Tools to manage bias

Examine your own biases

Paul Taylor, former chief political correspondent at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Post, says that if you are covering a political campaign or any other ongoing, long-term story in which you could find yourself gravitating toward one side or one person:

  • Periodically examine yourself for bias building up — understanding what your views are and why you have them is the best way to keep them under control.
  • Who do you personally like or dislike? Why?
  • How might that be coloring your judgment?
  • Read through some of your stories and be self-critical.

Before and after

One way Paul Taylor used to test this is a “before and after” tool.

When assigned a story that involves some substantial reporting, Taylor used to write the lead at the outset, before he had done any reporting. Then he would test that lead against the one he had written for real at the end of the reporting.

If the final lead was too similar to the one he wrote before doing the reporting, he would know he hadn’t learned very much. That’s a sign the reporter may have only pursued information that confirms his biases, rather than overcoming preconceptions to find new information.

Ask yourself

Another test is to ask yourself at the beginning of the reporting what biases are at play in the story. Identify them.

  • Do any of them help you tell the story?
  • Are there any you believe you should not deal with?
  • Is there anything you should do in presenting any of these biases that will help the reader understand them?
  • What bias do I have going in that I should be wary of?

And ask one other question: What are my points of ignorance going in that I need to note?

This guide, like many of the others in API’s Journalism Essentials section, is largely based on the research and teachings of the Committee of Concerned Journalists — a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics that for 10 years facilitated a discussion among thousands of journalists about what they did, how they did it, and why it was important. The author, Walter Dean, was CCJ training director and former API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel who previously co-chaired the committee.