Transparency in journalism

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on June 8, 2006

If you've been reading this blog for some time, then you know that I'm of the opinion that it's better for journalism in the long run to finally acknowledge that reporters -- like everyone else on the face of the earth -- are biased and allow the public to take that into account when reading their articles.

In what may be a first step toward that new kind of openness, the Akron Beacon-Journal's public editor Mike Needs has come out in support of publishing bio boxes of reporters online.

An old-school editor once told me he refused to vote or go to church.

Why? He said he wanted to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. He and the newspaper could never be accused of favoring a particular church or political party if he held no formal connection to either.

Frankly, I think it was more his being jaded about religion and cynical of politicians.

His policy came to mind during a call last week from a Stanford University student, who asked to interview me for his graduate project. His opening question: "Should a newspaper post bio pages for all its reporters?''

I surprised him when I replied, "Yes, there is more to gain than there is to lose by doing that.''

A big buzzword among newspapers these days is ``transparency,'' as in showing you the inner workings of the newsroom. Here's the theory: By giving you insight into controversial decisions, newspapers hope you will be more inclined to accept the reasoning and less likely to assign incorrect motives.

Other editors are of the opinion that they don't even want reporters appearing on radio shows or television because they might let slip too much about their own personal beliefs that it might call into question their impartiality.

Well, the public doesn't need to know anything about reporters to call into question their impartiality. If the general public saw reporters with a bio box similar to mine, then there wouldn't be so many cries of "liberal bias." Of course, there are few reporters who would have a bio box similar to mine and what it would really do is make the Eric Altermans of the world look ever more foolish as they decry imagined "conservative bias" in the media.

Journalists are always in favor of more disclosure than less when it comes to the beats they cover, but when it comes to themselves, the media for some reason has a tendency to want remain inscrutable to their customers.

If you genuinely want someone's trust, is the way you go about earning it to not tell them anything about you? Or at least as little as possible? It doesn't work that way in personal relationships, and it doesn't work that way between newspapers and their readers.

Needs is right, but unfortunately he, like me, isn't in a position to actually do anything about it.

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