Newsroom Diversity Should Include Ideology
UPDATED with Sunday column correction at bottom.
It’s hardly news that Republicans view traditional media as partial. That came through again in the recently released Pew Research Center national survey, which showed that 60 percent of respondents said news organizations are biased.
But a revealing element in the survey is that Democrats increasingly hold the same view. Several years ago, 54 percent of those Democrats surveyed by Pew said that the press tended to be biased. In the most recent survey, that percentage among Democrats jumped to 67.
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism says there are several reasons for the shift. “One is Democrats rooting for Obama and not wanting him to be criticized in the press,” he said. “The other is this anxiety among Democrats and liberals that conservative media is having more of an impact.”
I thought of that while going through reader e-mails reacting to my Sunday column that urged The Post to not ignore conservative media. A number of self-described liberals inaccurately said the column was urging The Post’s editors and reporters to buy into the agenda of conservative media. To the contrary, the column said: “The Post should follow its own news standards, not theirs. But it should pay attention to what they report.”
Jerry Ceppos, the respected former vice president for news of the late Knight Ridder newspaper group, addressed the bias question this past Sunday. Writing in the San Jose Mercury News, where he once served as executive editor, Ceppos called for newsrooms to do a better job of understanding the claims of bias, especially from conservatives.
“In fact, most of us haven’t even asked conservative critics exactly what bothers them,” wrote Ceppos, now dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada. “Do we even know what readers mean by ‘bias’? Are they talking about headlines? Or the decisions we make about what to cover and what to ignore? Or whether we use loaded words”?
Surveys of newspaper newsrooms consistently have shown that they are more liberal than the population and that more reporters and editors identify themselves as liberal than conservative.
Journalism professor David H. Weaver, who is part of an Indiana University team that has done authoritative research in this area, wrote several years ago that newspapers have tended to attract “social reformers” who tend to be liberal.
Former Miami Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler seemed to agree with that theory in an e-mail to me last week. He said that newspaper newsrooms were slow to investigate ACORN, the embattled national community action group relentlessly attacked by conservatives and conservative media, “because we see them as working for the betterment of a relatively powerless community, a role that we also embrace ourselves.”
“Clearly this runs counter to the news media’s promise of pursuing the news without favor and reflects a somewhat patronizing attitude toward poorer communities that community organizations serve,” said Fielder, now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication.
News organizations, once led exclusively by white men, long ago embraced gender and race diversity. It was a matter of equality, of course. But it also was a matter of accuracy. With diversity, newsrooms became more attuned to the perspectives of women and the multicultural dimensions of the communities they served.
It’s the same with ideology. News organizations like The Post are more accurate when they are exposed to the range of perspectives among their readers, both print and online.
SUNDAY COLUMN CORRECTION: My Sunday column included a reference to the controversy surrounding White House environmental adviser Van Jones, noting that "Conservatives had attacked Jones for more than a week before the first Post story appeared Sept. 5. He resigned the next day."
That was correct for the newspaper, but failed to note that staffer Garance Franke-Ruta had a piece on The Post's "44" blog early the previous afternoon that began: "White House press secretary Robert Gibbs offered few signs of support at his daily briefing" for Jones. The item was updated several times and formed the foundation for the story in the next morning's newspaper. My apologies.
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