Bias versus credibility: Express yourself with care Print E-mail
Thursday, 09 February 2017
By Matt Decker
Assistant editor
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

We reporter types often talk about the dangers of bias, or having opinions that can seep into our work.

Years ago, journalists — print journalists, at least — were supposed to be ever watchful for bias.

Like an investigator with the Centers for Disease Control standing vigil against a potential outbreak, reporters were supposed to guard against bias, carefully weighing the information they had for particular stories, making sure they were free of their own prejudices.
Image
Decker

 And, if there was an obvious, unavoidable bias from one source within a story, you were instructed to find another source to offer a counterbalance. (Editors were on the lookout for pesky biases, too.)

 Bias was bad because it ate up the one thing each reporter and his or her readers could count on: credibility.

 Of course, times have changed. Today, bias is downright popular in some newsrooms, and can be seen almost everywhere in the news — at least at the national level, where the line between reporting and opinion has become extremely blurry.

 Credibility? It seems the big news outlets don’t prize that so much these days, although many smaller ones still do.

 Coincidentally, trust in mass media is at an all-time low, according to Gallup (if you can believe the polls).

 Whether you’re a reporter or not, you have a bias. Whether we realize it or not, our opinions can — and often do — affect what we say and do at home, online, at church or at work, all of which can affect our credibility.

 It’s never been easier to express one’s bias. A few clicks on a keyboard or taps on a screen deliver what had been a personal inner conviction, a deeply held political stance, a witty jab or a lengthy, all-caps venting session for all the world to see.

 Or, if you don’t want the world to see it right away, you can send your opinions out to your own personal echo chamber — a list of folks on social media who share your biases (or say they do).

 The nice part about this post-modern convenience is that your echo-chamber friends are more likely to give you “likes” and pats on the back for thinking the “correct” way — especially, it seems, if you’ve spent time and effort admonishing others who think the “wrong” way.

 Of course, the downside is, anyone can copy, paste and share, so you do run a pretty good risk of your echo-chamber message getting out to your non-echo-chamber friends and Family members — and losing credibility with them.

 All this hasn’t ebbed the expression of bias for most of us. In fact, it seems like more people feel more free to share more opinions, not only online but also live and in person, on just about any subject, especially those that you were never supposed to talk about in polite company — namely religion and politics.

 If you’ve been on social media during the past — well, since social media has been a thing, really — you know exactly what I’m talking about.

 This isn’t all bad. Freedom of expression is something many (but not all) of our founding fathers prized.

 The First Amendment still ranks among the most popular of our country’s constitutional freedoms.

 It’s something generations of service members have fought for and continue to defend, even though they themselves must abide by restrictions on political speech and activity (see “Guidance on Political Activity and DoD Support 2016” online at www.dod.mil for the particulars).

 It’s safe to say that, in the course of human history, the extremely wide latitude the First Amendment offers its citizens is a rare thing to be treasured — most of the time.

 Like anything else, speech can be abused, and just because you have the right to express something doesn’t automatically make it a good idea to do so.

 I’m not saying you shouldn’t say what you want to say. Just think before you say it, and remember your bias comes with a cost.

 What’s your credibility worth?