Readers, Writers, Texts

Journalism and Bias

“The basic definition of news as factual information that its viewers need in order to participate in society is only half the story.” 

Fiske, 1987

Many people might think that the news provides a window into the world, allowing you to understand what is going on everywhere, all the time. But it only takes a moment’s thought into the practical aspects of delivering the news to know that this is patently impossible. Televised news is often segmented into a slot of 30 minutes or one hour. Newspapers are bound by notions of weight and size and only have so many ‘column inches’ to fill. Even 24 hour news sites are limited by their visual or audio interfaces and only provide a selection of the ‘happenings’ in the world. Furthermore, there are commercial considerations: many media providers use the news to build an audience for the programmes that follow and to sell lucrative advertising space in the ‘prime time’ early evening TV schedules. Finally, companies producing the news do so for a particular society, and the news tends to reflect social norms and values. Therefore, you might say that the news presents a certain version of reality, rather than reality itself.

In this section you will learn some underlying theories of the news (whether print, online or televised) which will teach you to be critical about the information you receive via news media and ‘official’ outlets like mainstream newspapers, BBC, Sky or Fox news. You will learn key concepts such as newsworthiness, inherent bias and how the news is ‘narrativized’ – turned into stories. 

Begin your study with an inquiry into ‘bias’ in the news by watching Outfoxed (above) and reading some of the following materials: 

Class Activity: One-Minute World News

Visit this broadcast, commissioned by the BBC and released once per day, which summarises the news from around the world. The BBC is a British-based broadcasting corporation with a reputation for impartiality and objectivity. Despite this, according to the theories you have read about, the news they choose to broadcast should still be inherently biased in some way. Watch the video summary, check what content is in the ‘Top Video’ section, and look at the headlines. You might even like to skim a couple of the main stories. Which biases – if any – can you detect in today’s feed?

Learner Portfolio

Is it possible to be completely unbiased? What does it mean that the news presents a ‘version of reality, rather than reality itself’? Like stories, the news contains narrative elements. What are these biases and elements? Write up your learning from this section in a one-two page journal entry.

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