Wikinews:Neutrality

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Each Wikinews article must be written neutrally, without bias. Each article must report only objective facts, without endorsing or promoting opinion, and must not mislead readers about the various viewpoints involved.

Because Wikinews operates on the short timescale of news, it cannot use the neutrality-by-consensus approach commonly adopted by Wikipedia-style wikis, which supposes in general a large crowd of contributors in an open-ended negotiation. Review only guarantees two contributors on each article before publication — paying a significant price to guarantee that much — and there is no time for lengthy negotiation even if two people were enough for reliable results by the negotiation approach. The principles used to achieve Wikinews neutrality therefore have to be suitable for each individual Wikinewsie to apply rapidly and consistently with indifference to their own personal opinions. Two contributors in a short timeframe, both pursuing a well-defined goal that each of them might reasonably approach on their own, and constructively collaborating with each other on tactics, can approach the goal with a much higher level of consistent success than one person could, so making efficient use of limited redundancy.

Objective Wikinews reporting mainly involves two measures.

  • Attribute opinions and claims to who said them. This allows us to report objectively, and with very high likelihood of accuracy, that someone else said those things. The reader can then make a more informed assessment of the opinions and claims, knowing where they came from.
  • Do not deceptively hide or misrepresent viewpoints. If exploring one aspect of a story, make sure it's clear what aspect you're exploring.

Fact-based journalism[edit]

Two polar opposite mindsets compete for control of thinking and information-flow: fact-based, and opinion-based. A fact-based mind reflexively seeks objective facts as a foundation on which to build informed opinions; an opinion-based mind starts with opinions held axiomatically, and selects or even invents claims of fact to fit those opinions. Wikinews, with traditional journalism, promotes fact-based mindset, seeking to inform our readers with accurate facts free of opinion.

Attributing claims of fact[edit]

There are two classes of reasons for us to attribute a claim of fact, explicitly saying where the claim came from rather than asserting it as fact in Wikinews‍'s own voice: because the reader should know the origin so they can assess the claim, or because the claim was exclusive reportage for which the news outlet should be given credit.

In deciding whether or not to invite the reader to assess the origin of a claim of fact, our question is not how much we doubt the claim, but whether the reader should be taking the origin into account.

  • If we do have doubts about the claim, even slight ones, we should attribute. It isn't our place to resolve controversies for the reader; if the claim is controversial, we should attribute and let the reader decide — and if whether or not to attribute is controversial, again we should attribute and let the reader decide.
  • Even if we don't have doubts about the claim, in any situation likely to involve dubious claims, the reader should want to assess the quality of the origin. If we had to put effort into assessing the origin of the information, we should invite the reader to do the same.
  • In any situation where the reader should be assessing the origin of the claim, there is always a lurking chance that the claim could be false after all. We can generally have far more confidence that the claim was made than that the claim is true; so by reporting what we're quite certain of, and giving the reader more information, we can also achieve a vanishingly low rate of factual error, and obviate any {{correction}} if the claim later turns out to have been wrong.

When attributing to allow the reader to assess the reliability of a source of information, name the source whose reliability needs assessment. Usually there is no need to mention the reporting news outlet; since we prefer more trust-worthy news outlets, the news outlet should only occasionally be the weak link in the information chain. When the news outlet is the weak link, often this happens because that outlet is our only source for the information and they should have attributed it but didn't.

When a commercial news outlet fails to fully attribute its claims, we would have to attribute to the news outlet in an instance where the outlet's carelessness in failing to attribute leaves additional room to doubt their journalistic diligence. Such lack of attribution often occurs with background information; but background information is an area where such news outlets are especially vulnerable to slip-ups. Note that local knowledge, in particular, is an area where (trusted) Wikinews correspondents are likely to be well informed.

Attributing subjective judgements[edit]

Attribution is obviously called for when a claim is made about a qualitative property, beauty being the classic example. More generally, attribute claims about properties whose definition and ascription require subjective judgement. Beware claims that sound objective on casual inspection but, further considered, aren't. Attribute claims about objective properties ascertained by subjective perception, since the reader, to assess such claims, needs to know whose perception it was.

The general term of art on Wikinews for reporting subjectively drawn conclusions as fact is analysis, understood to be a fundamental breach of neutrality.

Especially simple forms of analysis are claiming to know what people feel or think, and predicting the future. Both are easily made mistakes but, once on the lookout for them, easily eliminable.

Avoiding phrase bias[edit]

Some particularly common classes of wording tending to slant articles:

Propagandist terms. A great many terms are deliberately chosen to bias those who encounter them, and we avoid using them in Wikinews‍'s voice as we recognize them. Examples include pro-choice and pro-life, self-adopted as names for the two sides of the US abortion dispute; and non-medical terms ending in -phobia, such as homophobia, Islamophobia.

Pejoratives. Often these are used as political weapons. We strictly prohibit labeling anyone, in Wikinews‍'s voice, as a terrorist, as this term, despite having an objective meaning, is impossible to separate from its profligate use to condemn political opponents. ("One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.")

Evolved informal terms that entrench biases of thinking. These are often metonyms; and may be insidious because unobtrusive. A prime example is America used to refer to the United States.

