Everyone has bias. No matter how loudly a journalist may proclaim innocence on this front, we all come to stories with our own experiences and perspectives. This influences how we approach a topic, who we interview, and what we ultimately write.
My experience as a first-year volunteer baseball umpire reinforced my view that people accept these biases, especially when they are forthrightly disclosed. Although I generally tried to avoid it, I sometimes found myself umpiring games in which my son played. I made sure that the coaches and any fellow umpires were aware of the situation — and they were uniformly OK with the arrangement.
Sure, some of that has to do with the fact that finding volunteer umpires can be a considerable challenge. But in my conversations with the individuals involved, their greater concern was that they have umpires on the field who knew the rules and would apply them consistently and fairly. I met that criteria.
The media would be better off following a similar model. One need not turn traditional journalism into pure opinion pieces, but if the audience knew the biases of reporters involved in presenting various stories, it would be to everyone’s advantage. It would diffuse criticism to some degree since transparency disinfects, but it would also increase accountability on the journalists who could no longer pretend to have be completely impartial and would thus likely work harder to achieve balance.
As more companies and organizations move into brand journalism, the same principle can be applied. Don’t shy away from the fact that you’re likely writing stories about topics that you have a financial or other interest in. Be open about it, but be sure to provide balance by going beyond your own offerings and covering broader topics within the industry. Heck, you can even safely mention competitors if you’re confident about the products and services you provide.
Bottom line: let the audience decide on the quality after they understand the bias.