Friday, April 7, 2017

Is it bias? Or opinion?

I had an interesting back and forth with a reader on Facebook yesterday.

As opposed to most of the nasty back and forth that stands for reasonable discussion on social media, this one was fairly civil.

A reader posted a comment on one of my blog posts linking back to this blog in which I said I expected to get some negative feedback from loyal Catholic readers because the paper was featuring another negative article about the church, this time dealing with the rector at Villa St. Joseph in Darby, who was indicted by the feds for allegedly stealing more than half a million dollars from the facility.

I noted how many readers accused the newspaper - and this editor - of having a 'bias' against the church.

The person who posted on my Facebook page said he was somewhat surprised by that, since the paper had endorsed a 'bias' on the part of its writers.

As proof he pointed to the editor's note that had appeared on a Sound Off item the day before, responding to a post complaining about a columnist Jodine Mayberry's point of view, suggesting she held a bias in her writing. Our editor's note indicated that columnists are supposed to have a 'bias.'

The writer clearly took this proof that the paper in general was biased.

I responded, of course, that this meant nothing of the sort.

It is one of the crucial functions of being a columnist. They are in face supposed to be biased, not in any negative way, but biased in favor of making the argument of their convictions.

It again stressed to me that many people don't understand all the machinations of the newspaper, and the clear difference between opinion and column writing and straight news writing.

Here is how I responded. I hope this might clear up any misconception others might have along the same lines:

"You missed the point of that note. That was for columnists. That is their job, to present opinion. It's not the ONLY opinion, or the CORRECT opinion, it's only THEIR opinion. There's a big different in a column - opinion writing - which is naturally biased toward the writer's point of view - as opposed to news writing. I want columnists with strong opinions. But we certainly do not promote a bias in news stories." The reader suggested maybe I was twisting the meaning of the word bias, that he had looked it up and suggested we were wrong to use that word.

Again I replied:

"There are many definitions of bias. I did look it up, and in this instance it means an inherent leaning in one direction. That would of course be the columnist's opinion. In this instance it's merely an indication of having an opinion, a rudimentary requirement of a columnist. It comes down to this: They have to have something to say. That means that they are often biased toward their point of view. It means they lean in the direction of their opinion. Don't twist yourself into a pretzel thinking you've caught us admitting out news columns contain a bias. They don't. But our columnists often do. They are biased - they have a prejudice toward their own opinion. You're really thinking too deeply about this. It's not a liberal or conservative thing. It's a columnist thing. They are opinion pieces, and their biases are on full display."

I have to constantly be on guard that we do not let any inherent bias creep into our news reporting.

But I will continue to do just the opposite when it comes to presenting points of view.

That's the whole point. It's not a bias. It is opinion.

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