Bias slips in to journalism

3 Apr

Bias slips into everything journalists write. It is impossible not to let personal worldviews color a story. Journalists can only write based on the world they see around them and to think otherwise is somewhat naive. However, journalists should take great care to remove the bias when they notice it and to let their source, who will have different world views and their own set of biases, provide the basis for any story.

In a 2008 story in the Chicago Tribune, staff reporters Gerry Smith and Tina Shah referrer to the death of a pregnant woman, her husband and her son as the death of 3 people. The Tribune editor then posted a response to the story stating that it should have referred to the number of deaths as 4 since the woman was pregnant and the publication should be sensitive to the fact that some readers may consider a fetus a life. Finally, a Chicago media critic weighed in stating that the Tribune editor was practicing the very act he was saying he did not condone. The editor said that the fetus should have been counted as a life, not that it possibly should have been counted as a life. He was letting his own feelings on when life starts color this story.

I believe that the original way the story was written is acceptable. Currently, life does not start at conception according to the United States legal system. Also, the number three referred to the number of murders the man was being charged with, so the reporters’ use of the number is understandable. However, in an effort to be more clear, the reporters should have changed the headline and stated in the story the exact charges against the man, which include three counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional homicide of an unborn child. The number of people killed could have been omitted from the headline in a tactful way. The headline could have stated “Grandpa Charged in blaze that killed his family” it may be less informative than the original headline, but it gets the point across and avoids the messy situation the original headline put the story in.

Overall, I think the editor needed to take a step back and consider his own bias before writing what he did about the story. I feel that the comments of the media critic were accurate. However, taking the feeling and opinions of others into consideration is an important aspect of journalism. A few small adjustments to this story would have satisfied both sides had they taken the time to consider the consequences before publication.

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One Response to “Bias slips in to journalism”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers April 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Good analysis, but a couple edit issues:
    Shah referrer to the death
    3 people.
    deaths as 4

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