Monday, February 27

From the copy desk: Editing out implicit bias in the newsroom


Editor's note: A newspaper's copy desk keeps its writers and editors accountable to the public. In this series, Daily Bruin Copy discusses the biggest issues they face in making sure the stories are fairly told.

Media can be biased, and the Daily Bruin is no exception.

At the copy desk, we have to deal with bias and sensitivity issues regularly. Copy editors' primary job may be to edit articles for grammar, structure, accuracy and Associated Press style – the editing standard used by many news outlets – but this can prove difficult when there's a tug-of-war between remaining neutral and accurately describing UCLA's communities and their struggles.

Whatever the struggles, the strength of the copy desk lies in the fact that nothing in the paper gets published without passing through it.

Armed with a holistic perspective of the Daily Bruin's content, the copy desk wishes to turn the paper's outward gaze within.

With this inaugural piece, the copy desk wishes to demonstrate the numerous ways in which we at the Daily Bruin are faced with gray areas when trying to accurately cover a diverse student body.

Representation

There is little scope to improve how we cover diversity when we fail to include diverse sources in our coverage. In order for a story to be balanced, all communities to which a particular subject is relevant need to be interviewed and heard. We at the copy desk try to detect when there is a lack of representation and an absence of voices from relevant communities.

There have been multiple instances when articles lacked relevant sourcing. For example, past Daily Bruin coverage of the creation of more all-gender restrooms on campus did not include voices from those most directly affected – that is, transgender and non-binary students. Although there were quotes from students, these students did not identify with communities that would primarily benefit from all-gender restrooms. Similarly, an article on closed captioning of BruinCast lectures at UCLA did not include input from deaf students or other students who used closed captioning.

The omission of voices from relevant communities marginalizes them. As such, the Daily Bruin should continue to recognize the importance of being more cognizant of inclusivity and balance in its reporting and editing.

Language

The AP Stylebook, created by American journalists to standardize grammar and word usage in news writing, can be a vital resource to determine language use while maintaining clarity and consistency. However, a good stylebook must be constantly revisited and updated to better reflect the times. A lot of our work this year at the copy desk has been about assessing what to do when the stylebook's rules fail to capture identities, situations or communities accurately.

For example, the National Center on Disability and Journalism recently updated its style guide with recommendations for reporting on people with disabilities as well as an evaluation of the AP Stylebook’s rules on language pertaining to disability. However, half the entries in NCDJ’s style guide are for words or phrases not addressed by the AP Stylebook, according to the American Copy Editors Society.

When stylebooks fail to provide an answer, we use the best style guide available – our sources. Language is evolving under social influence at a pace many stylebooks can’t necessarily keep up with, and the Daily Bruin copy desk must learn to think critically about the language it chooses to use.

Stereotypes

The copy desk encourages its editors to check articles for implicit biases and stereotypes that may hinder good reporting. This year at the Daily Bruin, we’ve come across stories that played into stereotypes that undermine the actions, intentions and voices of underrepresented groups.

For example, a news article might attempt to objectively describe a protest and its causes, but its diction and accompanying visual elements could easily be framed within a stereotype that ultimately detracts from the message. Stereotypes are not only factually inaccurate, but they also perpetuate harmful and problematic ideas about certain groups of people.

When we report on such groups and their issues, we need to ensure their views are accurately represented and that we actively scrutinize our own subconscious biases. At the copy desk, we try to think about the implicit messages that our stories convey and avoid having stories that accidentally employ dehumanizing stereotypes.

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Journalistic integrity and ethical reporting are crucial to a paper’s credibility. Focusing on accuracy should not only mean ensuring the facts are correct, but also ensuring that the language does the subject and the sources justice. Media has a powerful influence on people’s perceptions, and we do a disservice to our readers if we misrepresent the community we ultimately seek to serve.

Email the copy desk at [email protected]

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