The Media’s Real Bias

While some media is biased along the liberal-conservative spectrum, it’s usually pretty easy to tell which publication has what bias and then account for that in your reading. The more problematic biases are the three that tend to afflict all media:

  1. Sources – Because being well-sourced is a key job requirement for a journalist, they tend to be reluctant to report in ways that might limit their future access to sources.
  2. Advertisers – The people who pay the bills always have some amount of say.
  3. Dynamics – Things that don’t change much, or change slowly, like poverty and climate change, are under-reported in favor of more dynamically changing and new subjects.

Mike Allen writes Politico’s Playbook, the most widely read daily news summary in DC. The Washington Post has a detailed look at how Allen has combined his sources and his advertisers by writing friendly pieces about the organizations that also pay for advertisements. It’s a good detailed story, but the key point almost gets lost in the barrage of evidence. Allen is not a corrupt journalist. He’s someone who’s worked for years to develop key sources and writes for an outlet that depends on online advertising to survive (and space in Playbook commands a very hefty pricetag, $35,000 per week). These are simply the biases that are built into the system, and I don’t see any quick solutions. So keep these biases in mind when you’re perusing the news media, because they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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