back to article Balanced, neutral journalism is RUBBISH and that's a FACT

New research has revealed what we here at the Register have always known to be the self-evident, hard, cold, factual truth: which is that balanced, neutral journalism is not just incredibly boring, it is also bad for readers' mental health and turns them into apathetic drones who can't be bothered to engage with the world around …


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  1. Cameron Colley

    So, bad journalists are good because they stop morons having to think?

    I suppose if your name is Rupert Murdock then that's great news -- for the rest of us it means the human race is actually doomed to be run into the ground by morons and their brain-dead followers.

    1. Gannon (J.) Dick
      Paris Hilton

      Stay Tuned

      Yes, but the rate of impending doom is ever so important. They used to ramble on an on about that in my Calculus classes. But besides, if we must observe the unbalanced, it is only fair that the hot blonde will be, someday, reading naked. I do appreciate the constant implication she is wearing no underwear, mind you, but eventually Rupert is going to have to clarify that.

      I resent being called a "follower", by the way ...

      "doomed to be run into the ground by morons and their brain-dead followers."

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I come to El Reg for the biased, opinionated ranting of your hacks

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Alister

    Cart before horse

    I would be inclined to think that this study proves that the average student's reading and comprehension skills are of a low standard, and that they are unable to draw their own conclusions from a balanced report, rather than that there is anything wrong with balanced neutral journalism.

    1. Liam Johnson

      Spin Spin

      What conclusion can you realistically derive from a balanced article? By definition, both sides have been given equal weight, and both sides equally believe themselves to be speaking the truth. So any conclusion you make is not based on the facts in the article, but rather you opinion of which side has more merit.

      The specific problem is, here you have two sides, one claiming it will cost X and another saying is will cost Y. They can’t both be right. So one side is wrong, and the balanced nature of the article does not supply you with the information about which side is wrong. You would like to make a conclusion, but you know the facts are not accurate. It is no wonder they started feeling depressed.

      Sure you could go out and research the issue yourself, but then what would be the point of buying the newspaper?

      1. Ben 42

        Not at all

        A balanced report does not automatically imply that both sides have equal merit. For example, I could write a story about how one group of people believes El Reg should post only IT-related stories, while another adores Bootnotes and wants it to continue. I could provide the arguments from both sides in a very balanced fashion, but one group would still clearly be wrong (because I'm a balanced reporter, determining which it is will be left as an exercise for the reader ;-).

        Sure, it's a much easier topic than most in the real-world, but isn't that how decisions _should_ be made? By looking at both sides of the issue and deciding which one you agree with?

        1. Liam Johnson

          re Not at all

          Just to be clear - my comments are more to do with the experiment than the real world. My original post was a reply to the statement that the students are obviously stupid for not preferring a balanced argument.

          I still stand by the fact that the more balanced an article is, the more you will have to rely on other influences to make a decision. If you have no previous opinion, then a balanced article, by it's very nature is not going to sway you one way or the other.

          However, my main point was really the second one, that one side was telling outright lies and the balance of the article was hiding this from you. An article which presents lies as truth is obviously a lie, and no basis for making an intelligent decision. In the real world, you would have to find other sources to tell you which of the two were telling lies. As far as the students are concerned, I am not surprised they had difficulty coming to a conclusion based on an article which was presenting contradictory facts as equally valid.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      balanced neutral journalism?

      The real point is that you often can't be both balanced AND neutral. Giving nonsense equal weight with what is accurate and truthful may be balanced but it sure as hell isn't neutral.

      Giving unjustified credibility to indefensible positions is taking sides with the stupid and/or malign. That's the way to end up with homeopathic cancer treatment, President Palin, and some interesting new wars.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was the study commisioned by Fox?

    Don't bother to think, who needs to be able to make an informed decision? We tell you the TRUTH*

    *for a given value of true

  5. Anonymous Coward


    It sounds more like "if you tell someone what the answer is, they'll think they know what the answer is"

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Or maybe..

      ..that people are sheep and prefer to be told what to think. It would certainly explain religion.

  6. mark 63 Silver badge

    i agree

    In the example given it is obviously nice to have the additional information of which side was correct , and which was wrong . I dont see that as "biased journalism" if the author has provided that additional info. (as long as its not pure guesswork)

    As for the students feeling suicidal with the "he said / she said" version - couldnt they just go online and look up the same info the other journalist did? students are suppsed to know how to do that.

    actually i dont agree. i do want "Balanced, neutral journalism" , but with all the supporting facts and extrapolations ,


    Politician A : " 2 + 2 = 4"

    Journo: "Politician A says 2+2=4. We have verified this with a reputable expert in the field of mathematics and he concurs that in his expert opinion 2 + 2 does indeed = 4 "

    1. The BigYin


      ...a politician would never say that. They would say "That is a hypothetical question and I really won't be drawn into answering. There are many aspects to 'two' that must be considered holistically and how they interact with society at large. This is why we have engaged in a public consultation to find out what the public wish 'two plus two' to equate to."

