Lest you think as our president and millions of others who both oppose and support him do, that all news you disagree with is “fake,” I cobbled together a handy chart in my book Bite the Dog: Build a PR Strategy to Make News That Matters to help you diagnose the kinds of stories, and the reporters who bake them, you’re going to encounter at the news buffet. The graphic above charts these on two axes – the inherent fairness or bias of the individual journalist and of the institutional outlet. The four types of resulting outcomes are:
- Fair individual / fair institution. This is the quadrant where the vast majority of journalists (except columnists, commentators and analysts, who get paid to have an opinion and are not bound to being fair) will fall. The reporter has opinions just like anyone else, but because of his or her professional integrity and his or her employer’s status as a legitimate news organization (be it local or national, TV, audio, print or digital), that personal bias doesn’t make it into the work product.
- Fair individual / biased institution. Here’s where you’ll find the journalists who work for outlets that practice “directed reporting.” A prime example is a news show like The 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). The reporters and producers are experienced pros who know how to put a story together. They will ask you questions, only report what you say, not quote you out of context (on purpose). But their stories will always serve a higher agenda – in this case spotlighting the goodness and teachings of God – and they aren’t shy about it. Ditto in the political ideological sphere for for a liberal outlet like Daily Kos or a conservative outlet like The Daily Wire.
- Biased individual / fair institution. You got a bad egg for a storyteller if you wind up in a story that falls in this quadrant. The journalistic gold standard of suppressing personal opinion and bias in service to the more noble goal of objective journalism is lost on this individual even though it is expected from his or her employer. Chances are, he or she won’t last long drawing a paycheck as a reporter.
- Biased individual / biased institution. Prototypical fake news. It’s probably a made-up news outlet, designed to mimic a real, trusted source. There is no “reporter” to speak of – just somebody producing a fiction designed to advance an agenda those who’ve drawn it up want you never to discover. The goal of those who produce items in this quadrant is to make you think they are items in the first quadrant.
But now that you’ve finished this blog entry, you’re too smart for that, aren’t you?