Caroline Albanese

Beneath the Print: The Underlining Bias of Journalistic Writing

In Academic Writing on March 2, 2012 at 10:00 pm
There is no such thing as completely objective-based journalism. While news outlets may attempt to cover a story and stay solely “to the facts,” humans are bias creatures. They base their opinions and views of the world on their own life, experiences and expectations. In journalism, the angle in which a story is covered by a reporter is where the bias brews, and eventually bubbles to the top.
Newspaper reporter at typewriter
 
The three newspapers to be compared are the New York Amsterdam News, and two papers that many New Yorkers pride themselves in reading, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. All three papers re based and printed in the New York area, have each have rich and expansive history, and report on the news through their own filters.
 
A topic that all three papers recently covered was the story of how the New York Police Department was the secret surveilling Muslim students at college along the Northeast (including Baruch College). The issue was typically met with both side of political parties fighting with the other for either too or too little concerned with homeland security or personal privacy. 
 
In the Wall Street Journal article titled, “NJ Muslims, officials discuss NYPD surveillance” dated March 3, 2012, the outlet takes a simple approach. Using the barebones news from the Associated Press wire service, they inform the reader of the situation, and how lawmakers and the NYPD respond to the scandalous news. 
 
From the lead of article, it is evident what type of article it is with a line that reads, “Muslim leaders in New Jersey are meeting with officials to discuss the state’s response to the New York Police Department’s secret surveillance program.” The lead does what it is supposed to do, it explained the story without giving enough away to be any more informative than is necessary. However, it’s also vague enough to not point fingers at any of these “Muslim leaders” or “officials” which still leaves the reader ignorant, and forced to read more in hopes to learn more about the story.
 
However as the article continues, it does not add anything more. Later in the article is a line that reads, “Leaders representing a cross-section of New Jersey’s diverse Muslim population participated in Saturday’s session in the capital city.”  Still, the reader does not know who these leaders are, but simply that they are “diverse Muslim” leaders. There are no names or faces associated with these groups, and the only name the article mentions is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who have spoken out against the surveillance. It is not ironic that the figureheads of the article are those who appear to be the heroes who were unaware of the situation, but now against it.
 
The next article that grapples with the Muslim surveillance is from the New York Times and is titled, “Bloomberg Defends Police’s Monitoring of Muslim Students on Web” and was written by Al Baker and Kate Taylor and published on February 21, 2012. The article discusses how New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg responded to the surveillance, and unlike Christie who was against the program, Bloomberg fully supported it. 
 
Unlike the Wall Street Journal article which was barely half a page long, this article is extremely expansive and focuses on how Bloomberg’s views differ from Yale University’s president, Richard C. Levin, and between their views bouncing back-and-forth there are paragraphs explaining the reports and how the surveillance was conducted.  
 
The article’s view is mostly showing how the academics institutes felt about the surveillance compare to the police and government. It paints a picture for the colleges and universities involved, but does not give a face to the Muslim organizations who were being examined, or what it implies. The only line that comes close is in the first paragraph, where the article states that Bloomberg framed the effort as “one way to guard against the threat of terrorism.”
 
Unlike both publications prior, Amsterdam News’ point-of-view as rather clear halfway through its leading line. The first line reads, “The NYPD is in the hot seat over reports that confirm the department participated in widespread surveillance of innocent Muslim,” and is filled with various trigger words. The term “hot seat” is used and gives the impression of the police, who are usually the ones interrogating suspects, being the ones in the interrogation room, sitting under a lap, as society plays good-cop-bad-cop. The term “innocent Muslim” is also eye-catching, even though there were no charges pressed or suspicious activity found during the surveillance, it shows Muslims not as targets, but victims. The article even sites an instance where a City College Muslim group went on a whitewater rafting trip, and were spied on by an undercover agent.
 
The article also discussed Bloomberg’s support, much like the New York Times article had, but also has quotes from those of the Muslim community. Unlike the Wall Street Journal who vaguely referenced them, and the New York Times who dismissed them, the Amsterdam News shows the side and feeling of those whose privacy was intruded, and in effect humanizing them.
 
 This view is not something that was done in the case of the Muslim surveillance video, but in earlier editions as well. The front page story of the February 9 – February 15 issue of the Amsterdam News was titled, “NYPD kills again: Community outraged after police shoot unarmed man” – one does not even have to read the article to know what angle the article is covering. The article, written by Herb Boyd, focuses on the story of the shooting of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old man who was shot and killed in his Bronx apartment. The story discusses the protest which was held outside the 47th Precinct in the Bronx, where furious demonstrators chanted against Ramarley injustice, with such chants as “The NYPD is the KKK”. The article sourced the story from the New York Times, who unsurprisingly had their own take on the protest.
 
