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Where does the bias lie? In the news source or is it in your head?

News Literacy is a concept that is near and dear to my heart. That’s a big surprise to you, I’m sure.

I’ve written about it before because it’s a topic that is rife with misinformation and misunderstanding. People have a lot of misperceptions of the news they consume and that’s not a new thing.

Everybody has an opinion about the information that they encounter. A strong opinion. Responses to news are usually visceral, words to the effect of, “Oh, that’s a buncha bullsh**” or some equally torrid phrase. We seem to feel that whatever we read should line up with our personal view of the world. And our society has lost the willingness to be tolerant of different points of view.

People don’t want to challenge their world view, either, they want confirmation of that view and anything that doesn’t provide that confirmation is wrong. Fake news. Biased.

But what is bias? Do you really know? Is the article biased or are you?

This is such a widespread issue that there’s an organization based in the U.S. that’s trying to educate people around bias in news and how to assess it. But not just how to recognize it, quite the contrary, how to determine if it really even exists. The News Literacy Project (NLP) is a “nonpartisan education nonprofit building a national movement to create a more news-literate America.” And given that many of the news traditions in Canada are similar to the U.S., the material is relevant north of the Canada-U.S. border. Visit their website at

The group defines news literacy as “the ability to determine the credibility of news and other information and to recognize the standards of fact-based journalism to know what to trust, share and act on.”

They produce a lot of resource material informing the reading public about issues around bias and related issues. A lot of the material is handy infographics that you can download that suggest how to evaluate material. It’s really handy and given how upset people get about media coverage, I think it should be part of our educational system.

On the topic of bias, the NLP has produced a dandy little graphic because “people across the political spectrum often feel that ‘the media’ is biased against their beliefs and values.”

But what counts as bias in news, NLP asks? And why do so few people feel that news coverage is slanted? This is a topic I’ve pondered for years.

Well, NLP’s graphic provides six tips to help you think clearly about “this nuanced and important topic:”

1. Differentiate news from opinion: News reports — also called “straight news” or “hard news” — should be as free of bias as possible. But remember that opinion columns, editorials and op-eds are not produced to be impartial. They’re supposed to express an opinion.

2. Think about bias as a spectrum: It’s helpful to think about bias in news as a spectrum (more or less biased) rather than a binary (biased and unbiased).

3. Ask yourself: Compared with what? When you encounter allegations of bias in news, keep these questions in mind: Biased compared with what? Can I point to an example of information that is fairer, more accurate and more impartial?

4. Recognize your own biases: Our own preconceptions can cause us to misperceive elements of news coverage, make assumptions about the motivations of journalists, or diligently search for ways to dismiss coverage as “biased” if it challenges our beliefs.

5. Be wary of media bias charts and rating: Bias charts and rating systems seem to provide an easy way to assess bias in news, but they often contain startling shortcomings.

6. Think about bias in terms of types and forms: Break through the hyperbole and political rhetoric around the issue of bias by testing your initial perceptions. What type of bias do you think you’re seeing? And what form do you see it taking in coverage?

For a copy of the graphic, visit the online version of this column and click on the links or visit:

I particularly like item #4. That’s crucial and difficult for people to do.

I would also add one more item to the above list and that is investigate who is producing the information you’re reading. Is it a journalistic organization or a political one? Is a group that has a particular point of view and is pushing that? These groups are operating specifically to sway opinion one way or another. At least a journalist can be called out for not providing fair and balanced coverage. Their organization should be called to account for that. Political and social groups are not interested in providing unbiased coverage.

Alistair Taylor is editor of the Campbell River Mirror.