How to Detect Bias in the News

Every news story is influenced by the attitudes and background of its interviewers, writers, photographers and editors. Most bias in news stories is not deliberate, but media literate readers are tuned in to the following factors that allow bias to "creep in" to the news:

  1. Bias through selection and omission. An editor can express a bias by choosing whether or not to use a specific news item. Within a given story, some details can be ignored, others included to give readers or viewers a different opinion about the events reported. Only by comparing news reports from a wide variety of outlets can this type of bias be observed.

  2. Bias through placement. Where a story is placed influences what a reader or viewer thinks about its importance. Readers of papers judge first page stories to be more significant than those buried in the back. Similarly, television and radio newscasts run stories that draw ratings first and leave the less significant for later.

  3. Bias by headline. As the most-read part of a newspaper, headlines can convey excitement where little exists. They can express approval or condemnation. They can present carefully hidden bias and prejudices.

  4. Bias by photos, captions and camera angles. Pictures can flatter a person or make them look unpleasant or silly. Which photos a newspaper chooses to run can heavily influence the public's perception of a person or event. On television the choice of visual images is often more important still. Captions and the narration of a TV anchor or reporter are also potential sources of bias.

  5. Bias through use of names and titles. In many places around the world, one person's "terrorist" is another person's "freedom fighter."

  6. Bias by choice of words. The use of positive or negative words with a particular connotation can strongly influence the reader or writer.

Find out more about the Center for Media Literacy


Reprinted, with permission, from The Center for Media Literacy, 4727 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 403, Los Angeles, California 90010; 800-226-9494 or 213-933-4147; Fax: 1-213-559-4417. The Center is a clearinghouse for media literacy information, books and videos, and publishes the quarterly Connect newsletter, media literary workshop kits and multi-media programs.




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August 1, 1995