Enterprising journalists: An empirical search for the source of bias in the media

Note: This is part 2 of a multi-part series of my term papers from the fall. In this installment, the abstract from my Research Foundations final project (This is unconnected to the previous post.):


Observers and critics of American journalism argue about the nature of bias in newspapers, magazines, and television journalism. They agree, however, that bias of some kind is rampant. Accusations of bias in news reporting have risen at almost the same time as the ideal of objectivity has taken hold within the profession, coming to a head in the early 2000’s with a flurry of books by pundits, humorists, and serious critics from both sides of the ideological aisle. While the debate raged in the popular press, academic inquiry into the nature of bias in American journalism took three paths. Political economists of the media focus on the incentives for journalists to produce biased reporting—either to feed a desire for biased reporting, or to please corporate parents of media companies. Other scholars perform content analysis of journalism, trying to determine whether or not the news is actually as biased as partisan critics would have it. A third group looks at the effects of bias in the media on audiences, through the lens of audience studies.

This study takes a new approach, trying to determine whether or not the people who become journalists are prone to become opinion leaders because of their innate psychological makeup. Disregarding the contentious issue of defining political liberals and conservatives, this study adopts the theory of John L. Holland, a psychologist who developed a career interest inventory. In Holland’s theory, each person fits into three of his categories, and he predicts that journalists fit into the category he calls “enterprising.” Enterprisers are people who seek opportunities to persuade and influence. If journalists are, as Holland classifies them, “enterprisers,” then those who seek to limit bias in journalism may be fighting a losing battle.

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