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You hear a lot these days about media bias, but what exactly does that mean? How does the media bias a story?

I’ve decided to start posting examples of bias so that news consumers can recognize and reject it.

The birth of the news

Before we discuss bias, it’s important to understand how news is made. Following is a quick and dirty description of a typical news day.

Enterprising reporters scour social media, community calendars, law enforcement and district attorney sources, churches and other contacts for interesting tidbits. They keep a list of ideas to research, develop and follow up on until they’re ready to be pitched at an editorial meeting.

Most newsrooms meet in the morning and afternoon to discuss the latest news, and to hear pitches from journalists who take the time to develop their sources. The group discusses each story, and conceptualizes how to tell it and where it fits into the daily news product (newscast, radio show, newspaper, etc.) This is where effective leaders ask how the reporter will balance the story, and provides direction on the story’s angle.

By the end of the meeting, producers decide who gets what stories and reporters, what format each story will take, and how long each reporter will have to tell their story.

Reporters immediately start planning visuals and scheduling interviews, giving as much advanced notice to sources as possible. Television reporters spend the day shooting video, preparing infographics, interviewing sources and writing their stories for various newscasts. Once most of their material is shot and they have a clear direction, they report back to the newsroom so that promotions and teases can be written. It’s important to note that, at least for television news, many of the teases you see during commercial breaks throughout the day are not written by news staff, but by advertising and promotion staff.

Reporters submit their stories for editorial approval (ideally) with enough time to make script changes. Upon final approval from producers and news management, they hand their final script and voice-over to an editor, who prepares the story for air (these days, many reporters – or multimedia journalists – edit their own video). Most reporters write their scripts with specific video in mind, though some editors select video to accompany the script.

At news time, the reporter either delivers the introduction and tag to their pre-recorded story from a live location, or anchors pitch to the story from the desk. Every word associated with each story within a newscast is written by the reporter on the story, though many anchors tweak their part of the scripts for their own comfort.

Opportunities for bias

What makes a reporter’s potential story list

Now that you know how news is made, it’s easy to see all the opportunities for bias to enter the equation. Reporters are naturally drawn to story ideas that impact their daily lives; so, for instance, a young man who goes to church every day and prays before meals might have stories about missions trips and charitable projects on his list. A party girl might have a list of stories about downtown party district development. A new daddy might be interested in stories related to fatherhood. And a reporter who sees injustice and bigotry everywhere might always want to feature those he sees as society’s victims.

When a reporter’s exposure is limited to her life and surroundings, her story pitches tend to come from the same narrow perspective. That’s not necessarily a problem when you have a diverse newsroom where multiple perspectives are shared and embraced. But in many newsrooms, if every reporter doesn’t have the same list, they share the same perspective, and there’s no diversity in leadership to ensure balance.

Stupid ideas not welcome here

Editorial meetings can get pretty lively, especially when people with differing perspectives debate how to tell a story. But when all the producers and leaders in a newsroom also have the same perspective, the idea of balance is not only ignored, but anyone with a dissenting opinion can easily feel intimidated into keeping those ideas to themselves. Many reporters (especially new reporters) leave the editorial meeting with strict instructions to follow a prescription and return with the predetermined narrative.

Planning the news day

A reporter with an agenda might put off calling the opposing interview subject to later in the day, giving them little or no time to prepare an adequate response.

“We’re telling a story about you beating your wife tonight at 5. I just wanted to give you an opportunity to respond. We’ve already spoken with your wife.”

The subject replies, “Wait, it’s 2:30. I need to talk with my lawyer. Can’t we do this tomorrow?”

“Sorry, this is for the news today. If you don’t want to go on the air, you could just email your response.”

The above scenario is one way the planning of a story can lead to bias. Other biases in the planning process can include the imagery the reporter chooses, the quotes pulled from a document, or the portions of the interview to use. When a subject grants a 30-minute interview that feels like a friendly discussion, the 30 seconds pulled from the interview can look like a totally different conversation. I’ve seen lives ruined over four words pulled from an hour-long interview.

""This photo of former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was featured in a Bernard Goldberg blog as an example of bias through imagery. The Newsweek cover also exemplifies bias through the headlines assigned to stories. The title, “The Queen of Rage”, coupled with the crazy in Bachmann’s eyes, paints a vivid picture of the candidate – just as Newsweek intended.

Where’s the balance?

Before my reporters ever left the newsroom, we discussed how they intended to balance their story. If a reporter did not understand the potential controversy or how to articulate it, I helped them to identify and locate representatives of each side of the issue.

