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Lesson 1 : What is Media Bias?

Defining Media Bias:

So what is “Media Bias?”

Media bias is the bias that occurs when journalists or news producers allow their own opinions to influence the news they report and how they report it. Media bias allows reporters and media producers to alter events and stories to be in favor of specific groups or points of view. While this may sound blatant and easy to notice, bias in media is often subtle and can be difficult to detect. 

Types of Media Bias

Common Types of Media Bias:

Partisan Bias

Bias that occurs when one’s political views affect news coverage.  

These 2 screenshots were taken at the same time from different news sources. Notice how The Epoch Times (right) focuses on the wall’s completion, while ThinkProgress (left) focuses on how the wall is diverting funds away from schools and day cares. 

Demographic Bias

Bias that occurs when factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, culture, or economic class affect news coverage. 

Corporate Bias

Bias in which the business or advertising interests of a media outlet influence how a story is reported (or if the story is reported at all). 

Framing/Spin Bias

This type of bias occurs when reporters use vague or subjective language to portray their own subjective idea of what actually happened or frame a story in a certain light. By using certain language journalists can put a “spin” on a story and stray away from the hard facts. 

Is there evidence in Trump’s tweet that he is gloating or taking pleasure in the layoffs? How would the story change if the reporter used a different verb?

Sensationalism Bias

This occurs when information is presented in a way designed to shock or cause a strong reaction in the reader, often at the expense of accuracy. Sensationalist language is oven dramatic, vague, and hyperbolic. This is also known as “yellow journalism.”

“Big Story” Bias

Bias in which a reporter’s perceptions of an event or development as a major, significant story can cause them to miss certain key details and exaggerate or misrepresent facts. 

Neutrality/False Balance Bias

Although neutrality is generally a good thing in media, if a news outlet tries too hard to avoid appearing biased their coverage may actually misrepresent the facts. 

Media Bias Chart

This chart allows you to view the degree to which news sources are biased, the reliability of their information, and where they lie on the left-right political spectrum. Here you can also interact with the chart and enter your own sources to determine the quality of a specific media source. While this can be a good resource, it’s important to use this chart critically, and in general to not be afraid to question the media. Are there some sources on the chart that you think are inaccurately placed?  

Exercise

Pick two news sources/agencies, think about their reliability and rate them on the biases we’ve discussed. Then, determine where you would place this source on the media bias chart above, and compare to their actual placement on the chart for agreement/disagreement. 

Try to identify the specific language or strategies the media outlet is using to form these biases. Think critically- what are they trying to convince you of? Are they simply reporting facts or trying to tell their version of the story? 

How to Choose Your News

Whether it be promoting a specific political agenda, or exaggerating a story to attract attention, media outlets frequently have outside incentives beyond just reporting accurate news. This is why it’s important to be skeptical of the news you hear, and to also not limit yourself to one specific media outlet. People tend to have a preference toward consuming media that aligns with their preconceived views. This is known as confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs. To learn more about this specific type of bias, check out this video. We’ll take more about cognitive biases, how they affect our consumption of media, and how we can train our brains to avoid them in a later module. 

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