Author: Justin Novak
In the modern-day world of technology, information is now quicker to get our hands on than ever before. Thanks to the internet and social media, we can now learn new things about the world around us faster and easier, all with just a few taps on a screen.
But what are we really feeding our minds, especially when it comes to things, we deem newsworthy? In a world of skepticism and the need to fulfil agendas, is what we’re reading and seeing the truth, and better yet, how much of the truth?
Vanessa Otero visited the Western Campus of Tri-C on Thursday, February 6th. Her day job is as a patent attorney based out of Denver, Colorado. However, she is more known for her work creating the evolving “Media Bias Chart.”
The chart is a map of how dependable, and how biased a news source is. It also ranks the sources all in one place. It is created by gathering the thoughts and opinions of a diverse team of analysts: partly left leaning, partly right, and partly straight down the middle. The team individually consumes a certain source of media, like today’s edition of The New York Times, or a mid day news program on CNN, and rates and comments their perceptions of it. They are also asked to numerically rank different aspects of the media, mostly gauging how biased or credible they believe the material they’re consuming is.
They also look at exactly how the story is being told. Is this just news? Is this just an analysis?
Otero in her presentation stated how the blurred lines between the two, and the spaces in between, have shaped our individual concept of what news really is. She said she was inspired most by the effects of the election cycle in 2016.
“I noticed how people would share something on Facebook and proclaim it as a matter of fact, and there just seemed to be little thought in where the stories would actually come from,” Otero discussed in her speech, “It became obvious that people would jump immediately on what conformed to their beliefs. They didn’t care about fact checking, and many were constantly sharing from the same sources over and over again.” She decided after this realization that she would check their sources for them, initially just “for fun”.
What began as something to kill time on her own eventually went viral. Otero’s initial chart has been revised and updated numerous times, adding dozens of new sources over the course of the last few years.
“We’ve been reached out to,” she said in an interview after her presentation, “News outlets will come to us and ask to be mapped. I think a good number of them genuinely want to know where their stories fall on our spectrum. I think others do it so they can write a story about how we were ‘so unfair’ to them. We’ve received compliments for sure, but definitely a good number of complaints because lots of outlets don’t like to be dug into.”
Being told your outlet is biased might not be the worst thing in the world, however. What matters more than anything in the world of news is when reliability comes into question.
“I think the two are related at their cores. If you don’t admit to your biases, you’re proving to be less dependable. You can’t market yourself as honest and fair, and only talk about one side of the story all day long,” Otero elaborates. “That statement in itself is inherently misleading then.”
Misleading, and dangerous. In such a divisive time, many people refuse to look over on the other side of the fence. Discussions of politics and news are perhaps one of the leading causes of a strenuous or broken relationship with family and friends.
“But it makes us want to throw up,” quotes Otero about consuming media geared at the other side of our own biases. “There is like a coded trigger in our mind that makes us genuinely feel sick when we read or watch something that goes over our own biases. We just don’t like to hear we’re wrong or find out that we might be.”
Yet to truly understand where our news comes from, we might have to be willing to bite that bullet every now and then. Otero concluded her presentation with optimism about how we will recognize news biases in the future, and discussed afterwards exactly what she meant:
“The Media Bias Chart is about as unbiased as naturally biased people can make it out to be. If we can use something like that as a roadmap, I think over time we will understand more about what we’re seeing and hearing, and what kind of messages are being spread. If we can tune out the drive for ignorance, and turn on a drive for truth, I think we will see a coming together and a greater trust for the consumption of news.”