Monday, September 28, 2009

Media Monday: Bias of the mainstream media

With topics like ACORN and health care in the news constantly these days, the discussion of bias in the "mainstream" media is reaching a fever pitch.

I'm still not sure what the definition of the "mainstream" is, but I'm getting the feeling that the mainstream media is any media outlet that doesn't hold the same views as the person criticizing the mainstream media.

Some say Fox News is the only place to get the truth. Others say CNN. Some say the New York Times is biased while others claim it would be the Washington Times. Some swear by Keith Olbermann, others by Sean Hannity.

On television, claiming everyone else is the mainstream media has become a cottage industry.

As someone who has been part of the media for 22 years, I hate to tell you truth seekers out there, but: All media is biased.

Heck, even the Amarillo Globe-News is "biased."

The truth is we're all biased.

We tell our stories from our perspective and with our knowledge. Two people can write a book on the same topic and tell the same story two different ways.

Even in the Bible, Mark doesn't tell the Gospel story the same way that Matthew does. Does that mean Mark is part of the "mainstream media" but Matthew isn't? No, they just tell it from two different perspectives.

But what about bias in the Globe-News, you ask? How could I admit to such heresy?

Well, we have to be.

When a reporter goes to a city commission meeting or an accident scene, they have to look for what is most important to report first. There may be a dozen items on a commission agenda, but we can't write about all 12 of them first. One has to be chosen.

At an accident or crime scene, there are lots of facts to consider, but a reporter has to determine what's most important. If someone dies, it's in the first paragraph, not the last.

There are thousands of stories available to newspapers every day and most choose a few dozen to publish on any given day. You have to have a bias to make that determination.

For the Amarillo Globe-News, our bias needs to be local. There are too many places for people to get national and international news other than our paper. It's not always been like that and I realize that not everyone has access to the Internet and other sources of information, but most do.

Our only monopoly is local news.

I don't get a lot of heartburn from people who complain about a lack of ACORN stories in our paper (although, we have run many of them in the paper and on our web site). That's not our franchise and no, we're not covering for the Obama Administration or the Republicans.

When people ask me about media bias, I assure them that I've been around media people a long time and we're not smart enough to pull off a conspiracy.

The truth is bias in the media is based as much on the view of the consumer as it is on the media outlet.

How do I know this?

In 22 years, I have never gotten a call from a parent of a high school athlete who says: "My child plays football at Smith High School, but I really wish you should cover Jones High School more. I know Jones is our arch rival, but you really have been biased against them and they need more coverage."

There have been times where I have received an e-mail at 8:30 in the morning saying: "You are so far right of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, it's sickening." Only to be followed up lat 10 a.m. with a phone call from someone who wants to know how I can live with being the publisher of such "a liberal rag."

It's all a matter of perspective.

Some people think we are guilty of bias when we omit something. The problem is that those in the media are not all knowing.

Many times, I've received a call demanding to know why the newspaper hasn't covered something. When I ask: "Did you tell us about it in advance," the answer is often no.

We don't know about everything. We have to be told and informed.

Likewise, we have a limited amount of staff. We can't go cover everything every day. We have to make choices as well.

Do we make the wrong choices some times, absolutely. I wish we were perfect, but we're not

So what should consumers of media who want to know the "truth" do?

We are all human and we all have our biases. You need to get a lot of perspectives and realize that not one is absolutely correct. As they say, the truth lies somewhere in between.

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