The article titled, “A Raucous Protest Against a Police Killing” was published on February 6, 2012, and was written by Tim Stelloh. Unlike Amsterdam’s take, which showed demonstrated the hostility and rage that engulfed the Black community, the New York Times article showed the protest in a different light, calling it a “dramatic conclusion”  and instead of speaking of the shooting itself, discusses the Graham family’s heartbreak. Most interestingly, however, is that the article does mention the “NYPD KKK” posters and chants from the protest. Though, unlike the prior article which mentioned the stunning accusation at the beginning of the article, it is snuck at the end, and merely mentioned instead of elaborated. 
 
The last Amsterdam News article to be is discussed is titled, “Opponents to Bloomberg school closures plan to face off on Feb. 9” and was written by Nayaba Arinde in the February 2 – February 8 edition of the paper.  The article focuses on those against Bloomberg closing the schools such as teachers, parents, students, etc. The article starts with a quote from a technology teacher named Del Sledge, who encourages students to stand up in the face of adversity and fight against Bloomberg’s closure of their public schools. 
 
The quote by Seldge was taken during a hearing and used to set the tone of the article goes as follows, “A message that instills the idea of resiliency and helps children understand that just because you fall does not mean you stay down. Just because you meet adversity in life does not mean you claim defeat. Let them know that they count.”  
 
After the quote the article reads, “The countdown is on!”  That sentence is not a quote, but a line from Arinde’s article. Exclamation points are something most journalists should avoid unless they are writing a headline, or using a quote from a source. It shows an excitement, and that leads to the reader seeing a bit of bias in a the writer, and publications find that to be unprofessional. The Amsterdam News does not appear to feel that way, as the author of the article is the paper’s News Editor, and their feeling of support for the protest and well as distain towards Bloomberg’s wish to close school are fuel to a fiery piece. A fire that is not evident in the New York Times’ take on the story.
 
The article by the New York Times was published on February 10, 2012, and focused on Bloomberg’s decision to close 18 schools and eliminate the middle school grades at five others, citing the schools’ poor performances. The article is titled, “Amid Protesters’ Disruptions, City Board Votes to Close 18 Schools and Truncate 5” and an interesting aspect of the tile is the use of the word “disruptions” which has a negative connotation.  The protestors, who the News Editor at the Amsterdam News felt were so important as to use their quotes as a lead for a front page story, is demoted to mere disruptions in a New York Times article. 
 
Much like the Muslim article, the New York Times means of reporting is to show two side of an issue, and between each’s views give a bit of background on the issue at hand. Again, a completely different angle than the Amsterdam News, who obviously picked a side, supported their side, and rooted for their side to be victorious. While the New York Times may have dismissed the protest, an article on the subject by The Wall Street journal barely even mentioned it.
 
The Wall Street Journal published their article titled “NYC board votes to close 18 schools, shrink 5 more” on February 10, 2012, and was again, short, sweet and vague. The article took facts from the Associated Press, and described the protests that the Amsterdam News supported, and New York Times villainized as “the United Federation of Teachers and many parents oppose the strategy of closing failing schools.”  The article is a true barebones rundown of the story, without the reporting that is found in the New York Times article, and the energy behind the Amsterdam News article.
 
If there’s one thing journalism professors harp on to their students when it comes to writing news articles is the importance of being an objective journalist.  The belief that the only way to accurately cover a story is to not take any side, report the facts, and inform the reader accordingly. Publications like the Wall Street Journal take this belief to the extreme, and for stories that do not require in-depth reporting, rely on the Associated Press to provide them information and they simply publish the facts on their site. Even though they’re simply presenting the facts, they’re hands-off enough to show that they as a publication, do not enjoy rocking the boat and getting their hands involved in issues that may cause controversy. 
 
The New York Times shares this ideology, not wanting to take a side, but instead of giving almost too little information, they give so much information that all their bases are covered. Also, as seen in the Bronx Shooting article, they do not enjoy upsetting their readers and rather hide controversial aspects of a story within the story instead of making it any more of a focus than necessary.  This is also an angle, showing the irony beneath going so far to be  objective that the paper’s own objectivity becomes subjective.
 
The Amsterdam News kicks both ideologies to the curb, and instead prides itself as being “The New Black View” – its subjectivity is the paper’s slogan. The paper is not afraid to take on any issue, whether it be political, local, or international, as each article is filled with the  each writer and editor’s original point of view. None of these views hold back punches, and though the paper is labeled as a “tabloid” when compared to other publications it bring up issues like why some things are printed and others things not. 
 
News outlets who pride themselves as being “the most trusted” or “the most hard-hitting” are usually ones who are the quickest the hold back on stories. The problem with mainstream media is that in the United States, the media is run by a handful of companies who fund their publications, and have in effect made the newspaper business less about selling news and more about selling papers. The Amsterdam News does not have to worry about that, as an independent paper with a low price point and weekly publication, it does not have those financial woes, and if it does the paper’s quality and means of reporting does not reflect it. As mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as objective journalism, as every paper has a voice even when it tries to hide it, and the only way to understand the real goings-on in the world is to be aware of not just one, but every outlet. 
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