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Objectivity and bias

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At least in the mainstream press in the United States, basic journalism tenets include balance, fairness and objectivity. The press is sometimes criticized as being biased. These terms can be difficult to pin down.

According to A Statement of Shared Purpose, by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists:

"When the concept of objectivity originally evolved, it did not imply that journalists are free of bias."
"Objectivity" refers not to the person, but to the method, the testing of information, to help prevent biases from undermining the work. For example, this is pursued by seeking multiple and opposing sources.

As of 2005, there is a growing school of thought within the industry that bias is not inherently bad, and that journalistic objectivity may deserve refinement. But this needs to understood in context.

For example, a common credo in journalism is to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." This can be acknowledged as a bias to provide a platform for the underdog and to provide a check on those with power.

Political bias, left or right, is a common charge of bias. Some people link corporate and concentrated ownership toward real or perceived bias toward big business. Others note that surveys indicate most journalists are on the left side of the political spectrum.

Both points suggest a cause of possible bias without showing whether such bias exists in the work. Also, journalists sometimes believe that if their work is criticized by both sides, the work is balanced.

One example of being criticized by both sides in the early 2000s concerns coverage about Israel and Palestinians.

But the amount of coverage on a given topic can also suggest bias. The attention given to Middle East conflicts can be compared with that given to conflicts in Africa, Latin America, and other parts of Asia.

Also, in the early 2000s, there has been some criticism concerning the real or perceived lack of challenge given to the administration of U.S. President Bush, especially about its response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The press has been criticized both by itself and others about this.

Slightly tangential, one flaw with criticism of the press in general is similar to criticizing many things in general. That is, the press is not a monolith.

Bias can manifest itself in subtle ways. For example, a white-collar bias may be suggested by use the phrase "at the office" to mean "at work" in general, or "graduates" to mean "college graduates."

But critics who associate all journalists with the elite may not realize that most journalists' pay is roughly comparable with teachers' pay.

External link: Wikipedia article on journalistic standards

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