Detecting Bias in the News

News stories are influenced by the attitudes and backgrounds of interviewers, writers, photographers, anchors, producers, and editors. Most bias in news stories is not on purpose, but you should be tuned in to the following ways that bias can creep in to the news:
  1. Bias through selection and omission: An editor can express bias by choosing whether or not to use a specific news story. Within a story, some details can be ignored, others can be included to give readers or viewers a different opinion about the events reported. Only by comparing news reports from a wide variety of sources can this type of bias be observed.
    For example, if people boo during one of President Clinton's speeches, the booing can be described as "remarks greeted by jeers" or the boos can be ignored as "a handful of people who disagree".

  2. Bias through placement: Where a story is placed influences what a person thinks about its importance. Stories on the front page of the newspaper are thought to be more important than stories buried in the back. Television and radio newscasts run stories that draw ratings first and leave the less appealing for later.

  3. Bias by headline: Headlines are the must-read part of a newspaper because they are often printed in large and bold fonts. Headlines can be misleading: conveying excitement when the story is not exciting; expressing approval or disapproval.

  4. Bias by photos, captions, and camera angles: Pictures can make a person look good, bad, sick, silly, etc. Which photos a newspaper chooses to run can heavily influence the public's perception of a person or event. On TV, images, captions, and narration of a TV anchor or reporter can be sources of bias.

  5. Bias through use of names and titles: News media often use labels and titles to describe people, places, and events. In many places around the world, one person's friend is another person's enemy.
    For example, a person can be called an "ex-con" or be referred to as someone who
    "served time twenty years ago for a minor offense."

  6. Bias by choice of words: People can be influenced by the use of positive or negative words with a certain connotation. People can also be influenced by the tone that a newscaster uses when saying certain words.
    This example appeared in TIME magazine, August 14, 2000, page 37:
    House Speaker Denny Hastert led 35 donors last Monday on a predawn
    flyfishing excursion in Valley Forge, Pa. Each donor got a personal guide
    from the local Trout Unlimited. Minimum dontation: $5,000; number of fish caught: 1.

For more information visit InterMedia's How to Detect Bias in the News

Created 7 August 2000 Last Updated 15 March 2002