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Media Bias

Tim Harford with a thoughtful article in the FT:

They found something fascinating: the biases of newspapers closely reflected those of their potential readership, neither pushing to the extremes nor pulling to the centre. The identity of a newspaper’s owner, in contrast, explained very little of the paper’s content. This is exactly what one would expect from a newspaper which cared more about profitability than election results.

This is not to say that newspapers have no influence on readers. It’s just that the influence runs both ways. Readers of The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph are offered news which reinforces the way they look at the world, but such newspapers are careful to listen to their readers, too. Commercial survival depends on it.

Having moonlighted for the BBC during the election, I’ve witnessed its serious-minded attempts to be impartial. It’s not easy, but political neutrality is admirable and, as a journalist, rather addictive. But in a world full of left- and right-leaning customers, perhaps impartiality is a luxury a commercial newspaper can ill-afford.

I think journalistic bias exists. Often journalists determine the angle of what they are going to say and then find supporting information ignoring disconforming evidence. In an older post, we said:

“the reporters’ questions weren’t geared toward getting a better understanding of those points. They were narrowly focused on one or two aspects of the story… I also realized that the questions that might have uncovered those pieces weren’t being asked because the reporters already had a story angle in their heads and were focused only on getting the necessary data points to flesh out and back up what they already thought was the story. …”