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Are Traditional Magazines Unbiased?

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And are blogs inherently biased?

The answers to those two questions are no, and yes respectively. The recent Wired/Arrington dust up is just the latest in a very long series of charges and counter charges between blogs and traditional media.

I am not picking any sides in this particular story. I read TechCrunch almost daily not because I am a techy and I am certainly not a tech investor but because there is always something interesting there and TechCrunch is at the center of the tech-Blogosphere. Which is one of the important communities at BlogWorld & New Media Expo.

I Also subscribe to Wired. Along with Fast Company they are two closest traditional media outlets to the Blogosphere. Mostly in tech but they certainly touch on and report on several communities within the Blogosphere.

Back to the issue at hand. Traditional media outlets for at least as long as I can remember have charged that their biggest advantage over blogs is that they are unbiased and have ethical standards and blogs are not and do not. (Study’s have proven otherwise).

This charge has been made in every realm of traditional media, from politics, to sports, to tech, to reporting on the war in Iraq to you name the topic I guarantee you some journalist or editor in that community has written the exact same thing Betsy Schiffman wrote on her Wired blog (that’s ironic isn’t it) this Tuesday. Specifically the quote from Peter Sussman who serves on the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. (there can’t be any more credible source than that right?)

We asked Peter Sussman, who serves on the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, for his take on the situation.

“The one thing that newspapers still have over new online outlets is the brand, the name and the standards. They’ve told readers that by the mere presence of a story on the Washington Post, that it’s been through a rigorous analysis or edit and it is up to their standards. The assumption is that unless you hear otherwise, the content you see in the Post has gone through that ethical screening.”

I am sure Betsy and Peter practice ethical standards and believe what he has said and try very hard to live up to those standards but here is the rub for Betsy, Peter, and every other traditional media type who has ever uttered this mantra……

WE DON’T BELIEVE YOU!

When I say we I mean bloggers, I mean blog readers, I mean every consumer of every form of news media that has ever been written or broadcast. We simply do not believe you are without bias. Why should we?

Time and time again bias in media has been proven, and when it isn’t proven we certainly have our suspicions.

Isn’t it one of the tenets of good journalism to be skeptical?

Why then do you not understand that the same rule applies to the consumers of traditional media content?

Ever heard the old saying don’t believe everything you read?

Ever heard the Mark Twain quote “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics?”

We have all heard the line about the “separation between Church and State” between editorial copy and ad-sales. Frankly that’s poppycock (I love it when I can figure out a way to throw poppycock into a post!). That’s why Consumer Reports the watch dog for consumers and the (allegedly) unasailable source of consumer product reviews had to quit taking advertising dollars. The moment you do, you create a conflict of interest. Mark Cuban addressed this in his keynote at BlogWorld last year.

We don’t care if the ad-sales guy brings in the money, and the journalist writes the story and the editors edit and verify their story. We all know the publishers job is to MAKE MONEY. You are not and never have been in the news business. You are in the advertising business. Every journalist who writes for you knows where his or her checks come from. That doesn’t make them bad people and I am not saying they don’t try very hard to be unbiased in their reporting. I am quite sure they do. We just don’t believe there is zero influence in your writing.

I have told this anecdote many times but for new readers here it is again. I have personally worked for more than one company that his written it’s own product reviews that have appeared in industry trade journals. Now that is about as bad as it gets but the fact is it is far more common than you might think.

But bias doesn’t start or end with advertising. We all have our inherent biases. Our political views, the industry we are in, where we live, who our family works for, the stock we own, how old we are, our gender, the type of family environment we were brought up in, our economic status and millions of other influences that shape our view of the world. Each of these things affects the way we see and cover any story. Journalists are no different. Sure there may be some superfreak out there without bias but that would be the rare exception to the rule.

Now here is where I will give journalism and journalists the credit they’re due. No doubt Journalists try to overcome their bias. Organizations like the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, in-house ombudsmen and editors are a fine example of those efforts.

Many bloggers could learn quite a lot about journalistic standards and would do well to try and adhere to them. However Michael Arrington and Techcrunch may be many things but anyone who is more than casual reader would have to admit that they do try to adhere to some form of journalistic standard. To Mike’s credit he does disclose which companies he invests in. There is no doubt they have broke many big stories and have offered their readers interesting and informative content.

Isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be all about?

Rick is the CEO & Co-Founder of BlogWorld & New Media Expo. He lives in Canyon Lake with his wife and two dogs Abby and Thor.


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  • raj

    Fascinating article. I’ve asked myself this sort of thing a fair bit. But without meaning to pick on you, let me point something out, simply because the opportunity is there.

    It’s “tenets of journalism” not “tennents of journalism”. There’s no word “tennents” in the English language. A journalist very likely would have caught that typo, and a blogger less likely to have. Why? Because most people that call themselves journalists have an education in journalism and sometimes literature, and thus tend to have a relatively large vocabularly. Thus while they should still spellcheck, journalists often don’t need to – their mental spellchecker would have caught it.

    That’s not to say there aren’t bloggers who don’t have large vocabularies and who might not have become journalists. (That was once one of my dreams, long ago.) But the average person who makes their living as a pro blogger (part- or full-time) and is not also a journalist probably gets paid a lot less per word, on average, than a journalist. So they don’t often have time to spellcheck.

    Yet, if we bloggers are to prove we’re worth reading, shouldn’t we take more care with grammar and vocabularly?

  • Rick

    Duly noted and fixed 8). No offense taken Raj. I am no journalist and a terribly poor speller but that was exceptionally bad. Not to get too far off topic here, I do read quite a few blogs by professional journalists and surprisingly they make quite a few spelling and grammatical errors. In fact I have noticed the same thing in newspapers over the last few years.

    Honestly while I do have a high regard for individual writers and reporters I don’t for the “profession” in general in fact I liken it much more to a trade skill than a profession like that of a physician or an attorney.

    Maybe you are right spelling and grammar are the only real differences between blogs and traditional media. Maybe thats why traditional media is in such decline.

  • Ben

    Interesting article and thought provoking – thanks.

    Incidentally the word Tennents is one of the most frequently used words in Scotland – it’s the brand name of the best beer in Scotland. So you’re forgiven for using it 🙂

    Ben (Ozscot)

  • Rick

    hehe thanks Ben 8).

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