News-Press commentaries

News-Press commentaries

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Our Opinion: Banishing signs of reporting bias

September 1, 2006 8:41 AM

One challenge for all private companies when dealing with disgruntled ex-employees is how to respond when personnel matters become public. Former workers at times seem to have more latitude to talk and spin.

The managers of your daily newspaper recently found themselves in this position.

For an enterprise devoted to communication and getting out the news, the last two months have been an awkward time because of the difficulties in sharing internal information.

Yet in this space, we've tried never to shy away from controversial topics or point out opinions that some people might find unpleasant.

The opinions expressed on these pages are one reason why certain politicians and special-interest groups are looking to try to damage the News-Press' reputation and finances during the newspaper's transition period.

But except for a small group of employees, the News-Press team of 200-plus workers has continued not only to act professionally but has come together to protect their livelihoods and be good stewards of an institution that has been part of Santa Barbara since the 1800s.

Today and on Sunday, we'd like to share with you some background information to give you a better idea of what we've seen happen in the newsroom over the last years.

The management and staff of any newspaper should be committed to eliminating opinions of individual reporters and editors from the news stories. Any reporter or editor who isn't committed to this goal ought to leave the newsroom.

At the News-Press, there have been concerns involving newsroom bias and ethics. They are problems that the management would have preferred to address and correct internally, just as other news organizations do outside the public spotlight in the normal course of business.

Banishing the bias from the news reporting is a top priority for the present newsroom management. But the reality is that some of the past editors too often failed readers on this score.

Here's a number that speaks for itself: An independent survey conducted by an outside agency last year for the News-Press found that 64 percent of News-Press readers believed that reporters project their views into stories and were not neutral. The percentage was even higher among readers ages 18 to 34, a category of people the News-Press and other newspapers must reach out to or risk perishing in the decades ahead.

A large majority of our readers simply thought news stories reflected the bias of reporters. These are professionals on the payroll to provide you with straight-down-the-middle reports, rather than interject their political or other personal viewpoints.

Banish the bias? By all means.

And also make sure that balance is back in every story.

That is the goal as the News-Press moves forward, as the newspaper corrects the missteps of the past.