Tag Archives: journalist

Are Journalists Biased?

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 Favors that will be curtailed or withdrawn if you get too close to telling truths they don’t want told.”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.

Why are Digital Journalists Burning Out so Fast?

An article in the New York Times today discusses the early burnout rate of journalists who work exclusively in online media formats. As I read the article, I could completely understand and empathize with every word in front of me. This is a cutthroat world we live in online. There are thousands of news outlets, all of which have to compete with each other to publish first and publish better. There are more places to read your news online than there are stories to digest. This equates to a niche that is so competitive we are seeing high turnover rates at many big-name media sites.

Google search ranking is the name of the game. If your story doesn’t rank up at the top, it may never be digested by anyone at all. You have to not only crank out articles the very nanosecond they hit the wire… you also much be conscious at all times of keywords, SEO and branding. Gone are the days of writing interesting articles and intensive investigative pieces for the Sunday edition. The world we live in demands to know everything about everyone – and they want to know it now.

Many companies track how many page views each article published on their site receives. Authors are paid (and/or given bonuses) based on these numbers. At Gawker Media’s offices in Manhattan, a flat-screen television mounted on the wall displays the 10 most-viewed articles across all Gawker’s Web sites. The author’s last name, along with the number of page views that hour and over all are prominently shown in real time on the screen, which Gawker has named the “big board.”

While this is an interesting way to attempt to reward and motivate writers, many feel that it is more of a “wall of shame.” If your name doesn’t appear on the board at all times, then you are regarded as not being “up to par.” The stress that these companies are placing on their staff is astronomical. I’ve heard from many of you out there who want to write for a living. There is so much talent and enthusiasm inside of you all. The problem is, I also have seen too many fresh-faced young journalists end up burned out and cynical before the ink on their degree has fully dried.

What are your thoughts? How do you feel we can begin to slow things down to a reasonable pace? Is it possible?