CAMP 2017: Building a toolbox to counteract bias

Story by Louise Dewast, 2017 JAWS Fellow | Photo by Erica Yoon, CAMP photographer

Being aware of your own biases is the first step in counteracting bias in your journalism, Jenée Desmond-Harris, op-ed editor at The New York Times based in Palo Alto, Calif. and Tonya Mosley, Silicon Valley correspondent and host for KQED in San Francisco, Calif. told CAMP 2017 participants.

“Slow Thinking, Self-Audits and Superior Sources: A Toolbox for Counteracting Bias” was an interactive workshop attended by more than 50 journalists gathered in Hot Springs, Ark. for the Journalism and Women Symposium’s annual Conference and Mentoring Project (CAMP).

Jenée and Tonya asked participants to think of five people they trust the most. Then they told everyone to pair up and ask the following questions: When it comes to race, gender, sexual orientation and disability, are these five people different from ourselves?

One attendee asked the speakers to clarify the difference between point of view and bias. “Bias is when you don’t know you have a point of view,” Jenée responded.

During the session, Tonya and Jenée suggested other questions to ask ourselves: When did you realize your race, gender or class? Is there a story or beat you feel uncomfortable reporting on and is there anything that would help?

Jenée and Tonya were 2015-2016 John S. Knight journalism fellows at Stanford University, where they each studied the impacts of implicit bias on journalism.They found that the topics and beats that prompt the most discomfort among journalists include coverage of sexual crimes and abuse, transgender issues, campaign politics, environmental subjects and racial discrimination.

Examples of biased coverage they discussed included the coverage of the current opioid crisis versus how the press has treated addiction as a moral failure when it affects the African American community, and the coverage of missing women in comparison to African American women who have disappeared.

In a national survey of 70 journalists, Tonya and Jenée found that 66 percent of respondents regularly check their work for bias. “It’s not great to be criticized for bias or attacked on Twitter but there is something positive that comes out of it,” Jenée said.

“There is no way to conquer your bias but you can have a toolkit, a system in place to get closer to that goal,” said Tonya. She and Jenée offered concrete advice, suggesting that journalists audit their work as regularly as possible.