Bias and negativity in writing

Hated by the Daily Mail

Hated by the Daily MailIt should be quite obvious to all that read my blog that I am a left-wing liberal with socialist tendencies, a deep mistrust of authority and an intense dislike for right-wing views. I make no secret of this; I mention it in my “About” page and I state my views in my articles quite often. My views obviously shape my writing and introduce a bias into what I report. When I comment on actions of the police or on Conservative party policies I am usually negative about them because I disagree with them – this is a natural consequence of writing in a blog, or indeed of my writing at all. I choose what to write about based on what I think is important or on what inspires me, and negative things usually seem more important to me than positive ones. The same thing is obvious in social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Negative statements or reporting of news items seen as negative will always be shared, liked or retweeted more than positive ones. Statements with swearing doubly so.

But is this right? After all, I really hate the Daily Mail for its bias. Nearly every headline that I see in it is something negative about things that I like or seems to me to have missed the point. Daily Mail stories show a clear bias in the opposite direction to that which I would like. They promote views that clash with mine, particularly when written by Melanie Philips, Richard Littlejohn or Quentin Letts. They often miss out facts that would detract from the impact of their stories. Further to that, they pick on people who I talk to and like, and they deliberately twist facts or even make them up to get a good story.

So what is the difference between what I write and what is written in the Daily Mail? I’ve thought about this quite a lot. Is it the format? Is there something inherently different about a blog and a tabloid in paper format? Probably not, since the Mail publish all their stories on their website, currently the second most viewed news website in the English speaking world. Perhaps it is in the size of the readership? I have perhaps two thousand visitors per month, while the Mail’s website has nearly forty million. But surely I have a responsibility to those two thousand people that visit my blog? Is it the expectations of the audience? After all, much of the audience of the Mail are expecting to read news as well as comment, while my audience are expecting comment alone. But what about when people read a news story as part of my comment? The difference narrows, since in both cases the news is presented in a cloud of carefully selected words to shape the bias of the story.

While I have had a blog for a long time and have commented on politics before, I only really started writing in depth less then a year ago. I am still being shaped as a writer. I started out with very intense comment with no effort at all to present a neutral view. More recently I have sometimes tried to make an effort to introduce a little less bias into my writing. That is for two reasons really, firstly because I would really like to inform those with a different point of view to me, and I know that strong visible bias does not help that, and secondly because I don’t want to be like the Daily Mail. Now I hope that I have not sunk to their level of personal attacks and of writing about irrelevant details of a persons life purely to shape a story, but I know that I do direct my anger and I do swear about those that anger me. There is a very fine line, and I would like to stay on the right side of it. It’s a difficult challenge. Writing about the arrests leading up to the royal wedding yesterday, I was conscious that I was angry, and that anger and bias was showing up in my writing and even in the comments I made to introduce each video. My choice of description could shape the whole article and I really wanted to write something that would make people on all sides think, not just people that already agree with me.

So in the end, what is the difference between my blog and a tabloid paper? I think of all the things that I mentioned above, the expectations of the audience has to be the main distinguishing factor. Additionally, I think the experience of the writer has to be taken into account. As I develop my writing skills I hope to be less biased and more factual. I want to appeal to a broader audience and to make people think and I can’t do that if I annoy them. At the same time, I don’t want to lose the attributes of my writing that make people actually want to read it. I’m probably going to retain a negative viewpoint overall, purely because those are the stories that attract my attention. So I’m going to be making an effort both to lose some bias and to keep my writing style, and maybe throw in something positive from time to time. I may fail in one of those things – It’s political correctness gone mad.

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

6 thoughts on “Bias and negativity in writing”

  1. “But is this right? After all, I really hate the Daily Mail for its bias… Daily Mail stories show a clear bias in the opposite direction to that which I would like.”
    — Of course it’s right [that you write from your own bias] No-one is bias free. Just that your bias is a damn sight nearer the mark than the DM, but we all know that anyway. You write what you believe in – as most bloggers do – and it’s purer for that.

    “I don’t want to be like the Daily Mail.”
    — I think that at least most [serious] Bloggers [most certainly including yourself] tend NOT to sink to the level of the DM of using copious misinformation as part of a wider agenda. I don’t think bloggers try to ‘work’ a news story to fit in with their own message. This, of course, is DM Procedure No. 1. You won’t be like the DM. Your concience won’t let you.

    “As I develop my writing skills I hope to be less biased and more factual.”
    — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being both. You CAN be both – if the facts actually SUPPORT what you consider to be your bias. Your ‘bias’ may, in fact, be the consensus. I’ve read most of your posts, and I find that’s the case a lot of the time.

