On a recent trip to New York, one news editor took issue with the idea that even "good journalism" should get a bias rating.
I get his point. The idea of journalistic integrity is to report without bias, to report facts and balance the coverage. That is what they teach in journalism school, and many journalists do a fantastic job at this.
AllSides believes in the need for high quality journalism and seeks to help journalists and their readers. But we also think journalism today has fallen short of the ideal. Recently there have been some big moves in the news industry (Al Jazeera America's launch and Jeff Bezo's purchase of The Washington Post) that highlight the need for change.
There are three ways bias creeps in, even with professionals practicing a high degree of journalistic integrity:
1) Even if you just report the facts, there can be bias in your choice of which facts you report.
2) Even if a particular story is balanced, there can be bias in which stories are reported, and which stories are buried or ignored.
3) Everyone is biased, and that has an impact even on the best intentioned, most professional people.
Just the facts, ma'am?
You don’t need detective Joe Friday of Dragnet to discover that two stories on the same event can be completely different while factually accurate.
When preparing to start AllSides, I listened to both Fox and MSNBC on the radio every day during my commute. I was struck by the differences in their coverage of the Occupy movement. One day, MSNBC reported that an older woman staying in a tent at Occupy in New York was rushed and pushed by security, and how potentially dangerous that was. That same day, Fox reported on other people at Occupy in New York who were urinating on the sidewalk and leaving garbage everywhere. Fox reported that some people were drunk and couldn't even explain why they were there.
Both accounts may have been factually correct, though you'd have very different perceptions of the Occupy movement if you heard only one of them.
The bias in this coverage is obvious, but only to someone who was exposed to both points of view. Otherwise, if you are only exposed to one set of facts, you would think you might have a balanced point of view but actually be in the dark.
Solution: diversity and feedback
If you are a news writer or publisher, you need quality, diversified information. You can't rely on the information given to you or even open forums - both are frequently hijacked by group-think or people with their own agenda. You may only be seeing a part of the picture - particularly nowadays when reporters have so little time to devote to each story.
You also need a reliable feedback mechanism to continuously improve balance. Historically, there has not been good way to do this. Though helpful, you can't rely on feedback from your peers (subject to confirmation bias), and even your own judgement is suspect (subject to bias blindspot).
AllSides: a tool for journalists
AllSides is a free and easy resource journalists can use to get different perspectives on the same events and issues.
It also offers verifiably-balanced feedback that represents the diversity of America. Our statistical process rates the bias of sources in an open and balanced way. As a result, the AllSides Bias Rating represents the average judgment of America. This gives news providers valid information they can take into account as they continue to strive for balance.
We all know that the news media has lost credibility, and that a strong democracy requires a strong press. AllSides intends to help the news media regain credibility, achieve the highest journalist standards, and become stronger than ever.