How to Recognize Bias in a Newspaper Article

Source: Wikihow

When all you want is the facts, navigating the newspaper might be a tricky ordeal. Sometimes bias is the result of laziness, and sometimes it’s a deliberate attempt to push a particular point of view. Either way, you should always be on the lookout for bias.

  1. Research the newspaper. Some papers have a reputation for giving a particular slant on the news, in addition to the news itself. But don’t assume that views expressed on the editorial pages have any influence on coverage; reputable newspapers strictly separate the news and editorial staffs. Also, take note of how many ads the paper runs (not including inserts which are often added after the fact). If there are large number of printed ads that may indicate a paper is beholden to numerous entities such as special interest groups, local and/or federal governments, corporations etc. for funding.
  2. Take notes as you read the article. Identify “who, what, when, where, why and how” and make a note of any missing information or extra analysis.
  3. See if you could rewrite the article, using the same information, to tell a completely different story.
  4. Look at how the writer treats the people he is writing about. Do some sources or witnesses “claim” their stories while others “explain” them? Make notes of language that gives you a positive or negative feeling about a piece of information, but which represents the writer’s opinion, and not a verifiable truth.
  5. Pay attention to the overall tone of the article. Does the feeling it gives you relate to the information given (e.g. murder makes you feel sad) or to the writer’s opinion (e.g. a particular political party is scary)?
  6. What’s missing from the article? Is there a source, witness or explanation that has obviously been ignored? Is the “why” unclear? Does the article fail to present the position of one or more parties involved in the story?
  7. Watch for buzzwords. These are vaguely-defined terms (“the homosexual agenda” or “the Christian agenda”) that are designed or tend to evoke an emotional reaction without giving you any real information. Investigate the article for undefined terms, especially when you come across a word that gives you a very strong feeling.
  8. Does the writer try to identify with you or label you (or others)?
    • Be wary if you find yourself being pulled into a particular group as you read the article. By asking you to identify with a group mentality (“regular guys,” “working class,” “concerned citizens,” “mothers,” “Christians,” “teens,” “intelligent people”), the writer may be expecting you to forget to think for yourself.
    • This can also be turned around to demonize a group. Something innocuous will have quotes around it so as to appear as something less than mainstream or even deviant. These type of quotes are called “scare quotes”. For example, look for terms like ‘these “volunteers” often work long hours’, or ‘people are “encouraged” to contact their friends’.
  9. Observe the placement of stories. The stories on the front page are considered to be more important than the stories in the back.[1]
  10. Consider how people are portrayed through pictures. A photo can make someone look good, bad, noble, sleazy, etc. Ask yourself the following questions: What impression does this photo imply about this person? Could a more objective photo have been used?

  11. Look for at least two sides to every story. A good reporter will allocate adequate space in the story to present facts and figures supporting all sides of an issue. Ask yourself if all sides of this argument or dispute would agree that their views were represented fairly? If not, the story may show bias. [2]

  12. If statistics are provided or studies are mentioned, dig a little deeper. Where did those statistics and studies come from? Who collected or conducted them? Who funded the research? The best articles will reveal this information.
  13. If headlines or charts tout “the worst/best/highest/lowest in X years, do some research. More data might show that if you go back 2 or 3 times “X” years ago, “X years ago” things really weren’t so good or bad as the headlines would lead you to believe.
  14. Learn to recognize press releases. Corporations and organizations regularly issue press releases to distribute their side of an issue or story to the media. Some media outlets reprint these releases as “news” without doing their homework or any investigative journalism. Press releases tend to follow a predictable formula of 1. Introductory paragraph 2.a single quote from a company executive or spokesperson 3. summary paragraph or “for more information” reference/link. Also common are “MAT” releases which are actually advertisements disguised as “soft” journalism and run by typically smaller-market newspapers. Look for bylines from “News USA,” “ARA” or “NAPS”- these are “fake” news.[3][4][5]

Tips

Remember that human mind has a tendency to over-generalize, and even common sense can sometimes have fallacy in it.

While evaluating possible bias in an article, it is also useful to evaluate your own motives and personal biases that may influence your reaction to the article. Do you appreciate information that supports your world view and resent information that calls your view into question?

It helps a lot if you know who owns the newspaper in question. for example, the washington times is owned by the reverend moon, the korean cult leader who claims god speaks through him.

Main stream newspapers are mostly credible in what they print but can lean one way or another. They do their homework as they can be sued for false statements.

note: this also applies (even more so) to bloggers who are not held to a journalistic code of ethics.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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