Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bias by omission

We hear the term "media bias" tossed around all the time, and it's pretty easy to spot these days, both on a local and national level.

But there's another kind of bias that the viewer doesn't see; it's called bias by omission. In other words, sitting on a story or conveniently omitting facts that pertain to it.

Several years ago (I was not the ND) one of our reporters uncovered some serious dirt on a politician. It would have likely ended the politician's campaign. But after a heated discussion in the morning meeting, the story went uncovered. Several staffers grumbled for days about sitting on the story, and many were convinced that had the politician belonged to the other political party, it would have been the lead story on our newscast.

That's just one way coverage gets slanted. You don't have to slam a candidate or a view; sometimes you can do serious damage by not reporting both sides of the story.

There are other subtle ways stories are slanted. It's so easy to take things out of context, select sound bites in a way that favors one candidate over another, run an unflattering OTS still frame of a candidate, or choose b-roll that tilts the story. It has the same effect as going on camera and slamming someone. More subtle, but the same results.

And if you do these things, you're as biased as those left wing or right wing screamers that seem to dominate our television these days.

So choose your bites carefully, make sure the video you pick presents both candidates in the same light, and don't leave out the good stuff.

People respect reporters who don't have an opinion. Tell what you know, not what you think, and you'll never have a problem.

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