      Or, if discussing costs "That was done under PFI and thus is commercially sensitive."

      1. Trevor 3


        Is that Pimply-Faced Industrialist?

        1. Code Monkey
          Thumb Up


          Private Finnance Initiative.

          Dull facts aside, I prefer yours.

          1. Anonymous Coward


            Is that like dealing with money in Finland?

            1. Code Monkey

              Re: Finnance

              Damnit! Where's my coffee?

        2. The BigYin

          @Trevor 3

          "PFI" is a way to fund government projects off-balance sheet (thus hiding the true cost from proper scrutiny). As a general rule PFI is very high-risk for the tax payer and costs a lot more than just doing it the old fashioned way. It also ties public expenditure into fixed contracts for decades that can only be varied at increased cost.

          So if one used PFI to build (say) a hospital, then didn't need that hospital for whatever reason, one is screwed. One still needs to pay. If it turns out the hospital is too big, one's screwed. If the hospital gets the wrong kind of patients, one's screwed. Etc ad nausea.

          The only things PFI is good for is ensuring MPs (or their pals/partners) can get cushy directorships and forcing future generations into crushing debt.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            @The Big Yin

            ""PFI" is a way to fund government projects off-balance sheet (thus hiding the true cost from proper scrutiny). As a general rule PFI is very high-risk for the tax payer and costs a lot more than just doing it the old fashioned way. It also ties public expenditure into fixed contracts for decades that can only be varied at increased cost."

            But is that fact or just your biased opinion?

            1. Steven Jones

              PFI accounting

              Nope, as used by Gordon Brown PFI was used as a means of off-balance sheet public expenditure as future liabilities were not properly accounted for in the national books. That's a matter of fact and the OBR has started to make some inroads into this, and other future government liabilities whiach are not fully costed.

              PFI was originally designed so that private companies, and not the state, bore the risks. Of course it has generally not worked like that, although a few PFI contractors went broke. No - the real reason for PFI being used is that it allowed for much higher rates of public provision of new capital-intensive items (hospitals, schools etc.) without, apparently, breaching public expenditure targets. Of course what had really happened was a lot of future liabilities had been incurred along with a hope that economic growth would make them affordable.

              In essence, these are glorified hire-purchase deals, usually with maintenance and service contracts added.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: i agree

      More accurately:

      Journo A: "Based on your statement that 2+2 does equal 4, how do you justify claiming expenses for £5000 when the cost of the building hire was "

      Politician A : "No comment"

      Politician B : "That invoice covered a number of items not specifically covered on the invoice that I am unable to name but I can assure you that I have not committed fraud"

      Politician C : "£5000 is very reasonable for cleaning a moat"

      Politician D : "I am not a thief!"

      Politician E : "The taxpayer does get value for money for this investment despite the fact it will actually cost £100,000 over the next five years once over-runs and specification changes are taken into account. Being able to use this custom designed kettle today will allow civil servants to have twice as many catered meetings and hence double their productivity "

    3. Mephistro

      Don't forget that...

      ... 2+2 = 5, for high values of '2'

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What is truth, man?

      The world is very complicated. Truth isn't absolute. Only rigidly defined systems can produce right and wrong answers.

      On most matters ... we just don't know. We have made some good educated guesses, and some damn good theories, but there's always enough doubt and uncertainty for some other equally educated and intelligent person to hold an opposing viewpoint.

      Economics has schools in a way that basic arithmetic just doesn't. 2 + 2 = 4 might work for a maths paper, but as an argument for any kind of epistemology it's very Palinesque.

      And when it comes to politics ... well my opinion is that we're all in this together and those on the right who spout "it's my money I earned at" are selfish people who don't deserve to be a part of society. I can advance a whole series of arguments in favour of this position, but ultimately it's just a value judgement and I'm smart enough to know it's not "true" beyone the meaning it has for my personal experience of life.

  7. Roger Jenkins


    I'm sorry, I don't understand this, you didn't come to a conclusion.

  8. dogged

    Question, Lewis

    Did Rupert Murdoch pay for this study?

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Big Media for Muppets and Puppets takes a Hit

    Surely you cannot doubt that you believe the programs that news produces and spin for you, and think it reality rather than virtually prepared for human consumption, or are y'all really so easily duped and programmed?


