The Quest for the Unbiased Source

Merriam-Webster defines bias as “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.” We should look for media outlets that don’t do this then, right? I would argue that the presence of bias should not immediately render a media outlet as unacceptable. We, as readers, should be able to recognize bias when we see it and analyze how it may be affecting how we interpret the facts of a story. We must train our eyes to see the hallmarks of questionable journalism and avoid sources that lean too heavily on bad practices.

Enter AdFontesMedia, publisher of the Media Bias Chart, which has published version 5.0 of its interactive chart as of this writing. Their research seeks to organize media outlets in a coordinate plane based on two factors, political bias and overall source reliability. The political bias measure follows a traditional left/right continuum, and source reliability seeks to quantify the difference between straight fact reporting and the various levels of analysis and commentary that can stem from it.

You can read more in-depth on the methodology of the study on the website. Many articles/stories were reviewed from each source by a variety of independent evaluators. Scores were aggregated to produce a placement on the chart that mitigates factors such as variation of articles within a source and the political beliefs of the evaluator. You can see where a wide variety of sources fall on this coordinate plane, and you can view where the articles reviewed for that source fell on the plane themselves to see the variation that exists within any given source.

In an ideal world, people would use this information to evaluate and compare news from a variety of online and broadcast media. Discerning consumers of information would look for trends and outliers in reporting on various topics. If you hold beliefs about the infallibility of your preferred source of news, this is probably not the chart for you.

If only your preferred source is printing a particular take on something, what is the likelihood that a) your preferred source got it right and the rest are all part of some conspiracy or b) your source is resorting to bad journalism practices to draw upon the emotions of its readers to gain views (and thus, ad revenue)?

Where do you get most of your information and where do they fall on this chart? Is your preferred source high in the middle or low and off to the sides?

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