A lot has changed over the course of making this documentary — our physical location, Rachel’s enthusiasm towards becoming a journalist, and the number of tripods we’ve broken (two) — just to name a few. One aspect that has remained constant, however, is interviewees’ desire to talk about bias in the news media. Most of the time, we don’t even have to ask.
Our interview with John Garrett, the founder of Community Impact Newspaper in Pflugerville, Texas, gave us a new perspective on this debate. We should note, Community Impact focuses on straightforward, hyper-local journalism. Garrett admitted that it’s much easier to appear unbiased in a piece about a local store opening than in an article about Russia, and explained that his outlet isn’t in the business of being an investigative watchdog.
When it came to the broader media landscape, however, Garrett was vocal about his beliefs. After asking about the public’s misconceptions of journalists’ biases, Garrett stated that there may not actually be a misconception.
I don’t think there is a misconception. I think there needs to be more honest dialogue about our world views. You know. And I think that there’s a trust between a reader and a journalist even when our world views disagree when there’s fairness applied to a news piece.
While many of the journalists we’ve spoken to have emphasized the importance of separating personal opinions from reported fact, Garrett challenged all journalists to be more honest about their biases. This idea goes against the widely held belief that mainstream reporters should go to great lengths to avoid appearing biased.
What I tell our reporters is I say like i have a world view and you have a world view. Let’s be honest about that, first.
What are the implications?
It almost feels like you’re being lied to. As a consumer of news, you’re being lied to when they’re not being honest about what perspective they’re coming from. I don’t think that Slate readers feel like they’re being lied to. The fake-ness that we see in some of those news segments, and print and digital and TV, that’s causing the conflict. Why can’t we just be a little more honest about our world view and present the news as facts to back up that world view, but also be open to other people’s world view?
When we spoke to Christina Cauterucci over at Slate, she affirmed Garrett’s belief that Slate readers know that they’re getting left-leaning coverage when they open up the site.
Garrett presents an interesting way to approach the problem, and we’re still trying to wrap our heads around how it could work in practice.
While writing this post, Rachel recounted a story in which she had read a column that she disagreed with, and later learned via Google that it was written by a writer with opposing political views. She expressed the desire to have known about the columnist’s viewpoint before reading the piece, and didn’t see why it would have hurt considering a column is supposed to be opinionated.
In response, Sammi asked, “Would you still have read the article if you knew it was coming from someone with an opposing point of view?”
Rachel: “Honestly, I don’t know.”
If publications decided to put disclosures underneath reporting bylines, the question remains if audiences would be able to remain unbiased in their reading.