Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fake news. Media bias. Unfair news coverage.

These terms have become more prevalent in recent years and seem to be spiking now.

After earning a master’s degree in journalism but before becoming an association professional, I worked for The Associated Press news service that provides news and feature stories to newspapers and broadcast media outlets.

It was great training for my career in public relations and association management!

Back in those AP days, we were not allowed to use any word other than “said” when quoting a source’s comments. All other words – like exclaimed or alleged or shouted – were considered biased and not permissible for AP reporting.

Perhaps The AP style has changed?

Early in my journalism career, I came to recognize that everything we did had some amount of subjectivity or bias in it. 

  1. What stories do we cover?
  2. What sources do we interview?
  3. What questions do we ask?
  4. Which answers do we use in the story?
  5. What do we make the lead?
  6. What headline gets placed on the story (something out of the reporter’s control)?
The news story about President Trump’s pens (photo above) made me think about media bias and my old questions about subjectivity.

Look at the story:
  1. Why was this a news story? What purpose did it fulfill?
  2. Who was interviewed? The president of the pen company. (Given the Providence, RI, dateline, and the sole source, perhaps the pen company’s PR folks “placed” the story?)
  3. Why did the lead focus on President Trump running out of pens as opposed to sharing that President Trump was following the tradition that every president since 1974 has used those pens for signing legislation?
  4. And, why did the headline read “Trump awaits more fancy pens?” Doesn’t that appear biased? Or, was it simply written to grab attention? 

A few days after this story ran, USA Today carried a front page story with the headline: “Trump too late on hate, critics say.” Rather than focus on the President’s speech condemning hateful actions against Jewish cemeteries, the story and headline focus on reaction to the speech and not the speech itself.
Was this media bias?
Well, it depends on one’s perspective.

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