The Essentials of Journalism

This collection of guides explains the basic principles and elements of good journalism.

Tools to manage bias

Examine your own biases

Paul Taylor, former chief political correspondent at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Post, says that if you are covering a political campaign or any other ongoing, long-term story in which you could find yourself gravitating toward one side or one person:

  • Periodically examine yourself for bias building up — understanding what your views are and why you have them is the best way to keep them under control.
  • Who do you personally like or dislike? Why?
  • How might that be coloring your judgment?
  • Read through some of your stories and be self-critical.

Before and after

One way Paul Taylor used to test this is a “before and after” tool.

When assigned a story that involves some substantial reporting, Taylor used to write the lead at the outset, before he had done any reporting. Then he would test that lead against the one he had written for real at the end of the reporting.

If the final lead was too similar to the one he wrote before doing the reporting, he would know he hadn’t learned very much. That’s a sign the reporter may have only pursued information that confirms his biases, rather than overcoming preconceptions to find new information.

Ask yourself

Another test is to ask yourself at the beginning of the reporting what biases are at play in the story. Identify them.

  • Do any of them help you tell the story?
  • Are there any you believe you should not deal with?
  • Is there anything you should do in presenting any of these biases that will help the reader understand them?
  • What bias do I have going in that I should be wary of?

And ask one other question: What are my points of ignorance going in that I need to note?

Bias and objectivity

Journalism attempts to be fair and accurate. It does this through objective methods and managing bias. These guides help you understand and navigate those processes.

All Guides

Journalism Essentials: Introduction

What makes journalism different than other forms of communication?

What is the purpose of journalism?

The elements of journalism

What does a journalist do?

The journalist as a ‘committed observer’

The theory of the interlocking public

The lost meaning of ‘objectivity’

Understanding bias

Tools to manage bias

Journalism as a discipline of verification

The Hierarchy of Accuracy

The Hierarchy of Information and concentric circles of sources

The Protess Method of verification

What makes a good story?

Good stories are important and interesting

Boring versus engaging stories – what’s the difference?

Good stories prove their relevance to the audience