ALESTLE VIEW: Biased headlines in media reduce objectivity of quality news

Via Unsplash. 

Throughout the last two decades, the topic of media bias and fake news has become commonplace and is still heavily present in politics. However the media is not meant to retain this bias. 

The issue presented by a biased headline is that it drives public opinion in the direction of that bias or adds more fuel to an already formed opinion. In one study published in SAGE Journals, an example is given of how environmental policy-related headlines can change how people view a situation based on their own beliefs. Their political associations may also influence whether they see any bias.

Another example of this can be shown in an article done by Business Insider that discusses what Americans believe to be the most biased news outlets, based on a poll. Unsurprisingly, they had conflicting opinions on every one of them.

While not only the headline bias is an important factor, many headlines, such as a headline from VICE News: “Republicans Just Voted Against Feeding the Baby They’re Forcing You to Have.” 

While the headline is not factually incorrect, the media outlet extended outside its intended purpose, to provide a source of hard news. The primary purpose of any news outlet is objectivity and all aspiring journalists are taught this. Both sides must be given a fair view.

The University of Washington Libraries provides examples of different types of bias in the media, headlines being one of them, for the sake of research. Using this, it’s clear that the second example taken from the The Wrap as a snapshot shows a view of disappointment in the headline: “Bill Cosby Sex Assault Trial: Judge Allows Only 1 Other  Accuser To Testify, Not 13.” 

Another factually correct headline, but still a biased one. By using the word ‘only,’ the publication expresses a desire for more to be done, and this is further expressed by adding that not all 13 accusers were allowed to testify. This headline also fails to take into account the reason the judge might have chosen this, which plays an important role in whether or not those reading it will accuse the judge or form negative opinions about them.

This doesn’t at all mean journalists are all objective thinkers, but that fairness is the foundation that the occupation is built upon.

It also has become more apparent that the people reading often think the headlines and content should represent what they believe the truth to be. The first example of this is people ‘fixing’ headlines to be more aligned with their beliefs. An example of this might be changing the words to better fit an idea. This could include changing neutral words into negative or positive ones to show a situation in a different way.

The idea of ‘fixing’ a headline also tends to only take into account only the headline itself, ignoring the content of the story it goes with and losing context.

One example of this might be: ‘President Biden addresses economic concerns,’ which could be changed to ‘President Biden addresses his ruined economy’ if it was to be made more negative. While he had discussed economic concerns, many people believe he is solely responsible, and thus want to change the headline to express that view.

Political standpoints don’t matter in this circumstance, as anyone is capable of doing something like this regardless of who they are or what they believe in. Even if what is being said has some truth to it, twisting words to align with one’s personal views.

We at The Alestle believe in objectivity in the media, and that making a headline or story try to fit a belief or opinion will never fix it. It’s not the job of hard news to present an opinion, only the hard facts.

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