Perhaps the most surprising and gratifying element of the field trip to the Detroit news stations was seeing how excited the reporters were to see a group of college students, a demographic markedly different from the older, professional demographic represented by the journalists. It seemed that those working on relevant stories were eager to hear our perspective, both about the women’s soccer team wages story and about the chalking of the U-M diag. The reporters wasted no time in seizing their interview opportunities, underscoring the need for quick thinking in journalism.
I also was surprised by how casual the morning meeting at the Detroit Free Press seemed. The group was much smaller than I anticipated and the mood seemed very casual. Some people even used their phones while their colleagues were talking, which I thought was a bit funny because I’ve always thought of this as a stereotype of my generation, and didn’t realize it extended to older generations as well.
Finally, the most interesting part of the day for me was the discussion after the business part of the meeting at the Detroit Free Press about journalist bias and fairness. There seemed to be agreement in the room that, at least for expert journalists, some discretion should be used in composing a fair story. Writing a “fair” story, they suggested, is more complex than just getting a couple of quotes from each side of a story. Rather, a journalist must use his or her expertise on an issue to recognize if one side deserves more coverage. A classic example of this phenomena is reporting of climate change, which for years gave equal weight to both sides of the issue even though the science had thoroughly refuted the opposing view.
The subtlety of bias, I realized, has much more depth than I initially realized. A reporter can conveys bias with just one word, such as those who call suicide bombers “martyrs,” versus “terrorists.” Along these lines, the question of whether a journalist should consider the hijackers of the 9/11 planes among the dead gave me pause. This outcome of this ethical dilemma will undeniably communicate the journalist’s bias, and this seems a strikingly complex issue to grapple with, highlighting the intellectual demand of journalism.