness are vastly different, with the former being primarily about a 50/50 split between two opinions and the latter giving proper coverage to the proper people.

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