In The Spotlight, Opinion

Inside the Indy: Implicit Bias in the Media

By Emily Hancock – Editor-in-Chief

The role of the news media, as veteran journalist Carl Bernstein notes, is to report the best attainable version of the truth: the facts, the figures, the five W’s and the H. But, as we all know, almost all media have some form of bias. Every news outlet has an angle, a particular tilted lens through which audiences can view the world.

Hand in hand with that is the reality that every person has their own bias and life experience which shapes their view of the world. It’s why humans, for better or for worse, are so distinct from each other. Those differences makes the world so wonderfully diverse.

Like all news media, The Indy has its biases. Every new reporter who walks through our door brings their own new thoughts and ideas, influencing how and what we report. As an institution, we try to remain as unbiased as possible, but some ideas are too deeply ingrained in us as individuals that we don’t even realize their magnitude.

The weekend of Sept. 29 The Indy’s Managing Editor Ieva Braciulyte, adviser Dee Anne Finken and I traveled to Oregon State University in Corvallis to attend the College Media Association’s Summit on Diversity and Inclusion. Over 100 journalists from colleges across the country attended the event, and keynote speakers from as far away as Washington D.C. spoke about race, gender, class, religion, privilege and other issues relating to diversity.

We learned about implicit bias in news coverage, developed some better techniques for covering conflict and collected other tools for engaging with diverse communities as we report.

While the news media should inform us about the reality of the world, we often fall short. This is because reporters all have their own bias, implicit and explicit, and both are sometimes strongly reflected in their work, whether intentional or not.

When you look at the demographics, it’s easy to understand why. Most newsrooms are comprised of mostly white people. According to the 2016 Associated Society of Newspaper Editors’ Diversity Survey, minorities only make up about 17 percent of the newsroom workforce, and women make up only about a third. The majority of working reporters and editors are white males, and this influences what and how news is reported. When an offensive headline or insensitive phrase is added to a story, sometimes a non-diverse newsroom staff won’t catch it because they don’t have the personal experience to understand its offensiveness. This is not an excuse, and does not waive their responsibility for their actions in any way. When the media screws up, whether they intend to be offensive or not, they hurt people. Intention does not equal perception. At The Indy, we aim to have integrity. We want to make things right, and from that presentation we learned the importance of apologizing for our mistakes, and doing so sincerely.

The Indy has evolved a lot over the past seven decades, and every year brings new challenges. Braciulyte and I are the first female duo to lead The Indy in about a decade, and it’s intimidating to break the glass ceiling. Granted, both of us are white, so we face far fewer obstacles than a woman of color in our place would have. This is how systems of oppression work: where you are privileged in one way, you may be disadvantaged in another. That’s why intersectionality is so important. Still, we are committed to bringing a greater understanding of issues like implicit bias and institutional oppression to our newsroom. We want to report the truth, with our eyes wide open to our limited perspectives.

The summit helped us further develop our understanding and motivated us to make our newsroom and publication as inclusive as we possibly can. Not inclusive as simply an adjective, but as a value. We will apply many of the lessons we learned at the summit and strive to better represent and report on the rich and varied student population at Clark.

I’ll leave you with a powerful quote from the conference, something that really stuck with me.

“If you’re talking about race and aren’t uncomfortable, you probably aren’t having the right conversation.”

Emily Hancock

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