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Evaluating Popular Non-fiction and News: Is this source reliable? Bias


Bias in editorial and sponsored content is often obvious - the authors of the pieces in question are making subjective arguments. However, it can be harder to grapple with bias in news articles. Most western journalists strive for neutrality and objectivity in their news reporting. Even so, news publications do not have infinite space and time with which to report on all possible facts or events, so they must exercise judgment about which are relevant and important. This judgment can create several kinds of bias, and you should be attuned to each when you are evaluating news. 

  • Ideological bias
    • Some publications are aligned with a particular political movement or ideology. Often this bias is most evident in the types of arguments made in opinion sections. However, it can also inflect decisions in the news section as well. Check the Media Bias Chart to learn about the overall ideological bent of a particular news organization. 
  • Issue bias
    • Biases in which kinds of social issues or events are considered more or less newsworthy, for example, a particular focus on certain kinds of crime or against allegations of sexual harassment. 
  • Framing bias
    • Biases in how certain issues are covered or in the language used to describe those issues. For example, consistently covering harms caused by immigrants but not their contributions to society, or using loaded terms like "illegal alien." 
  • Source bias
    • Covering stories differently depending on who the main actors are. For example, being more willing to cover or quote government officials than activists or protestors, or being more willing to quote skeptics of gender affirming healthcare than medical experts or members of the transgender community. 
  • Visibility bias
    • Bias in how prominently issues, sources, and frames are displayed. For example, content placed on a news website homepage, promoted widely through ads, included in primetime coverage, at the beginning of a program, or discussed in the first paragraph of an article will be more visible. Sometimes source bias and visibility bias can work together - even if multiple sources are interviewed, some sources may get more prominent placement in the article than others. 

Learn more about bias in media from Chapter 18, "Truth, Bias, and Neutrality," from the International Journalism Handbook by Rodrigo Zamith and in News Literacy and Democracy, by Seth Ashley. The Routledge Handbook of Mass Media Ethics provides an excellent introduction to how journalists have traditionally approached objectivity and neutrality. The FAIR Media Literacy Guide has a list of questions that can help you identify bias.