implicit biasLast updated
Harvard University’s Neiman Foundation defines implicit bias as “an automatic or unconscious tendency to associate particular characteristics with particular groups. It is not malicious but could lead to disparate treatment of individuals and groups.” Implicit bias is a cognitive process that can lead to discrimination, but it is not automatic.
Unconscious or implicit bias in journalism can be a result of the vast amount of information received and analyzed. Much of the information is not processed consciously. Due to this unconscious processing, gaps arise in how news is reported or covered. Also, our environment can have a major effect on how we associate negative or positive connotations with groups — think of the news coverage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005 and news stories claimed Black people were “looting” for food while white people “found” supplies. In recent years, some media outlets have attempted to publicly reckon with historical bias and prejudice in their coverage.
Implicit bias can manifest at every step of the process, from story ideation to sourcing to word and image choice. Implicit bias trainings have gained in popularity in recent years, though multiple studies have found that such trainings are often ineffective or serve to reinforce biases. Other techniques to counter implicit bias in journalism could include finding as wide a variety of sources as possible, considering everyone as an individual rather than a “type,” and consulting trusted colleagues or third-party inclusivity readers on specific issues. See the Language, Please editorial tools for more resources.
- Racial Equity Tools Glossary (Racial Equity Tools)
- Glossary of Terms: Race, Equity and Social Justice (International City/County Management Association)
- For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It (National Geographic)
- “If the Financial Times were a person, it would be a man.” Here’s how the paper is trying to change that. (Nieman Lab)
Implicit bias is a subconscious bias that includes negative associations about individuals or groups of people. Techniques to counter implicit bias in journalism could include finding as wide a variety of sources as possible, considering everyone as an individual rather than a “type,” and consulting trusted colleagues or third-party inclusivity readers on specific issues.