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Bias charges damage media credibility

Veronica Whitney
John Haile is vice president and editor of The Orlando Sentinel.
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For some people, their jobs never end – even after they have retired. After more than 35 years of experience in the news business, John Haile, the retired editor of The Orlando Sentinel, says he is concerned with the growing charges of media bias.

“This is partly a result of the political process and the media caught in the middle,” says Haile, who was the editorial page editor at the Sentinel for four years and the paper’s editor for 15. Circulation at the Sentinel is about 275,000 daily and 375,000 on Sundays.



The media is supposed to help people understand what is happening, says Haile, 58, who left Orlando to retire in Evergreen and will speak in Cordillera this afternoon.

“The media can’t be discouraged when it’s accused of bias. It can’t become complacent,” Haile says. “The media are back on their heels because there have been so many charges of bias.



“And the press as a watchdog is absolutely critical to a successful democracy,” he says.

Charges of bias damages the credibility of the media, says Haile, whose presentation on media is sponsored by the Vail Symposium.

“The political debate has become so polarized that the media itself has become an issue,” he says.



“A lot of (media bias) charges are being done for political reasons,” he says. “The consumer of news has to be smarter about the kind of coverage he seeks. Not every organization has the same standards and rules for reporting.”

In spite of the choices available, people still get most of their news from the local papers, Haile says.

“People put so much trust in their local paper, reporters and editors have to be very responsible,” he says.

For Haile, a way to tackle controversial issues responsibly is to keep them in context.

“Context is key and that means how thoroughly is the story reported, what is the legal opinion, the result of the conflict, what would be the ramifications for everybody,” he says.

Still, in the heat of deadlines and competition, some editors and reporters are tempted to abandon their standards, Haile says.

“It’s always important to keep the standards,” Haile says. “It’s important to ask yourself: Why is this news now?”

These days, the amount of information available on the Internet puts additional pressures on writers and editors to publish certain stories, Haile adds.

“There is more pressure to publish now,” he says. “A good example is what’s going on with the Kobe Bryant story. The question is: Shall we publish the name of the alleged victim or not? A news organization has to be consistent no matter what the others are doing.

“You have to talk about these things,” he adds. “Because the first instinct is to publish.”

Still, the media’s biggest failure these days is a lack of aggressive reporting, he says.

“We need to ask more questions and that doesn’t mean we need to publish them,” he says. “The key is to be consistent with the newspaper’s values.”

Ultimately, readers are looking for what they perceive to be fair, balanced and informative coverage – things that affect their lives, Haile says.

“From a reader’s perspective, you have to find a news organization that you trust,” Haile says. “And you have too be willing to accept that the news is not always going to be something you agreed with. That doesn’t means it’s biased.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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Media Bias: Has Something Gone Wrong?

What: John Haile, retired editor of The Orlando Sentinel, will discuss what readers and viewers see as bias in the news. This is a Vail Symposium presentation.

When: At 5:30 p.m. today.

Where: Cordillera Valley Club, Edwards.

Cost: $20 Vail Symposium supporters; $25 all others; $35 includes buffet dinner to follow.

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