Comparative segues. It's easy to fall into gluing together segments of text with constructs such as "[First statement]. However, [second statement]", "[First statement]. Moreover, [second statement]", "Despite [first statement], [second statement]". Generally avoid such constructs; we should not be telling the reader what relationship they should perceive between these segments. Following Strunk's directive to omit needless words, one might simply say "[First statement]. [Second statement]."

Scientific results[edit]

Mainstream news media are often not at their best when covering scientific results. Take that into account when deciding how much credence to give to things various sources report about such stories.

  • Be particularly cautious of misuse of statistics; always ask, with great skepticism, what does this statistic actually mean? Correlation does not imply causation; two things that correlate might both be caused by some third thing. A notorious sensationalist media blunder —sterotypical because it's happened so many times— is taking a study that concludes cautiously there is a statistically significant correlation between X and risk of cancer, and reporting it as "study shows X causes cancer". The scientists doing the work knew better than to claim that; reporters should know better too.
  • Scrupulously attribute the results of a scientific study. Avoid saying such a study showed, revealed, or the like, as this could come across as an implicit endorsement (thus, bias).
  • Don't simplify results, which would be simply inaccurate. We don't aim to "dumb down" science, but we do write for a general audience, so should write in a way that can be understood by a general audience. (As a Wikinewsie noted years ago, treat the audience as intelligent but potentially ignorant.)

Unbiased coverage[edit]

Choice of what to cover can itself introduce bias, even though the things reported are factual with no bias in the way they are reported.

The burden of neutral coverage here is different from that of an encyclopedia, where carefully balanced presentation of mainstream thought on a topic is part of the expectation of a "neutral" article. A balanced presentation of mainstream thought can fall prey to mainstream bias, which news as a foundation for fact-based deliberation needs to avoid. While news articles are expected not to misleadingly conceal aspects of a story, as snapshots in time they are understood to offer an informative view of the matter rather than an endlessly calculated retelling; and in some cases a news article can cover one particular aspect of a story, rather than the whole, provided this is done in a non-misleading way.

Synthesis articles[edit]

Individual sources have biases; provided they can be trusted to try to report accurately, we can use them while taking their possible biases into account. Both deliberate and perspective-based omissions may occur; deliberate bias-by-omission arises especially in propagandist news outlets such as VOA or RT; perspective-based bias-by-omission can occur much more widely, though some do particularly well (such as Al Jaz). Biasing factors, both deliberate and otherwise, are not limited to political or ideological; parties to a business transaction, for instance, are likely to omit mention of negative impacts in putting the best face on the deal. Consider carefully the possible perspective (not to mention propagandist) leanings of all sources. Look for trust-worthy sources likely to have different perspectives, even if they too may contain bias of their own sorts; we may thereby avoid overlooking important aspects of the story, while applying caution to each source according to its nature.

Relatively trust-worthy sources shared a perspective-based bias-by-omission, causing two not-ready reviews before revision augmenting the original sources — from BBC and VOA — with additions from Arab News, Al Jazeera, and NYT.
First submitted form had skewed emphasis due to preferred focus by sources (BBC and Time), causing a not-ready followed by revision.

Original articles[edit]

Investigative OR (original reporting) needs to avoid misinterpretion.

Interviews focus on what the interviewee has to say. Coverage bias is then a matter of what questions the interviewer asks, and how they ask them. Ask questions to elicit interesting, useful information; don't ask to make a point. Avoid putting your own biases in to the questions, which could come out as either leading, solicitous, or confrontational depending on how those biases mesh or clash with the interviewee's views. Asking about controversial topics can be interesting and informative; picking a fight is inappropriate.

The interviewee's work had been the subject of a large and fraught debate on Wikimedia Commons, on which the interviewer invited the interviewee to comment, but the interviewee could not (without excessive digression) be drawn into the complicated situation for comment, and remediation was needed during review; see discussion.
Oft sited as an extreme case of the principles that an interviewee's views needn't be mainstream nor sympathetic for the interview to be neutral.

Choosing stories[edit]

Despite neutrality of each individual article, the overall distribution of Wikinews coverage is necessarily determined by the interests of Wikinews reporters. Given an entire world of possible news stories, this overall coverage can't help leaning in one direction or another. This cannot, and should not, be avoided: your interests are your motive for writing; embrace them. If you feel certain kinds of stories aren't getting enough coverage, you may be interested to write more articles of those kinds.

Some degree of bias, outside the laudable embracing of interests, can be generated by overall distribution of articles. As an individual defense against this, ask yourself whether you are choosing topics based on your interests, or based on your opinions; if you can't distinguish between the two, that may in itself suggest a difficulty worth further thought.

Opinions pages[edit]

The opinions page of an article (in the wiki's Comments: namespace) is the place to discuss opinions about the topic of the article; as opposed to discussing the composition of the article, which is preferably done on the article's collaboration page (in the wiki's Talk: namespace). The opinions page is created when, and not before, publication, because prior to publication there is no vetted or stable content on which to base opinions. Opinions pages have to tolerate unpopular opinions; the classic scenario is that if we interview a Neo-Nazi it would be unfair not to allow supporters of that ideology to defend their position on the opinions page. However, administrators should remove trolling remarks, which seek to shut down meaningful discussion.