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Checking our biases inside The Day

I spoke with Executive Editor Tim Cotter this week after a reader asked a question about our staff's political affiliations. 

We discovered we're both registered as unaffiliated voters. It's something we'd never talked about, though we've worked together for many years.

We went on to discuss whether he considers the party affiliation of newsroom staff when interviewing job candidates. After we talked, Cotter answered some follow-up questions by email.

"We don't ask job candidates about their political affiliations or views because it's not relevant," he wrote. "What's important is their ability to produce fair, balanced and accurate content."

Newsrooms around the country have taken on the topic of bias as the country has become more polarized and trust in the media has eroded. The truth is, nobody is completely unbiased, and we respond to issues based on our life experiences. Journalists have to check those biases and be respectful of others' points of view as we report the news.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented a unique challenge to newsrooms. We're working to present factual information as the science evolves and to keep up with the social impacts of the pandemic. The ever-changing recommendations from health officials on topics such as masks, social distancing and, most recently, vaccine boosters have polarized the country further.

This past week, reporter Erica Moser covered a Conservative Caucus event in Hartford where bus drivers, teachers, nurses and parents spoke about their opposition to employer mandates for the COVID-19 vaccine. Moser decided it was important to cover this angle as she worked on a more detailed story, coming this weekend, about vaccine mandates at companies that employ more than 100 people.

Moser quoted several speakers in her story, and when she heard testimony about the vaccines and testing that she recognized was not factual, or was incomplete, she included the facts in her story. Her opinion was not part of the story, nor should it have been. (We do have opinion writers at The Day, along with guest writers who present their opinions as we strive to present many perspectives on important issues. We're making efforts to ensure content containing opinions is clearly labeled as such. That topic deserves its own column at a later date.)

"We all have biases and political beliefs, and it's important for us to recognize what they are," Cotter said. "As journalists, we must guard against those biases creeping into our work, which can happen through the stories we decide to pursue, who we choose to interview and photograph and the language we use. As a newsroom, the more we talk about such issues and the more diverse we are, the more successful we'll be in avoiding biased reporting."

Though we're free to register with a political party and vote how we choose, there are some guidelines we adhere to so that you can trust we are reporting as objectively as possible.

"Newsroom employees cannot advocate for a candidate or issue through such things as lawn signs, bumper stickers and social media posts," Cotter said. "New hires are informed of this policy. Occasionally we talk to employees when their social media posts violate this policy."

Bottom line: Journalists are citizens of the world just like you. We don't all think or vote alike. Personally, I tend to "mix my ticket," voting for candidates based on assessment of their qualifications and platforms and regardless of their political affiliation.

As election season approaches, the newsroom will work hard to present the candidates to you in an unbiased manner so that you have the information you need when you go to the polls.

Many of us here will probably put our "I voted" stickers on our lapels come Election Day, but we won't tell you how we cast our ballot.

Karen Florin is The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at k.florin@theday.com or (860) 701-4217.

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