  2. Steve, I think you make a really good point here.

    Here’s a question back though: do you think the reader’s expectations _are_ that different with the Mail vs your Blog? What I mean is, do the readers of various newspapers mistakenly expect unbiased news reporting, or do they know exactly what they’re getting.

    I suspect the truth is that most would say that they know what they’re getting, and are quite happy to knowingly read things that chime with their pre-existing bias – meanwhile, they are consciously and subconsciously shaped by what they read rather more than they realise, or would like to admit. But they choose to be indoctrinated (if you want to put it that strongly). We all do. *

    The same could happen with blogs – but whereas many Mail, Sun, etc readers will get most of their news from that source, I doubt that any of your readers get most of their news from your blog, and I doubt that most get most of their news only from blogs in general.

    So I think you’re right, it is down to the reader’s attitude to the text – but it’s whether they treat it as a primary source of news, or not, that matters. I guess the claims of the text itself matter too, but hopefully most of us can see past those. “Fox news” says it’s a news channel, but…!

    It’s also very difficult to be unbiased. The only newspaper that seemed to try is The Independent, but it sometimes does take a political stand and often publishes campaigning pieces, so really it’s centrist, rather than unbiased. Also the BBC is supposed to be unbiased. In some respects it absolutely is, but in others it is very left leaning, while in yet others it merely looks out for its own continued existence.

    Reaching the opposing side doesn’t necessarily require abandoning bias (though it’s always good to try to understand and present the opposing view point) – it means being able to genuinely put yourself in the shoes of the other person. This is something very few people can do properly, and you and me are no exceptions – your “intense dislike for right-wing views” means you can’t imagine why anyone would vote conservative. Yet many millions of people do. Good luck reaching them.

    Cheers,
    David.

    * – Even “free thinkers” or whatever choose to be indoctrinated – they choose to read things that promote free thinking rather than the benefits of one perspective – but such an attitude _is_ just another perspective.

  3. (In all my comments the word ‘people’ or ‘person’does not refer to you Steve, but to all people)

    You do indeed make a good point and unfortunately I do think there are people who read a paper truly thinking it’s not biased. My comment would be that everyone is entitled to their opinion absolutely but like David says people struggle to really put themselves in the shoes of the other side. A person’s opinion is valid, but it is only an opinion, not fact and everyone’s opinion is equal.

    2 more observations, 1. Like breeds like – people who follow you are likely to do so because they share your views. On the few occasions that I have commented on your writings, usually we’ve just ended up arguing about something which hasn’t actually enhanced the conversation flow. So what’s the point? 2. What is fact? How trustworthy is anything, given that we’ve just said that everyone is influenced and biased by many factors. Someone videoing a particular incident at a protest has been/is being influenced by all sorts of factors and is therefore not videoing something else which might tell a different story. People with a predisposition to disliking the police, because of the previous influences on their opinions, will be subconsciously looking out for incidents of the police behaving incorrectly and then write about them, not subconsciously looking for the incidents of the police doing well and above the call of duty. Lastly, whilst on the subject of the police particularly, one must be careful not to generalise where policing practices are specific to the Met police and not police nationally.

    Robin

  4. I really don’t get the MAIL bashing? Honestly. If you don’t like what they
    say or print “DONT READ IT”

    I have exactly that philosophy towards the Daily Mirror. I would not clean
    my shoes with that rag.

    I know when I have read it in the past , I see the left wing spin on
    everything.

    I will say this in the defense of the MAIL and its the same thing as the
    BNP web site.

    It lets you comment on the story. Would the mirror do that? Or Labours
    political web site?

    Nope

    Want to know why? They cant handle the truth or debate.

    Fortunately ,have the gift of not being able to be brainwashed by the
    media,unlike most sheeple who have become assimilated.

    I am surprised the looney left are not gathered outside the Mail’s
    headquarters like the villagers in the old Frankenstein movies.
    (there is time yet) after all if the left don’t get what they want, they
    throw the toys out of the pram and riot.

    Peace and love man.

  5. TL;DR. Point taken about bias and propaganda but they win hands-down when it comes to snappy headlines and grabbing and keeping the reader’s attention.

  6. I think you make an interesting point, but I often try to remain neutral in my writing and I find this is what often leaves it flat and uninteresting, and unsatisfying for me. Everyone has a bias because of their personal experience, and it is because of your personal experience that people read your blog and want to know what you have to say!

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