Bian: Saying goodbye to the “unbiased journalist”

Andrea Bian, Assistant Opinion Editor

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In November of my first quarter at Northwestern, I wrote a column about the problem with legacy admissions at elite universities. It was only the fourth column I had ever written for The Daily; looking back, it’s safe to say I still wasn’t sure what I was doing. I remember casually editing and submitting the column, thinking that — like my previous three pieces — it would get a small reaction, if any.

What happened next surprised me. I woke up the next morning to emails, comments and dozens of reactions to my article on Facebook. Much of the feedback was positive, but scattered throughout the reactions were my first criticisms. Emails and comments told me I was naive and that my limited life experience meant I had no basis on which to form my opinion.

It was the first time I had experienced such direct criticism from people I didn’t know. Some of the points brought up were constructive, and I was grateful to encounter different viewpoints on a complex issue. But other forms of feedback on my work weren’t so beneficial. On some subsequent articles I wrote, many of the comments and emails were no longer criticisms but attacks — attacks on my intelligence, my logic and my ability to think critically.

I wish I could say I brushed these attacks off because they didn’t bother me, but I would be lying. At first, the feedback was hard to deal with. One of the reasons why I love writing for The Daily’s opinion desk — and why I chose to be an assistant opinion editor this quarter — is that I was able to write and talk about personal issues that I couldn’t express on any other platform: my ethnic identity, for example, or my personal thoughts on current events. I finally had a voice. It felt empowering, and witnessing attempts to silence that voice felt suffocating.

One of the most frequent criticisms I’ve received this quarter regarding my articles is that journalists should be “unbiased” as a way to serve their audience. In theory, the idea of the unbiased journalist seems appealing: readers benefit from the facts being presented in a way in which they can form their own opinion.

But this isn’t reality. The reality is that I’m a human being with opinions, and that I write op-eds for my college newspaper. Opinion journalism is journalism, too, and should be acknowledged as such.

I do think that in other styles of journalism, writers should make an effort to present the hard facts as they are without an attempt to sway readers towards a certain belief — but that doesn’t mean they themselves shouldn’t have opinions. They are human.

I’ve learned a lot this quarter from helping to run this desk. I’ve learned how to more eloquently speak on my own personal struggles, thoughts and experiences. I’ve learned how to accept different opinions, even if I don’t agree with them, and how to stick to my principles even through the worst of attacks and criticisms. And I’ve learned that I shouldn’t be ashamed of having opinions as a journalist. The trope of the “unbiased journalist” will persist for as long as this industry exists, especially in the media climate that we live in today. But I won’t let that unreasonable expectation ever strip me of my beliefs.

Andrea Bian is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.