Considering journalistic bias at #FamiliesBelongTogether march

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The #FamiliesBelongTogether march in Minneapolis drew thousands into the downtown streets, while approximately 600 similar protests occurred across all 50 states to rally against immigration policies and the separation of families. For a journalist, the job typically entails taking photos and pulling quotes from rally-goers, but to what extent are we also separate from these issues? How does a reporter prevent journalistic bias?

A diverse group of people with a wide array of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds attended the Free Our Future Minneapolis march. Twenty-eight varying organizations on Facebook hosted the rally, including local union groups, ACLU of Minnesota, and many other organizations focused on diverse racial and immigration issues.

Covering #FamiliesBelongTogether Minneapolis

A woman leading a protest yells into the microphone. #familiesbelongtogether. journalistic bias
Minneapolis, MN. Estefania Navarro works to keep the crowd passionate in sweltering Minneapolis heat. Photo credit: JD Duggan

“A lot of people were angry,” said Estefania Navarro, lead organizer with Navigate Minnesota, an immigrant rights organization who co-hosted the event. “[They were] hearing news– headline after headline– about the close to 1500 children who have disappeared, the family separation and now family detention at the border.”

Normally, a reporter would use this space to summarize the march, to tell the route and maybe mention some of the chants or give some national context on the issue– but I digress. These marches made headlines in practically every major American city, articles are already plastered across the internet with those re-tellings.

Journalistic bias, integrity, and truth

Protesters gather in the streets of Minneapolis to march against immigration policies
Minneapolis, MN. The protest spanned many downtown city blocks, with approximately 7,000 people marching through the streets. Photo by Benjamin Pecka.

One of the core issues addressed at the protest was the misplacing of hundreds upon hundreds of children in the custody of the federal government. As a journalist, am I showing bias by drawing a fair conclusion on a human rights issue? Having covered many partisan protests over the last two years, offering fair coverage to each involved group is integral to reporting on the event. Journalism is the ability to look at an issue or an event and give a fair and accurate representation of the facts, regardless of personal belief.

No human is an objective channel of truth– but a skilled journalist is fair in their coverage. Plainly stating facts without letting bias interfere with coverage results in an unimpeded report. Often, the truth can speak for itself.

But what even is objectivity? Anybody can write a hollow, voiceless retelling of events. But what happens if a protest has a counter-protest? What happens when a new development to a neighborhood sees backlash from the broader community? Regardless of how bland the writing may intentionally be, the reporter on the scene chooses who gets the platform, they choose which quotes will go to the top of the story. A dry re-telling can still introduce bias. The journalist still decides which aspects of the story are chosen and prioritized.

Preventing journalistic bias on social issues difficult

Protesters carry a Free Our Future sign
Minneapolis, MN. Navarro and other rallygoers compared ICE to a modern day Gestapo, based on the act of separating children from their families. Photo credit: J.D. Duggan

In the world of citizen journalism and intense partisan divide, where does that leave a reporter at a rally protesting lost children? If a counter-protest said “It’s the family’s fault and the kid is facing the consequences of their parents’ actions,” am I picking a side if I decide they don’t deserve a platform?

But, that’s the job of a journalist– to offer those platforms, and typically the truth is synthesized from presenting the facts. Oftentimes, you find that a person is afraid of something, whether it’s fear of crime or a loss of jobs. Or, for groups like the Proudboys, you find that after a young white man has been repeatedly beaten with ‘you don’t have culture and you don’t matter,’ they found themselves a group who celebrated their culture at the expense of another racial group.

Unfortunately, the traditional model of journalism often focuses on the conflict rather than cultivating understanding. Typically, “official sources” follow the status quo, introducing biases of the establishment and ignoring voices that are historically undermined. It’s often difficult to step outside ourselves, but that is a key to journalism– understanding and context. Again, the truth speaks for itself, and a skilled journalist can bring this truth to the forefront with in-depth and fair coverage.

The question of ‘ethical truths’

A protester carries a sign saying "families seeking safety are not criminals."
Minneapolis, MN. Operation of the light rail came to a halt as protesters crossed the tracks on 5th Street. Photo credit: J.D. Duggan

Although the journalist may be subjective, journalistic methods sometimes has an objective standard, according to an article titled “The lost meaning of ‘objectivity’” by the American Press Institute. There is a science to most journalism, because there is an objectivity to concrete facts. But where is the objectivity when it comes to writing about human issues? Where does the ‘ethical truth’ fall when it comes to immigration in a country packed full of citizens of European, Asian, and African descent? Well, again, sometimes laying out the facts plainly can show us what a seemingly-obvious ethical truth looks like.

When we take a human issue and make it a political issue, we often forget the human. We forget that our neighbors, friends, or ancestors face these trials and pains and heartaches. They become the faceless words on a Fox News blog, or the sensationalized half-truth of a HuffPo article. These tactics of fear-mongering and overhype are a great way to discredit the core truth of an argument– when sometimes offering a fair platform to any side of an issue bring us to the truth itself.

Video footage by Benjamin Pecka. View full, unedited coverage of the march on our YouTube channel.

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