Are journalist’s and editors the only people guilty of propagating media bias?
A fellow member of Drake’s Stereotyping and Objectification Action Research Lab highlighted the following Wall Street Journal article, “Six Years After #BringBackOurGirls, Freed Chibok Captives Face Fresh Danger”, as a current event worth discussing in our online lab forum recently. A central topic addressed in the ensuing discussion was the media’s failure to act as intersectional activists in their coverage. Why do news outlets find it important to report on the availability of toilet paper at Walmart as opposed to the enhanced risk for kidnapping of Nigerian women during the international COVID-19 pandemic?
As a member of the media myself, I know that there are many factors that contribute to what stories are covered and what stories are not covered—audience interest is a major factor, financing and security in sending journalists to war-torn areas, access to sources on both sides of the story so as to appear unbiased, temporal and spatial locality, lack of reliable, verifiable information, as well as implicit bias, among others.
The problem with first-world media is that it primarily serves first-world audiences, audiences who are questionably concerned about the horrors happening on the other side of the world, but who are definitely concerned about internet quality for Zoom meetings and the latest episode of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Couple that with implicit racial and gender biases, and you have perfect bedding grounds for ignorant coverage to fester.
What I don’t think most realize is that aside from the direct activism of journalists and editors in assigning and proposing content, there’s not much else to be done about this problem. Take a look at The Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, the code to which all serious journalists adhere. I think you’ll find you agree with many of their practices.
Journalists can write amazingly diverse and internationally-racially-gender-conscious content, but ultimately it’s up to the reader to care about that content, read that content and give feedback to the news organization that this is the type of content they like to see. Good news organizations, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, are acutely aware of how their audience responds to the content they produce; they religiously monitor online readership (just like I’m do with my website). Media are forced to care about reader satisfaction because the more readers they get, the more money they make.
So when important news is perpetually ‘silenced,’ both the constituents of the media (the editors and journalists) AND the consumers of content are responsible.
Specifically considering this story, I think racial and gender implicit biases are, of course, at play. This is where the availability of minority journalists becomes necessary.
The fact that this tragedy occurs during an international crisis certainly contributes to the fact that readers are more concerned with the availability of toilet paper and masks than with what’s happening in Nigeria. This leads to the suppression of information via the prioritization of content (editors will often seek publication of stories that are localized to their audience and that addresses their immediate needs before stories that address the needs of people who are not their audience).
A solution to this is for first-world media to take initiative in ensnaring a broader readership, ensuring that a sizable proportion of people in the villages of Nigeria have access to first world media. With that type of feedback, The New York Times may start prioritizing content that’s important to Nigerian women, and they’ll be bound to that prioritization financially.