I hear it a lot. In person, on social media, on talk shows. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you find yourself on, you think the media is biased. During election season, the discussions become more frequent and more heated. Right now, we’re in a firestorm of accusations of media bias. I’m in the media business, so I may have a skewed perspective on this topic. But here are the realities:
- Everyone is a media outlet. Whether you’re Anderson Cooper, Rush Limbaugh, or a random dude on Facebook. Or even Kolbeco, or Red Bull. You’re sharing information, and maybe you’re even creating content.
- Everyone has some degree of bias. Our life experiences give us the lens through which to view the world. While many try to keep an open mind, the fact remains that it can be difficult to fully set that lens aside.
(Based on reading my social media feed the degree of bias is very high. At this point I am looking forward to a social media reset on November 9th. )
Is Mainstream Media Biased?
The bias you see on social media and on certain cable programs is evident. But what about network news and daily newspapers? Are they biased? My answer is: Yes, and No. Mainstream media finds itself in an interesting position, with a somewhat cynical point of view at times. Their world view is often broken down by listening to people spin, lie and exaggerate their stories. They’re skeptical. They’ve danced-this-dance-before-and-aren’t-dancing-it-again kind of skeptical. In my experience, this skepticism causes bias.
Let’s look at another side of this question. Media outlets have specific audiences. Those audiences want to hear, see and read about certain things. Hence, each outlet covers stories and presents them in a manner that is based on their target audience. If they don’t do it, people call and complain. They grouse about it on social media. Maybe they even stop watching a certain station or buying the paper altogether. That’s not good for advertising dollars. So, yes, perhaps this is bias. It’s only bad if the outlet isn’t transparent about it.
Non-Political Journalists’ Perspective
I recently spent time with author and journalist, Matt Fitzgerald. Matt writes about endurance sports and nutrition. He shared with me what has made him a successful writer. He essentially takes complicated scientific research and translates what it means to everyday readers. He told me that scientists have great data and information around endurance sports. But they don’t know how to share the information in a way that people understand or can relate to.
Is that a bias? Well sure. He knows that most people are not going to understand statistical, scientific jargon. But they do want to know what that data may mean for them. It’s up to him to weed through what’s relevant and translate that into a language that resonates with his audience.
And is it bias, or is it delivering what his audience wants to read as he chooses what stories to write about? Matt told me about the many pitches he receives each day. While each of them may be great stories, he simply can’t cover everyone’s personal accomplishment. Not because it is not amazing, but because it just may not have broad appeal to his audience. But occasionally he can, when he finds a story that is so over the top and inspiring to all.
Dan Duffy is author of “The Half Book” and a writer for outlets such as the Huffington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer. You may even know Dan as he may work on part of your campaign at Kolbeco. In his book and newspaper columns, Dan covers the topic of cancer. Is he biased? Hell yes he is! He hates cancer, so much so he helps people learn to fight it. So what does Dan do as a writer? He takes a subject that folks struggle with and hate and helps them understand how to cope with it. Often times Dan uses humor and personal stories to try and help you get a better perspective.
What this all means to you
As a consumer of media, you must understand the media outlets’ perspectives on each topic. Understand that in most cases, they’re taking a very complex subject and boiling it down into something simple and relatable to a broad audience. Know this when you consume any kind of media:
- Is everything in the media fact? Absolutely not.
- Does it mean that every fact and aspect related to the story has been included? No. A lot of things are left out due to space and time restrictions – and quite frankly, due to staffing restrictions. Journalists are doing more with less. They’re producing content, in many cases, to grab attention, and get eyeballs and shares on social media.
- Do journalists set all bias and pressure aside? Not necessarily. They’re human. They have experiences that shape how they see things, they have pressure from management and from their customers. Wow, they sound a lot like you, don’t they?
The lesson here is to know that to some degree, bias does exist. It’s up to you to understand what that bias is for each outlet, and to know why it’s there. Your own bias will lead you to the news you follow and the information you share on social media.