I don’t know what’s going on these days but it seems like everyone, and I do mean everyone, has this idea that they can tell journalists what to write and how to write it. My own mother does it.
“You can’t write that, Roz. This is a small town.”
René, who is both my brother and my boss, does not usually ask me to remove a tweet or censure my rants, but sometimes he’ll pull another Uno card and surprise me with a request. He also does the bulk of the sales, and networks daily.
“Could you just not? I have to go ask these business owners for money here.”
Sometimes I will remove the tweet. Sometimes I won’t. A lot depends on my caffeine levels and my mood, and when I post that kind of thing my mood is usually well into the red zone anyway.
In addition to bosses, family, friends and those who follow me on social media, I’ve gotten my proverbial wrist slap from colleagues, government officials on all three levels, and those who have apparently mistaken Donald Trump and Pierre Poilievre for the Second Coming of Christ. So why do I persist? Because I must.
Here’s the thing about journalism – people are alway screaming about wanting us to be unbiased and neutral, but that’s not what they actually want. When we do that it’s all “fake news”. Social media is king at this.
No, in my experience, what they want is to read articles that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs, and in the face of hard evidence that refutes those beliefs, will dig in even deeper. It’s called confirmation bias, and here are some websites, for all of you screaming “do your research”. People don’t even believe the research, even if it means possible death (search for COVID deniers).
Scientific American shared an article on behaviour called “Biases Make People Vulnerable to Misinformation Spread by Social Media”. In a nutshell, we are more prone to following like-minded people on social media and bots are real and effective. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/biases-make-people-vulnerable-to-misinformation-spread-by-social-media/)
Our brains are also hardwired to reward us with a rush when we win the argument, and associate negative emotions with losing. (https://theconversation.com/your-brains-built-in-biases-insulate-your-beliefs-from-contradictory-facts-150509)
A quick Google search on confirmation bias, especially as it pertains to journalism, can send you screaming down a rabbit hole, but you get the idea. The question is, do you accept that?
“I’m not biased.”
Of course you are. You’re human. You have thoughts, feelings, and opinions. I’m also human and a journalist and I’m biased. A simple glimpse of my Twitter feed will reveal my thoughts on any number of hot button topics, from the USA’s devolvement into madness, the price of inflation, to what I think of cosmetics and pro-sports.
As a journalist I do my damndest not to let it show in an article, but if I do that’s what my editor is for. I don’t share my voting history, usually not even with members of my own family. Every public figure I’ve ever dealt with knows full well I will strike a match and apply it to the soles of their feet without a moment’s hestiation. Asking the question is my job. Reporting the answers is my job. Whether or not you like them is not my job, and I won’t write “fake news” for anyone.
I write for plenty of reasons: income, enjoyment, sharing of ideas, and most likely some kind of weird gene that exists within my DNA. Popularity and pissing people off aren’t factors.
“Just the facts, ma’am.”
I envy Joe Friday. All he has to do is catch the bad guy. Apparently in a small community, I have to toe some kind of invisible line. I can tell you now it’s not going to happen and I never agreed to that. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and there are ducklings swimming around, I’m not going to report it’s a seagull.
Rosalyn Roy is the National Newspaper Award winner of the 2022 Bob Levin Award for Short Feature, published by the National Post (Sept. 24, 2022).