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Should Biases be Kept a Secret?

Rose Troyer Ohio University English 3080j Matthew Vetter May 28, 2013

Troyer 2 There is a common construct in the world of journalism that defines the way journalists act: bias. Bias is a big bad four-letter word in journalism and has the stigma that could tank an entire paper. Journalists are living in fear that if they come out of the bias closet that their careers will be over and that they wont be able to be seen as objective writers. Apparently a journalists ability to appear like they are writing objectively would be deeply wounded if their readers knew for a fact what their biases were. Even though most people know that they choose a certain news outlet because of the leanings that the news source has. Journalists live in fear of their readers knowing their personal bias, especially when it comes to politics. Theyre living with this fear that they will lose their readers and then there will be no one left to read their stories and journalism will fall, which is why it is a common practice to keep biases hidden. I believe this is a slippery slope fallacy and that journalists really have nothing to fear. After reading All Writing Is Autobiography by Donald Murray I was encouraged to look differently at all writing, not just writing in the context of English (Wardle and Downs, 2011). Murray emphasizes the influences that our experiences and beliefs have in all of our writings. He thinks it is impossible to completely shut a writers voice out of a piece. Its time for journalists to change their way of thinking; keeping secrets from their readers should be a thing of the past. When journalists hide their personal biases, especially in politics, they are hindering the analysis that their reader should have on their piece. The public should be able to know what the writers biases are

Troyer 3 so they can take into consideration the writers purpose for the article. Not telling the public is like withholding the truth, its a lie. Journalists not only hurt their readers when they keep their biases a secret, but they are also hurting themselves. In order to keep biases, like political leanings, journalists are told not to go to rallies or support a party. They hurt their readers by lying to them, by keeping them in the dark because they dont believe that their readers are smart enough to read critically and look through any bias they might run across. I would argue that they are also hurting the credibility of their paper or network too, because its hard to trust a company that is always keeping secrets from their customers. Margaret Kantz argues that we need to know a background of the author to better understand the piece we are reading (67-85). While on the other hand the Society of Professional journalists highlights what they feel journalists should do, Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility (spj.org). This is the problem with journalism: that journalists feel the need to hide part of themselves to be good journalists. Its time journalists realized that their biases would do more good than harm, especially for their readers. Its time to face the scary realization that the public is smarter than journalists are giving them credit for. Thinking that you will lose your credibility, as a journalist because your readers know you are a right leaning centrist is just silly. Informing the public of your biases, especially if you are working on Capitol Hill, will

Troyer 4 help readers better analyze the writing. Yes, there will always be the extremists who say, They only reported that because they are a left leaning ass and that applies to both the left and the right. But actually telling the reader the personal biases will hold the journalists even more accountable of writing a story with two sides. The readers of the New York Times and The Washington Post, read the publication of their choice because they know the biases of the paper without either paper allowing their journalists to publicly admit their biases. I mean let us face the facts: Ohio Universitys Bobcat Readership Program chose the New York Times and USA Today because we are primarily a liberal campus. This is the reality of the world we live in: everyone chooses to read, watch or listen to the news they listen to because thats what they want to hear. Therefore, I see no reason to hide our biases. Its the truth; and the readers already know it. The second person that journalists hurt by keeping their biases secret is themselves. They are refusing some of their rights that are purely American. It is the right of every American to be able to support whichever political party or candidate they want to. Its a right. Americas founding battle was fought to have the right to support your own candidate and have your own religion, to believe what you want to believe. There is no purpose for journalists to forgo this American right. There is only one reason I could see for a journalist to keep their political bias a secret, and that would be if they didnt have any at all. This is a case where I dont imagine they would be reporting on politics, and therefore it wouldnt matter

