Everyone who is anyone in the blogosphere has read the stories about Mike Arrington and his investment policy update. We’ve read hundreds of offshoot posts and Tweets, all of which point fingers and take sides. You’ve seen the articles proclaiming that the author would never, EVER! allow themselves to be compromised or biased in any way. They are journalists, after all! Real journalists remember not to allow anything to enter their head while they compose beyond their subject matter. Nothing. Ever. Right?
The problem is that no one knows anymore what – exactly – the definition of journalism is. Dave Winer reminds us that it doesn’t actually matter:
“All the people participating in the “journalist or not” debate are insiders. Insiders get access to execs for interviews and background info. Leaks and gossip. Vendor sports. Early versions of products. Embargoed news. Extra oomph on social networks. Favors that will be curtailed or withdrawn if you get too close to telling truths they don’t want told.”
In his telling of this hot story, Tim Carmody points to Dave’s words. At the end of his narrative, Tim asks: “Are you in, with the compromised? Or are you out, with the truthtellers and true believers?” Those two questions jumped off the page at me. They brought me out of my self-avowed silence on this entire situation. I had chosen to stay silent for a reason: it’s not my place to judge any person other than myself. I certainly have no right to say what is “okay” for Arrington to do – or anyone else involved in this chronicle.
Tim’s questions aren’t actually fair. I truly believe there is not one single writer/journalist/blogger out there who is NOT compromised in some way. We all have a bias or two, whether we admit it or not. We are influenced every moment of every day – by our belief system, by the people we surround ourselves with and by life’s experiences. We may try our best to never allow these things determine the way in which we write, but it happens. Does this make us bad people? Hell no. Do our individual biases cause us to be less trustworthy as writers? Not always, no.
There is a HUGE difference between someone intentionally writing a story in favor of a company if they’re receiving kickbacks from said business and the person who softens their words when writing about the startup their significant other works at. The latter is still telling the truth – they simply choose to do so in a nicer/different way. This doesn’t make their piece inauthentic. It makes it warm and fuzzy. The former, however, is likely selling you a pile of utter crap. I know it’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes, and this is where transparency comes in. The people who tell you that they may have some type of bias are usually the ones you can count on. The ones who hide their partiality are the ones you likely need to read with a grain of salt.
Anyone who tells you that every word they write is 100% never influenced/biased/compromised by something is lying to themselves. I don’t care if you’re “in” or “out,” you need to be honest with yourselves – and your readers. Let’s remember that we’re all human, we’re all imperfect and we’re all biased. I still refuse to choose some “side” in this entire debate. For me, there’s nothing to choose other than to do my best to continue being forthright and making sure my community knows that I believe every word I write.
At the end of the day, that’s all any of us should ask for. Hold yourself accountable, and others will naturally follow suit.