Do you know anyone who served in the military, takes part in organized religion, loves sports, goes hunting, or runs a small business?
Everyone is biased, especially journalists like me.
Often we don’t even realize it. Our limited, blinkered views of the world are a compelling reason why journalists are held in such low regard by their fellow citizens.
All too often we think of bias as something that’s known, deliberate, and the result of a clear split between a left or right-leaning view of the world. As long as we get quotes from sources on both sides, we’re fine.
But the truth about bias is much more complicated — and fascinating.
Age, race, ethnicity, religion, geography, life experience, and personal psychology — how we were raised by our parents — all play a role in our observations and what we choose to write about.
All too often we are confident of our judgements of others, but close our eyes to own intolerance.
This is not a new idea. One lively way to think of this problem is from Matthew 7:5: “You hypocrite! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Journalists are biased, but most of us think we are reporting the news fairly. We are unaware of our relatively narrow and often privileged views of the world. Only with humility and curiosity can we appreciate where we stand in relation to others.
As a young journalist, I was trained to believe in objectivity. It was not my job to put my own slant on a story or tell people how to think. That was fine to begin with but we need to dig much deeper.
If I was the boss of a TV, radio or podcast network, The New York Times, USA Today or The Wall Street Journal, I would ask all journalist job applicants this question:
How many people do you know fit in at least four of these categories:
- Veteran or now serve in the military.
- Attend church, temple or mosque on a regular basis.
- Run or manage a small business.
- Didn’t graduate from college.
- Is from a different racial or ethnic background than yourself
- Is transgender, bisexual, gay or lesbian.
- Roots for a hockey, football, basketball or baseball team.
The vast majority of journalists at top newspapers come from a privileged backgrounds or did well in school. Unlike decades ago when many people in newsrooms never attended college, very few reporters today in mainstream media have a broad understanding of how most people experience life.
This is a huge reason for their unconscious bias.