Biased news, fake news or not-news?
The Bulletin received a note from an unidentified reader last week, claiming we publish “biased news”. This, wrote the reader, is as bad as fake news. This reader didn’t identify our “biased” reporting, nor did he/she leave identification so we could follow up. We looked through the last few editions and it’s difficult to pinpoint anything biased – most of our articles are reports on community events, local people, and city happenings.
One possibility might be the common error of mixing up opinion pieces with news articles. Not everything in a newspaper is news. Columns, signed by the writer, and the editorials are opinion pieces, reflecting the views of the writer, not necessarily the newspaper’s. Their purpose is to draw attention to questions of the day. Letters to the editor are also opinion pieces, from our readers. Obviously, we don’t agree with some of the views published in Letters, but that’s their purpose, to give our community a voice in a widely-read forum (25,000 households).
Other articles – those tied to special sections or promotions – are also not news, but advice from experts in the field under consideration – home renos, spring auto preparations, travel plans, etc. Ads, of course, are not news articles, and some do imply opinions, sometimes public notices or classified ads. All to say, it is difficult to correct a mistake if we don’t know what it is. Readers ought not fear identifying themselves – we protect identities (this isn’t Facebook!) – and the Bulletin has few partisan campaigns to promote.
Part of journalism’s genuine difference from blogs or social media is that we seek out as many viewpoints as can be helpful, and protect our sources, both the people we contact and those who contact us. Letters do have names attached, as they should, but never contact info, which could lead to the nastiness one finds on social media.
Back to the anonymous complaint: there is one issue which might be open to this accusation and that is our coverage of the radioactive dump proposed upstream along the Ottawa River (at Chalk River). We have editorialized on this subject, clearly promoting the Precautionary Principle (“if it’s dangerous, we have to be cautious”), but our news stories are as objective as our resources allow. It is easy to slip into exaggerations and fear-mongering on subjects like this, and our editors and proofreaders are on high alert. Again, unlike social media news.
However, as as editorial-writer, I admit being stunned by folks who see no problem with the radioactive dump plan. Few of us, I assume, have stocks in the nuclear industry, and there are so few jobs connected to this project (none within commuting distance), that I can’t understand a laissez-faire attitude, unless it’s politics, and even then this seems a no-brainer for all sides. Most of us have offspring, and who wants to leave that time-bomb for them?
We’d appreciate hearing your feedback on bias – or Chalk River.