A Case Study Looking at the Rhetoric of Journalism Bias: Structure, Photography, Voice, and Events at the University of Oklahoma

They say good journalism is free from (overt, excessive) biases. Such standards are impossible, without even considering the personal interests of a writer. The rhetoric of an article, even when seemingly balanced, helps speak to the “true” agendas–conscious or unconscious–of the author. What kind of pictures are included? Who is given a specific voice in the article? Who is talked about early on in the article and who later on? We all know that few people will read an entire article, especially online news articles that are not required reading. 

This article in the Victoria Advocate (originally from the AP) about recent events at the University of Oklahoma prompted these thoughts.

This article primarily gives specific voice and attention to White Men (especially powerful ones at that) – the University’s President, the White House Press Secretary, and the national organization of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Just a few other specific voices are included and to a much lesser degree. Surprisingly, the chant is not discussed. Interesting, too, the articles does not give voice or attention to why the racist chant is a problem (of course it is – but this is a much needed conversation), does not give voice to the supporters or opponents of the University of Oklahoma’s actions, and it does not give any kind of meaningful response to how students, especially the 5% who are Black, and faculty on campus are responding and planning to heal. 

The picture with the Victoria Advocate‘s article (directly below) caught my attention before the written content. 

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 8.29.11 PM

The author’s sympathies are clearly with those ordered to move out. The photographer’s/camera’s gaze is important, vitally important. This specific frame was deliberate –both the taking and electing to publish it. Recognizing the seemingly obvious is important! In the chosen picture, the weather is not ideal – cold and rainy. Of course the weather can’t be changed, but any good author knows or should know that weather conditions have tremendous influence on our emotions and perception. Students are shown as alone. There is not a crew working together or helping them. The moving van in the background is near capacity. Why was this photo used? Why not picture a group of students (supposedly) talking about the events? Or even have a still from the video of the racist chant?

Always think. Always question. Always.