Recently there was an interesting, sudden and short rise in objections to Colombia Reports’ bias. This is completely fair. While in my opinion our economic interest is much more reason for bias than a collective bias of a newsroom, it must be addressed.
To estimate the bias of a media you must know who funds it and how the particular news outlet works.
In the case of Colombia Reports our funding is relatively easy to explain.
- Most of the funding has come from my parents (thanks mum and dad!) who thought it was a good idea their boy (finally) learned some financial responsibility running his own show.
- We are receiving a few hundred dollars a month through the Google Ads you see well-represented on the website.
- Recently we’ve had some private advertisers (primarily the best website to send flowers to Colombia, the best language school in Bogota, the best website to meet Colombian women and the best legal translator in Colombia.)
- Additionally, we have received money of a financial-newspaper-owned fund in my home country The Netherlands to finance us training aspiring Colombian journalists who do not have the resources to go to journalism school.
How we work is basically like this. The only two journalists who have been involved since the beginning are myself and Giovanni Lopera, who rules the in-desk. For half a year we were able to hire a full-time bilingual Australian journalist, but when she left and there was no more money to replace her, we are now only working with volunteers who are either Spanish or journalism graduates, who stay an average of three months. We receive regular contributions and advice by professional journalists, mainly from the U.S.
Each contributor has his/her own gender, religion, nationality, sexual preference and political ideals. One contributor is from Austria, one from England, one from Medellin, one from Minnesota. One of our contributors saw his dad killed, one other is catholic and some previous contributors have divorced parents. The personal bias of each and every person working on this website is endless, but we agreed on one thing; that we were going to try to add something to the reporting on Colombia and hopefully improve the knowledge about the country and its people.
The difference in opinion between the people involved in the daily news production already kills a too extreme or one-sides bias, there’s also the basic journalistic rules we apply to prevent bias. Additionally, in the case of Colombia Reports one particular news item will go through three people before being published, this also means that three people of different backgrounds go over one article before it goes online. At the end of the day I go through the day’s feed to see if we have fairly shown the different sides to the different stories.
Despite all this self-regulatory stuff, the bias persists and always will.
Take myself as an example, the person who at the end of the day decides if we were “balanced enough.” I was born and raised in the Netherlands where the majority consider legalized marijuana and prostitution a great idea, the death penalty is considered barbaric, socialism is considered an optional form of government and the biggest minority is agnostic or atheist. It is inevitable that I have a different perspective than someone who’s from the south of the U.S. where the culture and moral values are extremely different. This bias is not a political preference, but culturally defined.
Fortunately, apart from simple professionalism, an interest in informing and not in convincing, there is another thing that balances this bias: the whole interwebs thing.
Back in the days, when journalists were still overpaid, coke-snorting, arrogant idealists with no clue or even respect for the audience they served, there was no interaction between publisher and reader. In fact, the only information available to a person was that allowed to him by the few news outlets.
Nowadays a person decides for himself what information he wants to be delivered and at what time. If he or she doesn’t like the news as it is brought, he can close the browser or start his own media (which is what I did in 2008.)
To not make the mistake the old guys made / are making, I try to optimize the communication between me, the writers and the readership. In many cases readers have become contributors or contributors became readers. There’s minimal moderating of comments and maximum interaction (through online discussions, exchanging tweets, drinking coffee, etc.) This way readers are as much involved in the publication as possible.
Killing the bias completely is impossible because it is not a fixed thing. Every person experiences a different bias. To minimize the bias we need communication between you and us. Because if you’re just gonna sit there, say we’re biased and leave it at that, how can we improve?
That’s why I particularly appreciate contributors like Bluebird, Turbobore, Andrewmann, TomTom, Sam Salmon and BryNC. They do not write articles, but provide important checks when they read something they disagree with, when we make a mistake or even when we (unintentionally or stupidly) distort or confuse facts. It is the interaction with guys like that that keeps us in balance. Because depending only on an ever-changing newsroom with a far-too-busy editor-in-chief is not going to do it.
I hope you will join us and help us write the articles, correct us when we’re wrong or tip us when we’re missing out on something or when you feel we are ignoring a specific topic you want on the agenda. We are not like tv, we actually hear you when you talk to us.