Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Coverage Bias: Does Awareness Mean Action?

By Sarah Lorenzo

Media bias is a strange sort of thing. Logically, if media treat a candidate as a joke, that candidate  should suffer in public perception. Instead, New York Times commentator Nicholas Kristof scolded journalists for the media's failure to treat Trump seriously may be a key catalyst for painting Trump with a rosy hue, while USA Today writer Roger Yu explored whether the media hold Clinton to a higher standard. Will their warnings and those of many others inspire a change in the tone of coverage? And if so, would such a change be ethical?
Trump's complaint is one of many from both campaigns.

his election. The past week has been flooded with media accounts noting just that.

Journalism has long departed from the standard style of AP news wire reports, and the seemingly endless diversity of online options seems to beg journalists to write content that captures audience attentions. Yet it is incredibly easy to write intriguing content that goes against the basic and critical role of the news as an information source. The NPR politics podcast has provided an interesting blend of measured commentary. During the past few weeks, the podcasts' "weekly roundups" have judiciously granted rather even attention to Clinton and Trump alike, yet it is easy to sense that the NPR journalists often have rather negative views of Trump's actions. Still, Trump headlines each podcast, and not because his name comes first alphabetically.

Perhaps the decisions to put Trump first are made with readers' interest in mind, and thus returns the age-old debate about journalistic news values: Should reporters prioritize the news they think the audience should see it or the news as the audience wants to see? Removing bias from articles or content any more engaging than an AP news wire summary is challenging, yet it seems as though this elections' coverage — particularly due to the popularity of commentary and analysis rather than straight-forward reports — has been biased beyond what can be reasonably excused.

The bias is not always explicit. Sometimes, particularly on the radio and on TV, the coverage is intoned by broadcasters. Yet, as Susan Milligan noted for US News, the mere topics that journalists choose to focus on may be evidence of bias or of the many so-called "double standards" set against both the Clinton and Trump campaigns. While Clinton is often associated with email scandals and public distaste, Trump is often connected to his forceful delivery of promises, despite his lack of detailed policy proposals to back them up.

The news of these biases has been front and center throughout the campaign season as each campaign complains about the unequal treatment they are given compared to their opponent. But in the past week, journalists have joined in the call for an end to bias. Will the reporters' recognition of their bias lead to action or change? When reviewing NPR's coverage it was difficult to discern a change. But the coming weeks will be telling: will media have the nerve to abandon clicks-based article premises in favor of hard-hitting policy expositions and a devout focus on potential consequences of each candidate's presidency as per their campaign proposals?

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