Saturday, February 13, 2016

Resource Review: Student News Daily, An Ironic Study in Media Bias

As an educator, I love free quality resources my students can easily access, but I've learned--sometimes the hard way, to be much more discerning of what it is I'm curating for them.  

Recently, I came across a site that came highly recommended as a news aggregator geared specifically toward high school students. Upon first look, it seemed promising as one of many choices I could offer students for exploring current events. It even had resources for spotting bias in media, which made me think the site's creators had a purpose similar to my own; challenging students to think critically while consuming the news.  That's what compelled me to want to know more and to look deeper, and that's why the results were so disappointing.    

Student News Daily purports to deliver to its young readers "fair and unbiased" news. It has all kinds of resources teachers love to work into their daily activities, including weekly features on political cartoons, quizzes, and vocabulary.


Sounds full o' awesome, right?  I thought so, too, so as with any news source, I checked the "About" page and couldn't find any humans or organizations attached to it. Here's what I did find on the Media Bias page:

Media Bias

Since citizens cannot cast informed votes or make knowledgeable decisions on matters of public policy if the information on which they depend is distorted, it is vital to American democracy that television news and other media be fair and unbiased.
In a recent Gallup Poll, the majority of Americans believe that the mass media slant reports in favor of the liberal position on current issues.
[The bias] is not the result of a vast left-wing conspiracy – [there is] an unconscious “groupthink” mentality that taints news coverage and allows only one side of a debate to receive a fair hearing.  When that happens, the truth suffers.
As a Language Arts educator, I teach my students about text structure.  That grey line hugging the text along its indented margin is called a block quote and its purpose is to indicate to the reader that the text is a longer-than-usual direct quote.   In this case, however, the grey line's used incorrectly. It's misleading in that, visually, it suggests the content is being attributed to someone other than the publishers of the site.  But there's no attribution. There was the Gallup link, glaring at me as a link...could it be Gallup? I clicked, and no, it wasn't from Gallup.

First, here's what startled me about the pseudo-quote: It says, in so many words, that a majority of Americans believe mass media to have a liberal slant. True enough, says the Gallup data (in the depths of the link)-- the perception exists.  But it appears Student News Daily would like you to read that as "Yo, left-wing bias is for realz" rather than just the mere perception of it. Embedded in the statement is the assumption that left-leaning bias in the media is a
 foregone conclusion. In fact, as far as Student News Daily is concerned, they know the reason for it and they're happy to explain: Not to worry, they tell their young readers. It's not evil lefty conspirators that are at play here, but rather it's group think on the part of sheep-y liberals.  You are safe from leftist mind control as long as you--the student, use Student News Daily as your news source because we are fair, unbiased, and free of left-leaning zombie herds

One has to see the humor in what follows; "Types of Media Bias," including media spin, which the above fuzzy logic is a marvelous example of!  I could've saved myself a whole lot of speculatin' brain cells by reading the very bottom of the page:



The true irony here is that much of the content on the site can be pointed to as examples for the various "Types of Media Bias" described on that particular page, with special attention to Bias of Selection of Sources.  

Taking a closer look at Student News Daily content: 

  • Political cartoons are presented as challenges for student analysis, yet upon said analysis, the majority are biased against progressive figureheads, policies, and ideas, and good luck finding any item that is critical of conservative ideals. This one's a good example of the general tone and subject matter, collectively. 

  • The Conservative vs. Liberal resource is presented as an innocuous handy-dandy reference guide for students to be able to understand the differences in what each side values, but if you're a progressive and you pay close attention, you'll notice it's rife with cleverly-disguised conservative-leaning nuances:  

  • Liberal-sided descriptions are both overly-generalized and absolute (it's the government's role to make us all happy, equal, and without need) while conservative-sided descriptions are ethos-heavy (if conservatives care about freedom to pursue one's goals, does that mean liberals do not?)

  • The "Wednesday Example of Media Bias" is less veiled if you scroll down the archived list of titles. They're obviously conservative talking points that the publishers of the site feel the left-leaning media is ignoring (you'll be hard-pressed to find anything editors see as unjustly biased toward conservatives, because..well, c'mon, read the Gallup poll.  That doesn't exist).

  • Here's a question from the latest weekly news quiz:



The answer to the above question, according to Student News Daily, is true because it's what the commentary said, not Student News Daily. See what they did there? So clever, they are...whoever they are (there's no way to tell on the site).

I'm not out to vilify conservative thinking, but rather the disingenuous manner in which ideologues cloak their ideas, as if they have no faith in the common sense of people.  This is aimed squarely at our students, though, so as an educator, I feel obligated to share this with my edu-brethren. 

