The “he-said, she-said” formula discussed on both Nieman and PressThink is flimsy journalism that does not help anyone get to “truth” (whatever that term may mean). Although a reporter can quote two opposing viewpoints, and thus claim to be unbiased in presentation of fact, the validity of the two opponents statements is still questionable.
Thus unbiased reporting does not merely hinge on a reporters ability to quote many sources and show differing sides, but has to involve greater research into primary sources, documents, facts, not people who can give a spun account of something.
I especially like that NPR’s new Handbook emphasizes its impartiality more than its unbiased news coverage, as I think impartiality implies more of a neutrality and quest for evidence rather than partisan and bipartisan opinion (the he-said, she-said formula).
Further, in the NPR piece “Does NPR Have a Liberal Bias,” I was surprised to find out that 61% of NPR’s guests were Republicans, and yet still conservatives found the network biased and not properly representing republican view points, which speaks to the issue raised by Jonathan Stray of the hostile media effect.
I personally didn’t really notice much to be up in arms about by the NYTimes changed cover-page, even though I’m quite liberal. I think the body of the text rather than the headline would have made me more upset. But this all refers back to the webs in which we find ourselves.
None of the issues on the front page of the NYTimes really mattered to me, and so I don’t think we detect bias in issues we don’t really care about. Another reason why I think NPR is often seen as leaning liberal rests in the fact that they only cover hot topic issues like abortion and gay marriage 1% of the time – issues many conservatives want to hear about versus international affairs and foreign policy, and thus they probably think NPR is failing to cover things that matter to them (i.e. bias).