Alaska’s largest newspaper will have a new publisher “in the next few weeks,” current co-publisher Ryan Binkley announced Thursday in the keynote address at the annual Alaska Chamber of Commerce gathering in Juneau.
Binkley, of the Anchorage Daily News, became co-publisher of the newspaper approximately six months ago when his family purchased it during bankruptcy proceedings.
Binkley, who spoke at the Chamber’s fall forum in Sitka, was invited to return for the Chamber’s regular legislative fly-in, which takes place this week. Businesspeople from across the state have gathered in Juneau to lobby lawmakers on issues of particular interest. The Chamber’s top legislative priority (other than a budget) is passage of a bill affecting workmen’s compensation law, but individual members have interests of their own.
“Our newest project is the hiring of a publisher, a professional, actual newspaper publisher,” Binkley said after taking the stage in Centennial Hall’s Sheffield Ballroom, but he quickly diverted into a different topic.
The main point of his keynote, he explained, was to explain bias and how it works in media. In a fast-moving 30-minute presentation, Binkley captivated his audience to the point that none left their seats, even as the time of a key legislative hearing approached.
“In the last six months, I’ve been able to step behind the curtain and see how things get done,” he said. “I’ve started to understand how the machine works, and I’ve started to understand how bias works.”
Binkley told his audience they need to understand that bias comes from two sources: the creator of the content, and the consumer of the content.
With a microphone in hand, he explained that the goal of journalism is always the truth, but journalists must work with incomplete information. As a result, they are forced to interpret and extrapolate and explain. At each step of the process, there is a danger that the biases inherent in the “human animal brain” can interfere with the search for the truth. That’s why a newsroom has steps and procedures to counter the worst tendencies of that animal brain. It means having a newsroom full of people with diverse backgrounds, ages and opinions, then encouraging them to voice their thoughts in private while staying quiet in public.
“You have to also admit your own biases, and you have to try to work against them,” he said.
An obvious solution is to simply be as factual and dry as possible, but he suggested that isn’t journalism.
A list of things isn’t journalism, he said; it’s transcription. Journalism involves creating a story that informs the reader or viewer.
“It’s what takes these stories from colorless, odorless liquids into a rich, meaty broth that we’re eager to consume,” he said.
To illustrate why biases on the side of readers or viewers are important, he offered a pair of images: One featuring headlines apparently taken from the website of the New York Times, the other featuring headlines from Fox News. As he flipped back and forth between the two, he asked his audience to think about their reactions, and waited for them to realize that the headlines were the same on both images. Only the source appeared different.
He offered statistics showing that the more politically partisan someone is, the more they are likely to believe that their favored source of information is unbiased and impartial.
“For the readers, I would suggest you don’t be so sure about your ideology,” he said. “You don’t have to change the way you think … but allow different forms of media to come into your daily life.”
He ended his presentation by taking questions from the audience. One man asked what he believes the purpose of a newspaper is.
He responded by explaining that his grandfather, Jim Binkley Sr., the two most important institutions in Fairbanks were the local banks and the newspaper. The banks provided credit that allowed business to flow, and the newspaper “sets the tone for the city.”
“There’ll be bad news and there’ll be good news. There’ll be things that aren’t pleasant to report on, but they have to be reported on,” Binkley said. “There’s no question that power can corrupt when invisible to the public. That’s a massive role.”
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 523-2258.