Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The insidiousness of lazy, casual bias

In a rapidly changing landscape, there is one article of faith among the pooh-bahs of the press: the main reason that traditional media are better than the new media is trustworthiness. Blogs, Twitter and other Internet outlets merely echo rumor and speculation, often because of an ideological agenda. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters are superior because they always verify claims before publishing them. Or at least that's the contention.

The actions of the Glens Falls Post-Star give lie to this claim and also highlights the daily's rapidly declining standards. 

The Post-Star has long been a divisive part of the community with its editorials reflexively hostile to teachers unions. These editorials wrongly demonize teachers for wanted to be treated like high-qualified professionals when the real culprit for high school taxes is a completely insane structure of education funding in the state. However, a recent editorial highlights just how lazy and casual this bias is.

Its October 1 "Boos and Bravos" section, which states the paper's formal editorial opinion, deplored the 16-month contract impasse between the teachers union and the school board in Warrensburg. Pretty vanilla stuff. In the past, the paper has also called for more transparency in budget negotiations. No objection there.

But the paper goes on to declare that because of the wording of state education law, it can only surmise that this is a stall tactic by the teachers union...

Wait, what?

I thought they were a newspaper. Why do they have to "surmise"?

If they wanted, they could do some actual journalism to try to reveal whether the impasse really was because of a "stall tactic" or whether there was some other reason. 

What would a responsible news outlet would do? Do in a little digging, find out the truth and then let that reality guide their editorial opinion 

Instead, the paper does exactly what the pooh-bahs so often convict the new media of doing: publishing reckless, inflammatory speculation to suit an ideological agenda.

The previous week, the paper did publish a news article on the impasse. But the article did not quote district or union officials as to their positions. 

The paper may or may not have reported on such details in the past, but if it had, then it could have cited those details rather than just "surmising." 

It just assumes that this particular impasse is the teachers fault -- a position that conveniently correlates with its past editorials against teachers unions -- for no concrete reason. This sort of lazy, casual bias is the most insidious kind.

The gutting of The Post-Star's staff and the economic straits of its parent company have been widely chronicled in this blog.

Maybe The Post-Star doesn't have the resources to do decent journalism of the sort that getting to the bottom of this story might require. But if they can't inform the public about what's going on in Warrensburg, then it should remain silent until it's willing and able do its job. Reckless speculation with no stated basis in fact is beneath what a purportedly responsible news organization should be engaging in.

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