Fairness in story selection not as easy as keeping a tally

Amy Hackbarth

Where is the fair reporting?” one reader asked in response to two Associated Press articles about Palestinian issues printed in Tuesday’s Daily. A page four story chronicled the Internet use of Palestinians living in Israel-restricted areas, and a page 13 article detailed the Israeli razing of Bedouin villages.

In an unusually strong and quick reaction, readers flooded the editor in chief’s office with e-mails and phone calls within 24 hours of publication. They criticized the Daily’s “egregious imbalance” and “shoddy reporting.” One wrote the “nature of these articles smacks with anti-Semitism.”

The question of bias lies not in the angle from which the articles were written – because they were penned by non-Daily reporters – but in the selection of what some perceived as two Palestinian-favoring articles in one paper. Associated Press articles, which make up less than one-third of the paper every day, are chosen nightly by Andrew Pritchard, the Daily’s assistant managing editor.

Pritchard said he chooses AP content based on the articles’ interest and relevance to Daily readers. He typically fills page two, the Daily Review, with articles containing international and national focuses. Usually, articles about local issues or recent topics of debate are likely to fill the rest of the paper, he said.

“I try to think about it as I understand the University community and the Daily readers,” Pritchard said. “What are they interested in and what do they need to know?”

So does Pritchard think that running two articles about Palestinians in one issue is biased?

“On some level, people are going to see what they want in the coverage,” he said. “The fact that these stories both ran on the same day is coincidental; they both were fresh on the wire and we had the space to run them.”

Pritchard said he didn’t view the articles as specifically about Palestinians, but rather about issues that aren’t unique to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The article about Palestinians in restricted areas going online to contact friends and family, he argued, dealt with how technological advances can help people deal with trying situations.

“If these stories spark debate and conversation, I would say ‘good,’ ” he said. “The point of a newspaper is to cause discussion.”

Pritchard’s points are valid. However, instead of provoking discussion, the Daily’s story selection seems to be causing some readers to question the paper’s objectivity. As one reader wrote, Tuesday’s coverage “makes it look like the Daily is more concerned with tarring Israel than with reporting news.”

For news outlets, there is a fine line between telling readers what they need to know and allowing them to determine news content. Obviously it is necessary to try to remain without bias and report all sides of the issues. This is true both in individual articles – where reporters strive to allow each side to express its opinion – as well as in the ongoing selection of wire articles for the newspaper.

However, if Pritchard and the rest of the Daily staff started a scorecard to ensure the same number of stories about Israel or Palestinians, the Daily’s coverage would become little more than a numerical tally. Uninteresting stories might be published merely to keep both sides equal.

Still, more careful consideration should have been given to the question of whether the two articles published Tuesday presented a fair, balanced picture of the news.

Amy Hackbarth is the readers’ representative. She welcomes comments at [email protected]