This site is biased. At the very least, it's disingenuous to not acknowledge, from the get-go, the conservative-leaning tendency of the curators to collect or create content that is critical of only one perspective and to squarely ignore anything remotely critical of their own political views.

The real shame is that there are a few good resources on the site, which serves it well in attracting students and teachers.  We want students to be able to identify bias, so why not link this FREE and easily-accessible site to a blended lesson or a curated list of resources for thinking critically as consumers of media?

That's what makes this site unpalatable to me as an educator-- the sheer sneakiness on the part of the site creators in response to their own perceptions of media bias. The claim that it's "fair" takes on a different shade of character if you consider the possible motivations behind the creation of the site.  They don't mean fair as in multiple perspectives, ethical, and objective news reports. They mean fair in the context of a war with a perceived ideological opposite, playing by what is assumed to be the enemy's tactics for lassoing the hearts and minds of impressionable consumers of media.  But the young readership of this site has potentially little to no clue as to that larger context.  That's what makes it insidious, that it's not geared toward adults but rather our youth.

As I turn my sights toward further developing my Humanities program, framing it through the lens of journalistic ethics, I'll be bookmarking sites just like Student News Daily to show students exactly what I mean by deceptive and misleading practices and how to spot the red flags (no transparency, no open discussion on the site- what little there is is highly-filtered, no names or faces attached, etc.). 

Teachers: Don't do your students an injustice by using this site as an unfiltered reference.  Use it to teach about bias cloaked in anti-bias advocacy, because that's exactly what it is.

To the faceless and nameless folks behind Student News Daily (should this ever come your way): Practice what you preach.  You may not be journalists, but you're a curator of news, regardless, and you disingenuously present yourself to young people as being "fair and unbiased," which is false.  

Here's a little reminder of a source your site points students toward in a way that suggests you actually value it (by including it as a tab in your site's drop-down menu...again, using text features to mislead): The last part of The Society of Professional Journalists' "Code of Ethics"...

9 comments:

  1. I noticed that the unbiased view of bias was indeed biased. Thank you for putting this out there.

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  2. I'm so glad someone else had these same thoughts. I was trying to find articles that showed two different representations of the same even, and came across this site in my search. Just the description of Liberal vs. Conservative tipped me off and Conservative leaning. The website I did end up finding being very useful was: https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-news. It labels the slant of different news stories about the same events or topics. It was very useful to print one article from each side for students to examine the bias present in each.

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    1. Allsides has USAToday as center cut. That makes me very skeptical of their neutrality.

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  3. I read a few of their bias pieces and thought that they were really good. After three in a row that all pointed out Liberal bias, I started looking to see if there were any examples of instances where Conservative sources did biased reporting. Imagine my relief in learning that this isn't something that Conservatives do! Whew! Almost had to question my OWN bias there. Close one.

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  4. Thank you. I went through some of their archives and saw some red flags. I needed to gather more information so thank you for doing that for me!

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  5. simply reading through the page titled "Conservative vs Liberal Beliefs" will tell you all you need to know about the site. Liberals expect the government to take care of them. Conservatives, on the other hand, are virtuous, hard working, pick-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps types who take control of their own destiny, as long as the government stays out of their way.

    The "Socialism vs Capitalism" page is even worse, if that's possible. Socialism (community control of the means of production) is redefined as "Government controls all means of production" In other words, a textbook definition of a totalitarian Communist state, not Socialism. Further down, Socialism's goal is "Redistribution of wealth". These lies have been repeated so often and so long in the conservative media that they are simply accepted as factual by the consumers of talk radio and Fox News. It's no wonder conservative voters hate liberals. If any of this were true, I'd hate liberals, too.

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  6. Thank you for your insightful analysis.For a unit of work on persuasive language, I had been searching for some accessible opinion pieces for my ESL class when I came across Student News Daily. So many things about this site alarmed me. Needless to say I am still searching for what I need but am happy to have discovered Syd’s blog.

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  7. Thank you for posting this. I too saw what Mike (above) said about Socialism vs. Capitalism. And Syd you are spot on with the lack of any organization or name attached to this. They do say they are not affiliated with any organization and are non-profit. But anyone can have a non-profit.

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  8. Thank you for this - I was in the "wow, this looks awesome!" stage of discovery and looked at the Conservative vs Liberal page and decided to google whether the site was already flagged for bias. You've saved me a lot of time!
    Does anyone have any suggestions for similar resources that are *actually* fairly free from bias?

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