Sunday, October 23, 2011


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Brooke Gladstone
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The media have biases, alright, just not the left-right ones we may think of. So says Brook Gladstone, co-host of NPR's "On the Media," in her smart new-ish book, "The Influencing Machine." Here's a, um, comic book -- illustrations by Josh Neufeld -- that entertainingly and incisively analyzes all things news media. Among the many nuggets in the book are the biases the author thinks we should worry about. 

"Commercial bias," the biggest bias of them all, is simply that the news must be new, which is why "news outlets rarely follow up on stories they've already reported." "Bad news bias" tilts the news -- and news consumers -- towards anything that threatens us. "Status quo bias" is our preference that things remain the same. "Access bias" means that journalists and readers may compromise the transparency of the news in order to get access to powerful people as story sources. "Visual bias" holds that stories with a visual hook are more likely to get noticed. The "fairness bias" has reporters present opposing viewpoints, even when they're not equal or equally valid, such as by presenting a "world is flat" proponent against someone of the view that the "world is round" -- even though one of them is clearly right. 

I've saved the best for last: "Narrative bias." Gladstone says, "My favorite bias. Who doesn't love a good story? But stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. Some news stories, science stories for instance, never end. They're all middle. It's a narrative nightmare. Try to fix the problem by tacking on a provisional ending, and the reports appear more conclusive than they really are."


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