Case Study 9: Avoiding unintentional bias

4 Apr

As a general rule, a good check against unintentional bias is having multiple editors for stories. Questions of bias and the weight of using one word/phrase over another arise in newsrooms all the time, and the more voices in the discussion, the better. There’s no telling how certain phrases/omissions/you name it will be interpreted by readers, and writers and editors should be prepared to question everything they write and edit. They should look at it from as many angles as possible to ensure published copy is as clean and objective as possible.

In the case of this story of a grandfather intentionally killing his daughter and her family, the question of how many people were killed – and, essentially, who counts as a person – is one that can at least be worked around, if not answered outright.

As an editor of this story, instead of headlining it, “Grandfather charged in blaze that killed 3,” I would make the headline something like, “Grandfather charged in blaze that killed family” (or “Man charged in blaze that killed family,” if space is an issue). Doing so eliminates the issue of saying in the headline how many people were killed, which may be “cheating” somewhat, but in this case, I don’t think it’s necessary. The fact that this man killed his own family is the story. I think it’s important to explain the full situation and why the grandfather is being charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional homicide of an unborn child, but that can be left for later in the story.

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One Response to “Case Study 9: Avoiding unintentional bias”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers April 4, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Good analysis
    As a general rule, a good check against unintentional bias is having multiple editors for stories. YES, BUT ALAS THAT IS GOING AWAY
    Your solution, however, goes against the instincts of reporters to be clear and specific. It is a difficult problem.

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