Media Bias Chart: Evaluating news sources that fuel our understanding of the world around us

For those of us whose work and lives are shaped by national and global events — in other words, just about all of us! — the news media that we read and follow play a central role in shaping our understanding of reality. It follows that we should also attempt to comprehend the political landscape of those media sources, so that we have some idea of what is being fed into our brains.

To help us, Denver-based attorney and media observer Vanessa Otero has created this fascinating Media Bias Chart (enlarged image) reflecting her evaluation of the political leanings and credibility of popular sources of news and commentary. I’m sharing it here with her kind permission. Especially for those who want to read more about what has inspired and informed Ms. Otero’s efforts, as well as her commentaries on periodic revisions to the chart, her All Generalizations are False site is definitely worth a visit.

Of course, it’s possible that you might quibble with her placement of various news sources. Especially if you’re a news junkie, that’s part of the fun! I happen to think that this is a very thoughtful assessment, and it helps me to understand my own biases and the flow of information that influences my view of the world.

The Media Bias Chart also helps us to grasp the sources of our deep ideological divide in the U.S. I see this frequently on Facebook, where some folks are more likely to consistently post items from one of the far left or far right news sources. Of course, those sources may also reflect someone’s honest perception of truth and reality. In that sense, this does reveal an inherent bias in the design of the chart itself, i.e., that the more politically extreme the news source, the less credible it happens to be. We could spend hours debating that implicit thesis!

Self evaluation

If I’m opining about the credibility of news sources, I should practice some disclosure here and identify those that I regularly read and follow. As a preface, I confess that I read selectively, for there aren’t enough hours in the day for cover-to-cover newspaper reads. And I also happily admit that on some days I’ll read more about sports, books, or favorite TV shows than about “hard news”!

Anyway, here goes: In terms of daily newspapers, the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune are bookmarked on my computer. Add to that WBUR, Boston’s public radio news station. On a weekly basis, I get the New Yorker, Economist, Guardian Weekly, Time, and The Week. I also subscribe to countless monthlies and various journals, and I’ll sometimes pick up USA Today when I’m traveling. 

I rarely watch television news except for major breaking events. I’m not a big fan of cable TV news coverage, regardless of political orientation. I just don’t think it’s very useful or healthy to watch most of it on an ongoing basis.

Overall, based on the Media Bias Chart, my news sources are “Neutral” or “Skews Liberal.” Perhaps the most notable omission in terms of national newspapers is the Wall Street Journal. I follow financial and economic news regularly, but not so closely that a subscription is justified.

By the way, I have print or online subscriptions to all of the news sources I regularly read. I strongly believe in supporting the news media, including the folks who do the hard work of reporting what’s happening around us. With dwindling print advertising revenues, subscription dollars are all the more precious to these media sources. So long as I have the means to do so, I’ll subscribe to the newspapers and periodicals that keep me informed. 

3 responses

  1. The frequency with which this chart gets reposted on social media amazes me. What is most amazing is that many people treat it as if it was the result of some sort of academic study or based on some sort of unbiased criteria itself.

    Actually, this nice looking chart is merely a reflection of the opinions of one patent attorney in Denver with no particular training or expertise. I happen to disagree strongly with many of her characterizations. I have watched in amazement as her chart, reflecting her bias, has become a sort of standard by which people evaluate the media.

    As with everything you see posted on the internet, it really pays to look behind the curtain and see what goes on. So, for those who are interested, I direct you to the “About” page for the creator of the chart. It is straightforward, honest, and points out that you shouldn’t really listen to the author as some sort of expert on media bias. Look here:

    • P.S. I didn’t mean in any way to imply that you were misusing the chart, David. And I appreciate that you included more information from the author’s site. I was just adding emphasis, and reacting to how I have seen others use it.

    • Bob, I happen to think that on balance, the chart is very good. I’m fine with an independent researcher undertaking this project — it’s a helluva lot more bold than most academics would attempt — probably because of how it opens one for criticism on methodology and analysis.

      Sometimes it takes an independent researcher to do what the academics are too fearful to try. If you’re wondering why it’s getting so much attention, perhaps the answer is that people are thirsty for such assessments. Alas, it appears that the academics have been too timid to take on something like this.

      I read Ms. Otero’s “about” page as part of preparing this post and found it to be very transparent and refreshingly modest in its explanations. Also, as you can see from her postings, she’s open to feedback on her assessments and changes them when she believes it is warranted.

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