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ENG 121 & 122 Course Playbook

Supplementary materials for English 121 and English 122, Introduction to Journalism I & II.

Bias Defined

"When assumptions or opinions favoring one side (or interpretation) of an issue or event skew news reporting in a way that is unfair or distorting." 

From The Word Wall

Readings -- Bias Defined

News vs Opinion

News

Opinion

The writer reports the news. People’s opinions may appear as part of that reporting (“According to Mr. Smith…”), but the writer does not explicitly present his/her own views.

The writer shares his or her own views and explicitly seeks to persuade readers to adopt those views as their own.

Adapted from Writing Commons (Links to an external site.) which uses a Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Types of Bias

According to the News Literacy Project, news bias is usually "incidental and debatable rather than intentional and overt," meaning news organizations are trying NOT to be biased in their news reporting. (This rule does not apply to opinion or commentary pieces which, quite intentionally, present a point of view.) Sometimes bias happens, but most reputable journalists and news organizations attempt to be accurate and fair.

Below are common types of bias in news reporting.
Type of Bias Definition
Partisan When news coverage unfairly favors one political party, viewpoint, or group.
Demographic When the demographic of the news organization and journalists affect how they present or write an article. Can be present when the newsroom staff is not diverse.
Corporate When the parent company or owner affect the presentation of news stories.
Neutrality Also known as "false balance" or "both sides." When something is demonstrably known (like climate change), but the news article attempts a neutral stance.
Big Story When journalists lean in (focus too much) on big stories.
Visual Including visuals will draw the reader's attention.  Do images presented evoke specific responses?  Do they prejudice the reader to view the news one way?

These types of bias are usually presented by the following forms.

Form of Bias Definition
Absence of fairness and balance The failure of a straight news report to present a fair and balanced representation of the event or issue. 
Framing The way that journalists approach and organize a story. Various types of news media bias can be expressed in how a story is framed.
Story selection The process that news outlets use to decide which issues and events to cover. 
Tone In journalism, the use of words and phrases that affect the audience's perception of the issue or event being covered.
Sourcing All of the people, organizations, documents and other providers of information that are used to put together a news report, the use of incomplete or otherwise flawed sourcing.

Read more about the types of bias here on the Student News Daily.

Reader Bias

When you read a news story, you as the reader apply your own set of biases, and understanding those biases is important because it can color how you consume media. Let's take a look at two types of reader bias: implicit bias and confirmation bias.

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias "refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner" (The Kirwan Institute for the Student of Race and Ethnicity, The Ohio State University). Implicit bias is tricky because it is subconscious! You can profess to believe one thing, but in actuality you do, say, or gravitate toward something else.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is "the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses and minimizes evidence to the contrary" (Boundless.com). Sometimes people will only search for information that agrees with them, defends their beliefs, or affirms their preconceived notions; that is confirmation bias. This is a easy bias to fall prey to while researching for academic papers. Remember, don't just seek out information that agrees with you! You will need to find information that disagrees with you, too. Think of it this way, how can you argue for something if you don't know what the detractors are saying?

Evaluating Bias Examples

Find Out Who's on the Ballot

What's the Source?

In order to present unbiased information, you need to use objective and factual sources. Stick with authoritative, non-partisan sources like the ones below.  You may also obtain information from the candidate's website, but stick to facts -- a candidate's website is always partisan and biased.

Language and Design Matter

The purpose of a voter election guide is to provide factual information; it must be devoid of any bias or commentary.

  • Stick with facts: use statistics if available.
  • Do not let your own political leanings influence how you write.
  • Do not allow yourself to interpret, judge, or comment on a candidate or issue.
  • Use simple, concise sentences. Explain everything in a way that all reading levels can understand.
  • Avoid "weasel words," that is, words that are intentionally loaded, ambiguous, or misleading.
  • Make sure each candidate gets the same amount of actual space on the guide.
  • Use the same font for each candidate.
  • Use color responsibly.
  • Icons should be universally understood and added only when necessary. (This is a good site for icons: http://electiontools.org/tool/elections-images-library/)
  • Think about ADA compliance.

Designing a Voter Election Guide

Here are some links for your reference. Find information on language, layout, and visuals. Enjoy!