When readers criticize this newspaper for focusing on bad news, the proof they offer is they know "bad news sells." While such generalizations are easy to level against broadcast media that rely on video to tell stories, it takes a little more scrutiny and analysis to determine whether a printed or electronic publication practices bias of any kind in its coverage.
We generally suggest any reader who is interested should select any week's worth of papers and mark all of the locally produced copy as good, bad or indifferent. If the number of "bad" stories outnumbers either of the other two categories, we invite the person for further conversation. To date, such a conversation has never taken place.
The Hays Daily News is regularly accused of being biased toward Hays High School, with just as many saying we tilt toward Thomas More Prep-Marian High School. We're pro-city and anti-city. Same with county government, business coverage, etc. When both sides complain, we know we're taking the correct approach.
But the recent charge from a frequent letter-writer suggesting this paper's news pages were politically slanted does not have a countering accusation, and we decided not to let such a baseless charge linger in anybody's mind.
The individual's self-described "painstaking" research of reading this paper leading up to the Nov. 4 general election was done because he suspected we were engaged in media bias -- specifically "Democrat liberal left" bias. The evidence presented was breaking down articles that had any political component, indicating which section they appeared in, then offering whether he believe the piece was pro- or anti-Democrat or Republican.
For letters to the editor, he discovered 31 leaned Democrat and 20 leaned Republican. As we print every letter we receive as long as it's signed, not libelous, and pertinent to our readership area, we won't accept ownership of any bias.
For editorials and columns, he found 74 percent favored Democrats. As with letters, we have no control over the content of what columnists write about. As the letter-writer-turned-researcher did not offer what he based his decisions on, we are unsure about the percentage. He listed as pro-Democrat a column from Republican Rep. Don Hineman, "Surplus KDOT money needed in western Kansas," because somehow it attacked state government.
Be that as it may, we take full responsibility for the editorials -- particularly the endorsements preceding the election. Of eight contested races, we endorsed five Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent. While party labels had no bearing on who we thought would best represent the people of our region, it is an easy standard to be judged by if a person doesn't want to do any research on the matter.
But the 44 news articles this person cites as being pro-Democrat 75 percent of the time goes beyond the pale. We will admit to covering candidates that visited this area, regardless of partisan stripe, 100 percent of the time. If more Democrats were on the streets of Ellis County than Republicans, we believe that does say something -- but most assuredly not our bias.
Also included in the mix were poll stories, most of which had Republicans trailing. Those are facts, or at least the best pollsters could come up with.
Our self-appointed critic chose to label news stories regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on abortion bans, the number of Kansas voters in limbo, Sen. Pat Roberts' behavior at a debate, the amount of money spent in the U.S. Senate race, the ads that used state employees to imply support, and even former White House press secretary Jay Carney's appearance at Fort Hays State University as somehow all pro-Democrat articles. Just as meaningless was claiming a positive unemployment report as being pro-Republican while a negative monthly state revenue report was pro-Democrat.
The individual is assigning his own bias to factual stories, and attempting to pass them off as ours. We shall not accept.
Had he attempted any sort of empirical analysis, utilizing accepted research methods, we would have listened. Had he examined any of the myriad research papers focusing on claims of partisan biases in the media, he would have found the claims are unsubstantiated. He would have found "conservatives in particular often claim media gatekeepers intentionally shut out conservative ideas and have an ingrained slant toward liberal perspectives, particularly within the context of presidential and legislative election years" (Public Perceptions of Media Bias, 2012, Daniel Quackenbush).
We relish any debates we can generate by editorials, which are opinions by definition. We flatly refute any notion our news stories are anything but accurate, balanced and fair. To suggest factual accountings of events are partisan simply reinforces our belief this letter-writer is one of those conservatives who has heard about "mainstream media's liberal bias" once too often on Fox News. The fact we print everybody's opinion, even when it amounts to little more than incoherent babble, speaks to the bias we practice: We are 100-percent biased toward letter-writers.
The critic had offered anybody who was interested in his "research" to find it at the Hays Public Library. We went; it's not there.
If anybody was swayed by this individual's logic and wants to discuss any and all aspects of The Hays Daily News, the publisher is available for a one-on-one meeting. The door is always open. We actively promote having a bias favoring all readers of this newspaper.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry