7 out of 10 Journalists Say They Were Accused of Bias

A new study by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University says that within the last 12 months, 70 percent of 527 randomly chosen newspaper reporters said they had been accused of bias. But most journalists offered excuses as to why they did what they did.

Reports Editor and Publisher:

More than half of newspaper journalists in a recent survey believe an unethical or unprofessional incident occurred in their newsroom within the past five years, while seven out of 10 said they had been accused of bias in the past 12 months, according to a study released today by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

But at least 70% of those polled more often pointed to "factors beyond their control" as the cause of such poor ethical perceptions, rather than their own newspapers' actions.

More than 30% of respondents, meanwhile, noted problems with sources -- anonymous or not -- providing misleading or inaccurate information, with the same percentage seeking legal advice on such stories.

It's amazing how honest people will be when talking about others.

More than half of the surveyed journalists reported working with "a peer involved in fabrication, plagiarism or other deliberate misconduct," the survey stated. It added that 20% believed such wrong behavior should be punished more rigorously.

Survey organizers said the study was designed to "measure whether and when respondents were involved either directly or indirectly in an incident involving newsroom mistakes or unethical behavior." The report stated that "almost all respondents have experienced at least two such situations."

Of those who had been accused of bias in the past 12 months, most "often blame poor editing as contributing to inaccuracy in their articles." Sources, anonymous or not, also were viewed as "problematic and potentially leading to factual errors," the report stated.

Journalists found even more people to blame, including blogs, tabloids and politicians.

"Newspaper journalists say problems in television news, on Web sites and blogs, and even in tabloids and shopper publications all have a deleterious effect on the credibility of newspaper journalists," the report stated. "In addition, almost one in five say that criticism of media by politicians erodes readers' trust."

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