Balance. It’s the word of the week in the continuing story of why the University of Minnesota pulled a Bell Museum-sponsored documentary about pollution in the Mississippi River.
“I’m not a scientist in this particular area. I was just looking at balance, and it seemed unbalanced,” a university official told the Minnesota Daily.
Undefined, however, is the word, “balanced,” and what it looks like.
It’s a word that has caused more controversy in recent years, although most of it surrounds stories about climate change. Many of those who believe climate change is a scientific fact, resent attempts to present assertions that is not. Balance obscures consensus, they argue.
Balance is what has led to the dominance “he said/she said” news programming. In this particular case, a documentary is not journalism. But would balance — some of those who viewed the film didn’t think alternative farming methods should have gotten so much attention — change the meaning?
“The world is not a balanced place. Stories that we cover today are increasingly complicated, they’re complex. The truth and falsity of information is difficult to know. It’s up to journalists to discern these distinctions when possible… to let viewers, readers, and listeners know how much they don’t know,” Brent Cunningham, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review told NPR’s Talk of the Nation during a 2006 show on the subject.
What does balance look like to you? Is it equal time? Should the documentary producer — or journalist — present all sides and let you figure it out?