Business, Advocacy and Bias

“The old argument that [media sources] have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore. No, we don't sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we're going to slant the news. We don't have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.” This, from Bernard Goldberg, a CBS journalist in his book Bias. 

Touché. We resemble that remark. Bias comes up constantly in journalism, and there are many who believe it is impossible to fully nullify, such as the late Hunter S. Thompson, whose 'gonzo' style of reporting became synonymous with subjectivity. While some have simply accused him of sloppy journalism, one thing that Hunter's work taught us was that we are idiots if we only take our news from one angle. For him, objectivity was a pig wearing a tutu – a three dressed up like a nine. Bias is disguised in most cases, hidden by our sense of cultural and personal identity, disfigured by our senses of humour, wriggling under a faulty concept of normalcy.  

On the other hand, it is our mandate to represent issues fairly, impartially, without allegiance to one side or another. The overarching standard is still fairness, balance and objectivity; the ideal is the public's right to know. But like all ideals, it is a moving target; what is most newsworthy is also a matter of subjective selection and taste. 

In an effort to be transparent, however, we will hold up the bloody stumps of our own bias and acknowledge the angles that amputate our work. Allow me to act as ombudsman, a watchdog of our own work and for the public's best interest. 

For the record, the Courier is politically biased, left-centric and often bleeding-heart liberal. We are bound by the personal politics of our student writers and editors and becoming aware of these ideological underpinnings is always a work in progress as they unfold for each of us issue by issue, article by article. Our political thoughts are influenced by our teachers, our families, and our culture. Consider the Cap Students' Union (CSU), with their pro-choice position on abortion, for example, and their tradition of advocacy. The agenda is established; the bias does not appear up for debate. The Courier writers have the same agendas, only they are more subversive, masked by a “faux-objectivity” as Noah Fine, Educational Issues Coordinator for the CSU, once stated. 

We have a corporate bias, in that we tend to favour coverage of smaller-scale, local businesses or grass-roots initiatives. It follows that we inadvertently oppose large corporate interests. An example of this can be found in our decision to limit Warner Bros. influence on campus, denying them direct promotion opportunities for their latest movie and sending back marketing materials that arrived at our office – schwag that could have been destined for students. We also don't allow Coke to advertise in the Courier due to our own editorial history of opposition and because, due to Cap's exclusivity contract, Coke has enough promo on campus. 

Once more, we tend to over-represent issues that are of importance to the University Transfer program students and under-represented departments like Music Therapy, Early Childhood Development and Business. This is a difficult hurdle, as our writers tend to emerge from liberal arts and, with a small staff, we must attend to the interests and expertise of those students. It is difficult to represent all areas of the school, because story coverage works on a voluntary system – a writer must be interested enough to choose a story; our bias comes out clearly in our selection of topics, and does not always reflect the public's right to know. 

We tend to favour mainstream topics as well, imagining that David Letterman's sex life has some importance to society and some correlate with news or public interest when, in fact, it is of very little importance. We are poisoned by popularity. In fact, we are simply submitting to a savvy form of mind control by discussing it at all.

We are biased by gender and ethnicity. Primarily straight, English-speaking, white male oriented, we under-represent feminist perspectives and have been guilty of using words like “douchebag”, with all the dignity this reference infers. We also fail to cover Persian, Chinese or Indian perspectives, even though we have a multi-cultural readership.  

We are working on it. We hold these bloody biases up for review by our readers, but not simply to indulge in self-interest. We hold them up so that you may also see the bias in your own reality, so you might notice the assumptions of the media, the government, and even in your family or yourself.  

With this confession in mind, we proudly launch a new section in the Courier. It's called an Advocacy Feature. Partly inspired by the activist ideals of the CSU, the Global Stewardship students, and in no small part the Courier's past battles with groups like Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO), we are producing a forum for our writers to make arguments that are based on ideological agendas. The difference is that we will make apparent the angle and flag the bias. 

We also happily announce a Business section, which has been a long time coming and probably overdue. As one of Cap's most prominent programs, we feel that representation of a strictly business perspective is a clearer reflection of our readers interests and, certainly, the public has a right to know how business informs their lives.  

We hope these additions became institutions in the Courier and help to tip us a bit closer towards the balancing point – the elusive ideal of objectivity and even-handed coverage of the news that is relevant to you, our readers. After all, that is our job. Your job is to communicate to us how we are doing and to make demands about content and agenda. Call the Voicebox and leave a message, or write us a letter. Better yet, come in and contribute as a writer; express your point of view. We promise not to write that you're a douchebag. It's only by your participating in the news that we can all approach our ideals.

//Kevin Murray

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