False Equivalency, Journalism, and the Post-Truth Era

By Joey Coleman // @JoeyColeman
Published: Nov 27 2016 (7 months ago) // Last Updated: Nov 27 2016 (7 months ago)

If I were to rank the top sins a journalist can commit, I'd probably put false equivalency just below "access journalism".

One of the greatest pressures placed against a journalist is to stick to a "he said, he said" narrative and treat both sides as completely equal.

The fault isn't entirely on journalist - there has been a public demand for false balance, it creates the impression of neutrality, and there is a segment of us who are uncomfortable with journalists taking sides; even when they are siding with the truth.

We have climate change denial, we have Trump, we have poor governance of government, non-profits, and corporations. We have a failure of journalism - in part due to the collapse of the advertising funding model, but not entirely.

News corporations were cutting staff before the Internet, and false equivalency journalism sells to a wider audience and to advertisers.

As journalism thinkers searching for an explanation to how the trade has failed to inform the public, false equivalency is one of the problems being looked at.

Here's Bruce Mutsvairo, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Northumbria University, Newcastle on Why journalistic ‘balance’ is failing the public

And even truth-seeking journalists could easily be pressured into inadvertently or even intentionally covering stories in order to satisfy a false or imaginary sense of balance. You can’t blame them. The concept of “balance” – or as its critics refer to it “false equivalence” – has long been a key precept of journalism. It epitomises the idealistic notion that journalists ought to be fair to all so that, whenever they write a story, they give equal weight to both sides of the argument.

But, especially in our new “post-truth” era, this doesn’t always work to the benefit of the public good. Here are some examples of where balance doesn’t necessarily work.

Read his full essay at The Conversation:

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