During this election cycle I’ve been reading and watching the news a lot more than I ever have before. In particular my interest in Politics, US, and World news has been at the forefront of my attention. I’ve been getting information from a variety of sources including large mainstream organizations such as NYTimes, NPR, AP, CNN, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Al Jazeera; smaller more niche organizations such as Vox, Mic, and BuzzFeed; social sources including Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter; and even directly from the organizations and individuals that the news is about via email newsletters and their other marketing/news channels.
The fundamental problem I’ve picked up from practically all of these sources is bias. Almost everyone and every organization seem to have an opinion, an agenda even, that they want to report in addition to the facts – some more obvious than others. Sometimes the facts are even left out, or cherry picked in such a way that further supports their bias. Don’t get me wrong – people and organizations are entitled to their opinions and to sharing them. I do that all the time, mostly on social media. But when I’m trying to find information so that I can form my own solid opinion about something, it is incredibly frustrating, polarizing, time consuming, and even difficult. That’s because the inherent bias that plagues all of my information sources erodes any amount of trust that I can build with those sources. Everything has to be taken with a grain of salt. There is plenty of opinion out there, but not nearly enough unbiased fact-based reporting. Which leaves me with the task of needing to read and watch three to 10 articles, dozens to hundreds of social media posts, and copious Googling before I feel like I’ve heard enough “from all sides” to form my own opinion.
What would be interesting would be a news organization that is formed and run in such a way that it minimized or eliminated bias. I’m not sure exactly how this could happen but my guess is it would look something like this: It would need to be a non-profit so that reporting could not be influenced or motivated by a financial bottom line. Nobody could “own” the organization and stand to benefit financially from its success or what/how it reported. It would need to have bylaws that ensured the organization was managed by and employed a diverse group of people that reflect the population. Eg: all age groups, races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, political ideologies, religions, industries, etc would need to be represented at all levels of the organization from the board of directors, to the managers, to the writers, to the reporters, to the interns. Each piece of content from tweets to headlines to photos to videos to text to quotes would need to be rigorously reviewed, edited, and approved for non-bias by a team of people representing “all sides”. A lexicon/style guide could be developed to help shape/enforce unbiased content. Content would not have to be purely fact based – it could include supporting/opposing points of view (such as opinion quotes) but these could only be included when they were properly balanced in number and strength – again this would have to be approved by the diverse team. Transparency would be key and the journalism process itself would be public. All authors/editors/reviewers of a piece of content would be listed in the meta information. The evolution of the content (the interviews, the drafts, the review notes, the edits, the approvals, and who was responsible for each) would all be publicly accessible like in Google docs. Perhaps even the audience could engage with and help create/edit the content like on Wikipedia, while it was reviewed and approved by the organization’s staff to ensure non-bias. Content could be a living document like Wikipedia – always changing and evolving to stay relevant, while older versions remain accessible. Commenting systems could be reimagined to promote intelligent and civil discussion rather than polarized debates. Content could be rated by the audience, giving a positive feedback loop to the the organization.
Unfortunately though I’m too busy for all this. Who wants to take it on?