Last week, I was on the radio.
This actually happens fairly often, but this time, I was part of a panel discussion about the state of journalism in the north.
If you missed it, you can find it archived at www.cbc.ca/daybreaknorth/. But you don’t have to listen to it to read this editorial.
But you can if you want to. No, really. I’ll wait. Go on. It was a good conversation.
Done? Good. It was completely irrelevant to what I’m about to say. But I told you that already. Don’t get annoyed.
After the piece aired, I got into a discussion on Twitter (or as we like to call it “not Facebook”). The conversation started from the comment “if journalists actually reported news fairly it would be more relevant and trusted. Too much bias.”
Which got into a whole long discussion about what the word bias means, truthful reporting and sound bite reporting.
And that got me considering, once again, my own biases.
So, before we get lost in hilarious misunderstandings of what we mean, I want to point out that I’m using the word bias in the sense of a filter bias: a way of looking at the world. I am a 46 year old white male living in Northern BC who speaks English and loves Star Wars. I see the world differently than a gay Asian woman who lives in Zhangye, peaks five different dialects, and has never seen Star Wars.
Our experiences shape our perception and our perception shapes our world view. We can’t get away from who we are, but we can be objective but what does it mean to be objective, anyway?
The idea of objectivity began, writes Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in the Elements of Journalism, grew out of the recognition that journalists were full of biases, many of them unconsciously. Objectivity “called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work,” says the American Press Institute.
While people are not objective, the method can be.
Here’s the thing. It is possible to write a completely biased piece using an objective methodology.
Indeed, there are many biases that show up in papers in general, and this one in particular. For instance, location bias. Have you noticed a lack of stories about Prince George and Vancouver in the paper? That’s because our mission is to not report all news all the time, but to tell you about things that affect Tumbler Ridge. This can include things like Site C, but our focus is on Tumbler.
Second, we have a bias towards community. We are a community newspaper, in order of priority. We are here for the community and as part of the community first and foremost. News is second. Only last are we a paper. That is the form we take right now. Many people don’t read us in dead tree, but read this online. That’s okay.
Third, we are biased by omission. We can’t run every story that happens in Tumbler Ridge. Frequently, the more challenging stories go untouched because we don’t have enough time to treat them with the respect they’re due, or principals in the story just won’t talk to us.
So yes, what you read in the paper? Is biased. It’s biased towards building up community, rather than tearing it down. It’s biased towards Tumbler Ridge and the people who live here. Knowing the filters through which I view the world, you can now take and judge the content of the paper accordingly.
Errata: In the February 4 paper, the Food Bank ran a thank you ad. In it, they included “the TRSS Union.” We got a note from the Chair of Local 710, saying they’re called “the BCGEU Cross Component Committee”. The BCGEU members in Tumbler Ridge include support staff at the schools and NLC, CRS, SPICERs, BCLCB and LCU.