A couple weeks ago I published a guide to cognitive biases for journalists. I saved perhaps the biggest one of all — confirmation bias — for a post all of its own. It might be one of the best-known biases, but for that very reason it can be easy to underestimate. Here, then, is what you need to know — and what to do to reduce it.
What is confirmation bias — and how does it affect journalism?
Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out — or more easily believe or recall — information that confirms our existing beliefs.
It leads us to make judgements that are not based on an equal assessment of all the evidence, but only that evidence we have cherry picked, remembered or attributed more credibility to.
For the last few years I’ve been teaching my journalism students a dedicated class on cognitive bias — common ways of thinking that lead journalists (and audiences and sources) to make avoidable mistakes.
Some cognitive biases — such as groupthink, prejudice, and confirmation bias — are well-known, but many others are not (there are over 180 of them). That includes bias blind spot: the tendency to see how biases affect other people, but not yourself.
So if you were thinking “this doesn’t apply to me”, read on for a guide to some of the cognitive biases likely to affect journalists — from being manipulated by sources to being bad editors of our own copy — and what to do to tackle them. Continue reading →
By starting from one person you can start to identify the different parts of the systems that affect your topic — and useful story leads and ideas
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been helping students on my MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism and MA in Data Journalism come up with story ideas for specialist reporting and investigations. Part of the process involves an exercise around scoping out a particular subject or system you are interested in — for example, the housing system, or ‘dark kitchens’, the Oscars, or air pollution — and identifying the gaps in your knowledge that can lead to stories.
It’s an exercise where empathy plays a central role.
It’s a common misconception of data journalism that the resulting stories will be all about numbers. In fact, the data is often just a stepping stone — it might take you to interviews, or help you find case studies; it might give you the spark for a feature idea without a single number.