It is the goal of most media outlets to provide a balanced reporting. This sort of reporting often involves finding all sides of a story and reporting on them. For many issues there are two sides. For and against. So a reporter goes out, interviews the people who are for the issue they are writing about and then goes and finds the people who are against the issue and interviews them. The reporter can then return to the newsroom satisfied that a full report has been given and both sides have been presented in a balanced fashion.
Of course, that isn’t always the case.
While most stories do have two sides to them, there are often shades of gray. Sometimes all of these shades of gray can muddy the issue. Any reporter worth his or her salt will meticulously investigate all sides of the story and produce a very detailed and comprehensive report, which an editor will then simplify and cut for time and space.
Reporters who aren’t worth their salt, will of course choose to simply ignore the gray area and only report on the black and white issue, which will make the town, city, state, country or world seem far more polarized than they actually are.
Regardless of whether or not a reporter is worth his or her salt, an editor will likely eliminate the gray area and the world will seem far more polarized.
One of the gray areas within journalism is the prickly issue of false balance. If eight people are running for a seat on the town council, and one of the candidates runs every time a seat is up and gets .002% of the vote, should that candidate be covered as much as the others?
When covering NASA’s latest discoveries about the Earth and its orbit, is it necessary to interview a member of the Flat Earth Society?
How often should the fringe elements of society be considered when attempting to show balance? Is it the media’s job to create balance, or merely to present what is already there in equal proportion to its presence in reality?
These are indeed the questions that have driven many a journalist to drink.