When they submitted their scripts for approval, they knew I’d be looking for balance. That is one of the primary duties of an effective newsroom leader. Scripts are not only checked for accurate spelling and proper structure, they should also be scoured for completeness, factual accuracy, and fairness. I expected all questions to be answered, quotes and opinions to be sourced, and biases to be equitably addressed.

Promotions and news

When promotions staffers write news teases and promotions, most writers do their best to represent the story with accuracy and fidelity, but this is another opportunity to introduce bias. I’ve seen partisan promotions writers take artistic license with news, and write the promotions based on what they wished, or what they understood, and not based on the story that was actually being told. Some promotions writers also write as marketers and not journalists – targeting TV audiences with what’s sexy and not necessarily what’s newsworthy.

The same is true with editors who craft the sexy headlines for online stories and newscast graphics. You can write a really punchy and memorable headline that paints a vivid picture, but is either a minor aspect of a larger story, or has nothing to do with the actual story. Remember those ruinous four words pulled from that lengthy interview? Some editor thought they’d make a really sexy headline, and that headline made national news. In context, the words meant something totally different, and the editor knew it.

Well, when you put it that way…

The most obvious way journalists can build bias in to a story is in the writing itself. Take a look at these two Associated Press articles about mail-in voting (in truth, you could compare any two AP articles about President Donald Trump and Joe Biden and find inequity and bias). In article after article about Mr. Trump and mail-in voting, the AP copies and pastes the term, “without proof,” into concerns over potential fraud, as though the burden is on him to prove a complete deconstruction of America’s electoral process would be detrimental.

Reporters should ask themselves, is this qualifier necessary to the story? In this case, “without proof” does nothing to advance the facts of the story. But it does advance a narrative, and that’s exactly the point.

The AP did the same thing to Senator Rand Paul after he found himself surrounded with his wife by a horde of protesters as they left President Trump’s RNC speech in August.

The article reads: “Sen. Rand Paul…claimed without evidence on Friday that he had been ‘attacked by an angry mob’…”

First of all, anyone who actually watched the encounter could see where one might feel under attack. Secondly, the crowd was obviously angry and could reasonably be considered a mob, especially from someone trapped inside. But aside from the facts, once again, the qualifier is unnecessary to the story. Its only purpose is to create an impression.


For comparison, take a look at the AP’s initial coverage of the claims made by Jussie Smollett (and P.S. good luck finding ANYONE’s coverage of Jussie Smollett’s initial hoax. The internet is scrubbed clean of that journalistic malpractice). Now, show me where it says, “without proof” or “without evidence” or any other such qualifier.

We now know that Smollett’s claims – which were fantastical and illogical in the extreme at the time – turned out to be a pathetic plea for adoration and attention.

But for weeks, the media gave Smollett exactly what he wanted – to be their super hero darling.

First impressions last

With social media overtaking traditional news as the most popular source of daily news, headlines have become everything in the battle for clicks and shares. Take a look at the AP article about Sen. Paul’s encounter with BLM. That headline – “Sen. Paul complains about ‘angry mob’ encounter after RNC” – wreaks of cynical bias. You can just imagine the air quotes around those poor, peaceful protesters.

How about, “Sen. Paul and wife surrounded by angry protesters,” or “Police protect Sen. Paul and wife from screaming crowd”? The AP headline and article were intentionally skeptical, adversarial and critical, because Sen. Rand Paul is the enemy.

The news gods also know very well, only four out of 10 people actually click to open a news article before sharing it on social media. Those that do open the article will only spend about 15 seconds reading it. That means that the lasting impression must be made through the imagery, headline and first paragraph.


For other examples of headline bias, on any given day, search “Trump” in Google News. The abuse of journalistic ethics is borderline criminal when it comes to President Trump. I don’t even have to point out the examples because they’re so consistently blatant.

So, there’s bias. Now what?

The more we’re aware of bias in the media, the more comfortable we will be calling it out wherever we see it. Contact the reporter, her editor, news director and general manager, and point out the bias. Demand a clarification or correction. If they fail to satisfactorily respond, take your complaint public.

When posting about your findings, do not provide links to the story in your critique. The most important thing to remember when calling out a biased reporter or news outlet is that clicks are like gold. A click from a critic bears just as much weight as a click from an admirer. Provide screenshots of the offense and tag the reporter and outlet. Announce publicly that you’re removing them from your favorites, and don’t give them your time and attention again until they’ve acknowledged the bias and made changes to address it.

We should be able to hold news providers accountable to the highest journalistic standards, and that begins with being able to recognize and reject bias in our news.

How the Hell Did I Get Here?

I have an uncanny knack for knowing when someone is uncomfortable with me; so I go out of my way to put them at ease