    11 March 2011 7:17AM

    "Next BBC chairman Chris Patten: 'I hardly ever watch TV'"

    Considering how TV is the prime brainwashing medium for the ignorant and suggestible masses, does Chris Patten's candid remark immediately disqualify him from being ranked as a contender.

    To imagine that he would be good for the nation and the BBC [Nations Shall Speak Peace unto Nations] and nations whenever his intelligence is so obviously severely flawed and lacking in the broadbandcasting department, is clearly quite perverse. [/blockquote]

    Please can we have better programs and less war games which are always magically funded with no worrying deficit conversations, or else the people will look for the fools making themselves obscenely paper rich promoting and spouting all the strife and nonsense, which is impoverishing everyone else, rather than enriching their existences.

    Change the Great Game. Enough is enough already. Capiche

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Such honesty.

    It'll never catch on.

  11. DominicT

    And this is why the world is doomed

    People have stopped learning how to think for themselves. Every newspaper article, even if it is an opinion piece, should have references to the original material. Does this happen in our mainstream media? Hardly ever.

    I wouldn't argue that opinion pieces shouldn't appear, but they should always be marked as such and the original references should always be made clear. That's the only way we can hope that the public might actually think for themselves a bit or take columnists to task when they are clearly wrong. We shouldn't give any weight at all to almost any unreferenced material.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >"There are consequences to journalism that just reports what each side says," asserts

    > Raymond Pingree, a prof at Ohio State uni. "It makes readers feel like they can’t figure

    > out what the truth is ... this attitude may lead people to tune out politics entirely, or to be

    > more accepting of dishonesty by politicians."

    So, if readers aren't told what to think, they feel that they can't figure out what the truth is.

  13. Shakje

    How much

    do college students actually read newspapers in general? Most of their reading intake isn't going to be of that sort. How about doing the study on a group of graduates who are more used to analysing information critically? Or professionals? With this study (having only taken information from the article of course) it seems that I could just as easily conclude that the American education system doesn't prepare children for critical analysis as much as it should, so that when they have to analyse something for themselves they panic. If I wanted to be a dick about it I could probably go further and say it's a natural consequence of the high religiosity in America and the idea that believing things based on what so-and-so in authority says is better than actually looking at the facts themselves and making an informed decision. Maybe I should read the study.

  14. Naughtyhorse

    It makes readers feel like they can’t figure out what the truth is ...

    It makes merkin readers feel like they can’t figure out what the truth is ...

    there fixed it for you

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      That's a bit racist, isn't it?

      Try replacing 'merkins' with any other slang for a race, maybe the N word or the P word, doesn't sound as funny now does it?

      1. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge


        This thread is now NP complete.

      2. Stoneshop

        @AC 14:20 - Since when

        are Americans a race?

        They may be a people (under one flag, etc., etc.), but even that doesn't look that clear-cut to me.

  15. Norm DePlume

    Yes, but what do the people who like balanced journalism think?


  16. Steve the Cynic

    I dub this post "Lord High Muckety-Muck".

    The conclusion I draw from this is that these students shouldn't be left in charge of a pair of shoes, as they have no (apparent) ability to decide things for themselves. In particular, they seem to be saying that they cannot form their own opinions about things based on the facts of the matter, and must be told what opinion to have. I'm paraphrasing a little here, and probably reading too much into this, but there you are. In fact, it may be worse than I am saying, because it is reasonable to suspect that the specific opinion they want to be told to have matters less than the fact that they won't form it for themselves.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    "the balanced, proper-journalism articles in which comments from both sides of the debate were offered produced feelings of nihilistic despair in the readers – they had been made to feel that they would never really know who was right or what was what"

    at any rate, not without thinking for themselves and that's just too hard?

    "and might as well vote for a politician based on how good his hairstyle and teeth were: or simply not bother at all."

    so, no change there then.

    "Those who had read the articles which presented information and delivered a conclusion based on it, by contrast, led the youngsters to feel that they understood the issue and might themselves usefully participate in society."

    as sheep, presumably.

    So in summary, spoon-feeding and mind control is favoured by thick and/or lazy people. And Americans.

  18. Graham Marsden
    Dead Vulture

    "as though by lazy hacks...

    " who had simply looked up stuff on the internet – for instance actually reading the text of the proposed bill, "

    ITWM "as though by lazy news services who simply cut and paste articles from other services without actually bothering to check if any of it bears any resemblance to the truth...

  19. deadlockvictim

    mentally lazy

    The world is a complex place and things such as bills are rarely simply one thing or the other. They have many facets to them and these suit some more than others.

