Monday, November 6, 2017

Bias, Balance and Building Democracy

Alexis McCurdy

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It has been said countless times that lack of trust in the media stems from the biases and agendas news organizations put forth, particularly in politics. Where there is bias, there can often be a perceived set, framed concept of the story, that can bend and distort facts, arguments and conclusions.

Due to professional tradition, objectivity was seen as one of the qualities journalists should seek to perfect. It was regarded as a crucial component to building credibility, allowing the audience to properly decipher and encode their own meaning of the story.

But as we have seen in recent times more abundantly, journalists are humans too, each with their own moral codes and beliefs instilled in them. It is impossible to strip them of that fundamental human attribute. Therefore, biases will slip into content inevitably. Bias in some ways humanizes a story; therefore it becomes relatable to the audience, regardless of their stance on the issue.

Playing along the same dialogue as the idea of transparency, instead of refuting biases, perhaps journalists should try to find a balance among them. Biases and differing opinions are, after all, a fundamental part of democracy.

"What if journalists acknowledged that bias does exist, that it is built into the choices they make when deciding what to leave in and what to leave out? That bias is embedded in the culture and language of the society on which the journalist reports? And that 'news judgment' does reflect the journalist's background as well as the news organization's mission and business model?," an American Press Institute article questions.

The journalist's acknowledgement of bias might make the audience somewhat skeptical of the news organization, but it motivates them to probe the topic further and examine the content across platforms. This process encourages the audience to make their own sense of the issue at hand, therefore increasing their media literacy.

This is an important point to make, because the goal of news organizations is not to domintae thought and opinion, but rather make the audience aware of the world surrounding them, and in turn, allow them to make informed decisions that influence their surroundings. In result, democracy in society strengthens due to the ability of audiences to think and speak for themselves.

However, along with this acknowledgment of bias, the journalist needs to make absolutely certain that all facts presented are accurate. Just because a news organization may have a skewed view, does not mean they can manipulate or fabricate facts. Bias may serve as a frame for the facts, but not a magical machine to change them.

Additionally, in the new political climate journalists could use bias to begin to report on democracy as a whole, rather than just on certain controversial topics and power plays that seem to garner a lot of attention.

By analyzing political institutions and their fundamental flaws, and using bias to do so, the audience can begin to understand the pros and cons of the entities that govern them. Bias will help contextualize the society around the audience and make it easier to understand. This deep analysis could prove to be beneficial by allowing society to understand the root of their problems, so that they can begin to better treat them.

"Admittedly, journalists alone cannot make America more democratic. But they can turn democracy itself into a newsworthy topic. In so doing, they would sometimes have to set aside their defensive objectivity and their division of the political world into two sides, as well as the false equivalences this division can breed," a Nieman Lab article argues on the subject of the role of journalism in democracy.

Bias is a part of who we are. Therefore, the question shouldn't be how can we completely eliminate bias. Rather, it should be how can we responsibly integrate bias into communication, to aid democracy, rather than destroying it?

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