Fair and Balanced

The Chicago Tribune’s Public Editor wrote today about reader complaints that his newspaper was not fair and balanced the way a newspaper should be. His answer–which is that the news is a collaborative process and that sometimes reader complaints are valid–is true, but there is more going on, and it’s not liberal bias, exactly.

(I do believe that the press has a duty to be “liberal” as part of its mission, but that’s another blog. And before you dismiss me as a liberal tool, note the quotation marks; I promise to explain at a later date.)

What’s going on in this Tribune case is that the public has been led to believe that journalism should be unbiased (which, in the American tradition, is the standard). But many people interpret this to mean that “there are two sides to every story” and that the newspaperman’s job is to lay out all of the facts and let the reader figure out what’s true and what’s not. It’s Fox News’s slogan (though not their practice). However, that’s not the case.

Not every story has two stories, and not every fact is true, just because someone said it. It’s the journalist’s job to serve as the filter and to some extent, the analyst of news. And if that means choosing to put one candidate’s speech higher on the front page than another, that doesn’t equate to bias. Calling statements into question doesn’t equate to bias–as long as it’s done across the board. That’s what it means to be a fair and balanced journalist–not giving equal time and space to all comers.

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