OPINION: Our biases are about the keys for communities

If you’re in the newspaper business for any length of time, you’ll be called a lot of things and your motives will be questioned. That’s a given.
There will be readers who assume grand strategies or conspiracies by the newspaper against one side or the other. Even when you’ve taken great pains to ensure a balanced approach, some will still see a bias.
It’s not unusual to be called a reactionary Republican newspaper or an apologist for liberal Democrats literally in the same week or even on the same day. Ditto for those who see us as out to get Mississippi State or Ole Miss.
Sometimes it’s a reader’s desire to see his or her side, cause, candidate, team, etc., given preferential rather than equitable treatment that raises the cry of bias. Sometimes it’s an inability or refusal to see the big picture – coverage over time, not just a snapshot of a day or two’s editions – that causes a reader to perceive bias.
But sometimes, we must admit, it’s an oversight or an omission or an imbalance – however unplanned or unintentional – that legitimately raises reader hackles, and in that case, we need to acknowledge it and resolve to be more vigilant in ensuring balance and context.
The polarized political times in which we live, and the changes in the media landscape that have brought an explosion of opinion and polemics masquerading as news, make that task especially important today.
At the Daily Journal, we work hard to report the local, regional and state news fairly and in the proper context. In selecting the national and international news we publish from our wire services, we attempt to provide variety while realizing that we are a local newspaper and will never be able to make room for every story that’s been on cable news. On our editorial page, we seek a diversity of viewpoints over the course of a week’s time.
Even in sports, a day rarely goes by that we don’t talk about how to ensure equity in our treatment of the Bulldogs and Rebels, and that’s a tougher audience to satisfy than the partisan political stalwarts.
Still, we know that we don’t always meet the mark, and we welcome constructive criticism from readers.
One recent example involved the Sept. 12 Washington protest of conservative activists from around the nation. Crowd estimates varied greatly, but it was a significant event that merited a separate story in the next day’s paper. We had a mention of it in another wire story, but some readers were understandably miffed not to see a full story.
No conspiracy there, just an oversight – and not much help from The Associated Press, which didn’t tag it on its list of the day’s biggest stories, where we usually go to choose our national and international fare. As a result, we’ve resolved to keep a closer watch on events that don’t always make the top of the wire report.
Where we have direct control – in our local coverage – we have covered the equivalent events prominently. The first Tea Party rally in Tupelo was the lead story on our front page, and we’ve covered each of the subsequent events with a story and photo.
It would be disingenuous, however, to suggest that we don’t make value judgments in the news we report. Every decision to cover or not cover something, and how to play it in the paper, reflects some subjective analysis of its significance or interest.
The Daily Journal isn’t invested in either side of the partisan divide; in our editorial stance, we are interested in what works and not who proposes it or stands to gain or lose politically from it. But we do have some core values that have guided our news coverage and editorial emphasis for 75 years – since the late George McLean bought the then-twice weekly Tupelo Journal in 1934.
Strong public education, high-quality economic development, a cooperative and inclusive civic spirit, innovative public-private sector partnerships, and policies and initiatives that uplift the lives of the least advantaged citizens are among the core emphases that haven’t changed in the long sweep of this newspaper’s history. We admittedly and unapologetically have a bias for these things as key elements of successful communities, and you’ll see that reflected in what we emphasize in our news coverage and editorials.
Even in these things, though, we realize there are multiple perspectives and approaches, and that it’s our responsibility to report on them fairly and accurately. But if you read the Journal, you can expect to see these subjects often – ideally every day – on the front page.
That’s who we are, whatever we’re called.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.

Lloyd Gray

Click video to hear audio