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Detecting Bias in the News  

Last Updated: Apr 8, 2014 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts
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Bias through selection and omission

An editor can express bias by choosing whether or not to use a specific news story.  Within a story, some details can be ignored, others can be included to give readers or viewers a different opinion about the events reported.  Only by comparing news reports from a wide variety of sources can this type of bias be observed.

Image: Shotgun Spratling/Flickr (CC)

If people boo during one of President Obama's speeches, the booing can be described as "remarks greeted by jeers" or the boos can be ignored as "a handful of people who disagree".  


Bias through placement

Where a story is placed influences what a person thinks about its importance.  Stories on the front page of the newspaper are thought to be more important than stories buried in the back.  Many television and radio newscasts run stories that draw ratings first and leave the less appealing for later.

Cover credit: Herb Ritts

Tiger Woods wins TIME's cover space on the August 14, 2000 vol. 156 no. 7 issue.  

Coverage of the Republican National Convention begins on page 26.


Bias by headline

Headlines are the must-read part of a newspaper because they are often printed in large and bold fonts.  Headlines can be misleading, conveying excitement when the story is not exciting, expressing approval or disapproval.  

On April 1, 2014, Cliff Kincaid adds this headline to his article about the sentencing of Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who pleaded guilty to shooting at the White House.   

In the August 7, 2000 issue of The Nation, Eric Alterman adds this descriptive headline to his column about the party conventions.  


Bias by photos, captions, and camera angles

Pictures can make a person look good, bad, silly, etc.  Which photos a newspaper chooses to run can heavily influence the public's perception of a person or event.  On TV, images, captions, and narration of a TV anchor or reporter can be sources of bias.

Photo credit: Brian Snyder / REUTERS

Is this a good photo of Mitt Romney, former Republican Presidential candidate?

Photo from story Nods in N.H. for Romney, and tea party activist.


Bias through use of names and titles

News media often use labels and titles to describe people, places, and events. In many places around the world, one person's friend is another person's enemy.

A person can be called an "ex-con" or be referred to as someone who "served time for a drug charge". 

Does the headline of Jeremy Fowler's article influence your opinion of Mr. Goodley?  Do you pass judgement on Mr. Goodley before you have read the story? 

Baylor star Antwan Goodley, ex-con father together again 



Bias by choice of words

People can be influenced by the use of positive or negative words with a certain connotation. People can also be influenced by the tone that a newscaster uses when saying certain words.

This example appeared in TIME magazine, August 14, 2000, page 37.

See the original in Suzzallo & Allen Stacks at call number AP2. T37

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Need Research Help? Ask Me!

Have questions or need research help? Please contact Jessica Albano, the communication research librarian:

  • via email
  • schedule a time to meet in person 
    I am in Suzzallo Library and available to meet most Mondays through Thursdays.  Winter quarter I will be in the Communication Commons, CMU 118, Mondays 11am to 1:30pm and Tuesdays 11am to 1pm.


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