Troyer 5 what their political standing was anyway because they would be writing to a completely different audience. In this case the audience would not need to know because they would have no possibility to be swayed by the writing. The third person that journalists hurt would be the companies they are working for. Going back to the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists, they believe journalists should, Disclose unavoidable conflicts. By this they mean if you have been covering the environment beat for ten years and then you happened to get married to a CEO of a company who is either involved with the environment in a good or bad way supporting clean energy or admitting large amounts of pollution that the journalist would be forced to disclose this information to the public or even be removed from the beat to a new one. Removing someone from a beat because they now have a personal stake in one side or another is seen commonly today, and many people are ok with it. Just for a moment though, I would like to bring up that this person would have been involved with their now partner long before the marriage and if they have proven to be able to give both sides of the story then, I do not think a marriage should get in the way now. However, I do not want to completely ignore the few cases where it is necessary to remove a journalist from a beat. Sometimes it is unavoidable to have to remove a journalist from a beat because they have been found guilty of only covering one side of the story, in which case, yes, I agree; remove them. As for the journalist who tries their best, no matter their biases, to report both sides of the story and slips every now and then with bias in their voice

Troyer 6 arguably unavoidable let them be. Acknowledge the slip up, but do not punish someone for having a belief and not wanting to hide it from the world. In these cases, where conflict is unavoidable it must be made known to the readers. Then how, I ask, is a personal belief not an unavoidable conflict? It is something that will influence the way a writer uses their voice in a piece and the means by which they get their information. In this way a political bias is similar, if not the same, to a bias in the home. Murray expresses his biases in his piece, My voice is the product of Scottish genes and a Yankee environment, of Baptist sermons and the newspaper city room, of all the language I have heard and spoken (58). Murray takes influences from his entire lifetime; from growing up to growing old, and all of it affects how he writes. This is the same for all writers. This is the same for journalists. Journalists hurt the credibility of their news organization by not letting their biases be known, because it will always have an influence on their writing. It is unavoidable. Companies are being hurt more by this long kept secret because it just shows that they dont believe their readers are educated enough to come up with their own opinion from reading an article from the news. This is the gap that Kantz refers to in her piece (77). There is a gap between the journalist and the reader. The journalist believes, or is told to believe, that a majority of their readers arent educated enough to look past the journalists personal biases of the journalists to the article. The reader is then believed to believe that if they do not know the

Troyer 7 biases they wont be able to see it. The truth is that not knowing the bias could hurt them even more. This is a gap because people who choose to read the news are educated and they can see biases, as I mentioned before, this is primarily why they choose the news organization they choose. Its time for journalists to come out and say it, Im a journalist. I have personal biases. I will do my best to exclude these biases from my writing, but understand that its not easy to completely pull my voice from my writing. If you see a bias, let me know, and I will do my best to withhold it from my future articles and report only the truth. Saying something like this would be full transparency to the readers, not just partial. The readers will understand; they are human, they have biases too. Journalists will be able to support whatever campaign they like during election season, or any season; they will be able to fully enjoy their rights as Americans. News organizations will be know they are being fully transparent to their readers and will be running a more ethical organization because of it. Its not a hard concept, or reality, to understand. The biggest problem is the fact that it is change. It is recognition of a conflicting view held by news organizations and a change that would give more credibility to a company. Personally, I can give you this proof: I am a junior studying journalism and I have a liberal background. After coming to college and studying political science as a minor, I have moved from the left to the middle. I am classified as a left-leaning centrist on most accounts, and on others I am so far right that I could be called

Troyer 8 conservative. There it is. Out in the open for all to see. The cold hard political bias that I currently hold, but I would like to say that politics are constantly changing and therefore opinions and titles of where people stand. I would also like to give even more proof. Now that you have read this, and you know my political standing, here is a link to a blog that includes all the stories that I have written for WOUB: http://rmariet17.wordpress.com/woub-org/.

Troyer 9 Works Cited Buss, D. N.Y. Times Denial Of Media Bias Fails To Make Its Argument. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/dalebuss/2012/10/03/times-rebuttal-onmedia-bias-fails-to-disprove-its-effect/ Pulliam, E. SPJ Code Of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp Troyer, R. WOUB.org. Retrieved from http://rmariet17.wordpress.com/woub-org/ Wardle, E., Downs, D. (2011) Writing About Writing.