    It seems to be the case that the Great Unwashed™ (and I am surely among them) just want to have complex phenomena summarized into one or two words (executive summary anybody?) so that it saves them a lot of mental work. For example, Obama bad | muslim | unamerican | etc. or Apple cool | toy | once a fruit now the owner of the world's thinnest CEO.

    Methinks the time is ripe for demagoguery.

  20. Z 1

    Well said!

    And that is why I don't watch ANY TV news and don't read any papers. The only things I really pay attention to are Private Eye and yourselves.

    1. John G Imrie

      If you don't watch any TV

      How do you get the Jokes in Private Eye?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's a coincidence

      Private Eye and The Register are also the only two news publications I usually pay attention to. Recently I have also tried reading parts of The Economist but it doesn't seem to be as good as how I remember it from years ago. I seem to remember it used to have articles that could reasonably be described as "in depth" and "analysis", but a lot of it now seems to be blog-like waffling: a lot of words describing what the opinion of various groups of people might or should be, with just a few facts thrown in here and there. But the articles do at least present a point of view with some kind of justification for it.

      When a journalist quotes a statement that is devoid of meaning, ambiguous or clearly inconsistent with other information in the article but then makes no attempt to resolve the problem - doesn't even seem to notice that there is a problem - I just want to punch them in the face. What they are doing is worse than wasting my time. If a publication contains many articles like that I won't read it.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The media?

    Here's your media, mate.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad news for Fox News

    They'll have to stop using the 'Fair and Balanced' tag line and begin only showing stories from one viewpoint - saaaaay the Republican side?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So, American college kids being asked to think for themselves "produced feelings of nihilistic despair" - am I surprised?

    Nope, not even a little bit.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Why one or t'other?

    Why not have both sides of the argument AND a little digestion?

    I personally don't want to be told what is 'true'. Being given both sides of an argument helps. What doesn't help is when the media is that biased they interview a level-headed and well-spoken person for one side and a right-wing extremist for the other.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why both?

      There are plenty he said/she said type stories that actually don't cover a straight-up conflict. Even, say, net neutrality has at its core some technical issues that just about everybody glosses over or hasn't even noticed, layered over with policy issues where various ISPs did some seriously questionable things and handled the fall-out poorly, giving fertile ground to huge discussions and push that inevitably caused big corporate to push back, and so on, and so forth.

      Or, on an entirely different note, there was a comment not too long ago that the whole (entrenched!) he said/she said approach to science was basically bunk. Say you're a journo and you report some scientific findings in biology or maybe about a dino dig in some desert, and then you ring up the local church for a "balanced" view.

      That is a very shinily polished "high quality journalism" turd. Very nice gloss, but still a turd.

      In fact, it wasn't journalism, but stirring up controversy where there is none, while hiding behind a "I'm a journo, I'm neutral, honest!" mask. That this is easy to do because too many people don't understand the one has nothing on the other is one of the very reasons why such anti-science movements can exist. And our dear journo isn't helping. That the journo didn't understand that journalism is more than simply picking up some story and then finding a different voice to pose as a counter-view for that "fair and balanced" touch is fairly damning on the journo and whoever taught him.

      You're right that simply sticking labels on each and everyone isn't very useful. I would contend that "fair and balanced" is useful in those cases where you do have a straight-up conflict, but it is a tad overused and there are plenty other ways to bring the news and even stir in a bit of opinion or analysis without unduly colouring the reporting, and that in fact most of those other ways go severely underused.

      1. kissingthecarpet

        Because they are all

        Arts graduates. To a man. They are either scared of Maths & Science or deep down, have some kind of magical view of reality. A few attempt to understand, but the prevalence of terms like "nerd", "geek" or "anorak" in journalism make it clear that scientists etc. are "the other". It's come to the point where people will wear a "nerd" or "geek" (originally a carnival freak show performer who bit the heads off live chickens) label with pride, a bit like the appropriation of the word "queer" by gay men.

        They just don't understand or care that what they're doing is the same as having a discussion where one side says "2+2=4" & the other side says "2+2 = unicorn shit or whatever I say it is" and treating them as equally valid POV.


  25. Chad H.

    Well I never.

    And here I was thinking that El Reg was a bastion of honest objective journalism with no agenda. I shall have to cancel my subscription and demand a full refund.

  26. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    The Reg

    "We seldom bother ringing people up when we know in advance what they're going to say."

    Yeah, normally what they say is:

    "Look I've told you before to stop calling this number. No, Mr Jobs will not talk to you. If you call again we'll sue you. <click> , <brrrrrrr>"


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