What are some of the qualities of a legitimate, unbiased news organization?

Question by magistra_linguae: What are some of the qualities of a legitimate, unbiased news organization?
For example, one trait exhibited by legitimate news organizations is that when they print or read out “letters to the editor,” they do not only select letters that agree with their take on things or praise them. They select both complimentary and critical letters. Moreover, when they do select critical letters, they do not reply with sarcasm, ad hominem attacks, a counter attack, or by rolling their eyes. In fact, they usually do not reply at all. They just let the readers or listeners decide for themselves whether the criticism is valid or not.

What are some other examples of traits the differentiate legitimate professional news organizations from news organizations run by spin doctors? Does taking a certain political position automatically render a news organization invalid, or is it how they express their position and how they react to those with a different position that renders them biased and hence illegitmate?
Greg V: Point taken! Ok, there’s no such thing as an unbiased news organization. But is there a point beyond which a news organization becomes so biased that it can no longer be considered legitimate?

Best answer:

Answer by Greg V
Looks like I’ll have to be the first to say it…there’s no such thing as an unbiased news organization. News organizations make biased decisions every day regarding which story gets put on the front page, which headlines are printed in the biggest fonts, which photos are given prominence, etc. All of their decisions regarding content and design are subjective and, therefore, biased to the opinion of those who produce the news, be it print or broadcast. News organizations not only report the news, they tell us what IS news by their decisions of what gets ink (or air time) and what doesn’t.

What do you think? Answer below!

One comment to What are some of the qualities of a legitimate, unbiased news organization?

  • MacSteed  says:

    Wow, someone who writes questions like I do (replete with follow-up commentary and additional queries). Nice!

    Your first answerer raises a valid point about objectivity. It is damn near impossible for any media outlet to be completely impartial and unbiased in their news gathering and reporting. That said, one could make the same argument about judges, law enforcement agencies, doctors or any other professions and professional organizations. We all have minds of our own and opinions and viewpoints to match. But somebody has to report the news.

    So, in answer to your question, I would add the role of an official ombudsman to your list of ideas to improve quality and maintain some appearance of impartiality. An ombudsman’s job is to basically critique the performance of his or her own newspaper, magazine, website, whatever. When given free reign to do the job, an ombudsman acts as a news media outlet’s conscience, which is always a good thing.

    As to your closing questions, legitimate news organizations at least try to report the news without fear or favour. I find that the BBC and NPR do an effective job of presenting the news in a “fair and balanced” (deliberate usage) manner. Conversely, FOX news, while claiming to be unbiased, acts as little more than a conduit for the bush administration and conservative politics and policies in general. This is why I become annoyed with people who attempt to lump together all of the various news reporting agencies as if they’re exactly the same.

    Finally, the tricky aspect of news organizations taking particular political positions is that it leaves them subject to charges of bias. For example, when election time rolls around, most major newspapers endorse political candidates. This is done on their editorial pages, which are understood to be separate and distinct from their news pages, but to the average reader it presents something of a conflict of interest. I think the manner in which these political opinions are expressed in their op-eds is the likely determinant as to the issue of the newspaper’s legitimacy as an impartial reporter of the news or a mere voice box for a political party. This is very definitely treacherous terrain but the best news organizations tread carefully and are thus able to maintain some semblance of credibility.

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