BROOM: Unstacking the cards

The Cavalier Daily does not contain bias in its news writing

In my column two weeks ago, “Working both ways,” I wrote about comments I’d read on a handful of stories on The Cavalier Daily website. In the ensuing time, some comment threads have exploded on a couple of pieces. Most of these are opinion columns, including the managing board’s lead editorials. I expect it will come as no surprise that the columns and articles that generate the most commentary and the most passion in those comments are, at least for some, political in nature.

Many of the comments on the Sept. 23 lead editorial, “The virtues of not protesting,” assailed the piece and, indeed, the managing board, for “…liberal bias…” for not being “…a balanced news source…” and “…the way that the authors’ identity is hidden behind the anonymous “by: Managing Board…” Bias in news reporting organizations is certainly something to be aware of and to consider as one reads. This piece, though, is an opinion column. It does not need to be balanced, as it is the consensus view of the managing board of the paper. The managing board needs to be accurate in its assertions and point to compelling evidence where necessary. It need not, though, maintain an aloof, distant manner when expressing an opinion. Readers can and should disagree with the managing board and other opinion writers, but calling out bias in an opinion column is missing the point. As to anonymity, there is none. The managing board is identified in the masthead of every print edition and on the Contact page accessible from every page of the website . There are certainly times where I think the opinion writers, including the managing board, can and should do a more careful job of providing evidence to support their points, but the fact of having an opinion is not a problem in these cases.

Bias in news writing is an entirely different concern. I have also read comments online and received a couple of very thoughtful emails on the subject of bias in news writing in the past week from readers including one who noted that he has been reading the paper consistently for four years. He expressed concern about a shift in attitude toward a “more partisan bent.”

One example he cited was a Sept. 16 article about a panel that discussed laws affecting same-sex marriage in Virginia. My emailer’s concern was that the article failed to note specifically that all three people on the panel were in agreement about the issue. The Women, Gender and Sexuality program, the University’s LGBTQ Center and the Law School put on the panel. I don’t think this is a problem of bias in news reporting. Off the top of my head, before a news writer would be able to legitimately write about the makeup of the panel she would have to know who was invited, who declined and perhaps why. Not every news piece is going to be an investigative report and news writers should not attempt to write about what didn’t happen at an event. Reporting what did happen is the charge of a good news writer.

It’s also worth noting that on this same issue, in a previous article, “Virginia faculty advocate for LGBT partner state benefits,” an online commenter with the username “UVA professor” found it “curious” that an earlier meeting that discussed the issue wasn’t included in this article. The commenter was also curious that no one from the University was on record saying anything in the article. This highlights a couple of things that I think are important. In this specific instance at least, the commenter either didn’t read the entire piece or missed that an email from University spokesperson McGregor McCance is quoted at length in the article. Second, and far more importantly, disagreeing with what is being reported about is not the same as there being bias in the reporting. As I noted above, news writers must write about what happens. If a reader doesn’t like what happened that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with the reporting.

I haven’t seen what I think constitutes bias in the news writing in The Cavalier Daily. I urge you to continue to contact me and make comments where you think it may occur in the news writing. Staying unbiased and aloof requires consistent effort. News writers do have beliefs about the world; they simply try to keep those out of their reporting. Pointing out where there have been legitimate mistakes is important.

Christopher Broom is The Cavalier Daily’s public editor. He can be reached at publiceditor@cavalierdaily.com or on Twitter @CDPublicEditor.

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