Michael Arrington is Right

No one could honestly call me a Michael Arrington defender, but he has a point in post “Marissa’s Mean and Kevin’s a Quitter: The Tech Press Shineth“. Arrington is in too many ways Mr. Conflict of Interest, which raises lots of reasonable concerns about bias—because he does business with the people he reports about, or did when running TechCrunch.

But bias is unavoidable. It’s everywhere, and every journalist seeking balance when writing stories fools himself or herself when denying this. There’s no such thing as unbiased reporting. Bias is built into the fabric of culture. If, for example, you’re a registered Democrat reporting on Mitt Romney’s campaign, isn’t that conflict of interest, too? Isn’t there inherit bias if you voted for Barrack Obama and plan to do so again?

Bias is Unavoidable
Balance in reporting isn’t about bias, or removing appearances about it. Good reporting is about the truth, or what it is perceived to be in the moment a story is true. That’s why sourcing is so important and why bloggers or journalists sourcing blogs or anonymous sources is so bad.

Using a single source is often careless. Referring to another blog or news source as single source is reckless. Reporting news based on a single, anonymous source is negligence. Good journalists should be mindful of their sourcing, particularly those sources who aren’t identified.

One rampant problem: The increasing number of unnamed single-sourced blog posts or news stories that seemingly countless other blogs link to. Gossip and rumor runs amok masked as news. Let me clear: Just because everybody is saying something is true doesn’t make it that way. It’s my observation that most rumor posts remain uncorrected when later proved to be wrong.

Arrington is right:

The press, [needing] desperately to defend the people, drum up all this bullshit based on some anonymous source…Too often the press is just a big pack of deadweight loss insecure scavengers running around yelling ‘look at me!’…But what really bugs me is that so many of these journalists act this way while telling themselves, desperately, that they’re doing good. Important things. Fourth estate stuff…You want an angle on a story? I can find someone to give me that angle if I want to. But what’s far more interesting is the truth.

‘What do You Know?
Yesterday (yeah, Saturday), in BetaNews group chat, we had a long discussion about news reporting and neutrality. One writer expressed: “There is a goal of trying to be an unbiased journalist”. To which I responded: “There’s no just thing as an unbiased journalist…Bias isn’t the issue. The goal you can attain is writing what you know to be true”.

What you know to be true is key. Arrington mocks journalists being on a high horse because of HBO series “The Newsroom”. But in the newest episode, truth—or what reporters know to be true—is central theme. The news anchor makes an on-air decision not to declare Gabrielle Giffords dead, following her tragic Tucson shooting. That despite, NPR, CNN, and other major news outlets saying she is.

He chooses not to source these other news outlets. Just because they’re saying so doesn’t make it true. He doesn’t know, based on his newsroom’s reporting, that she is dead. And as we all know now, she didn’t die.

You report what you know to be true. And what you know will change. Reporting is a process. The first reports following Friday’s tragic movie theater shooting changed as more information became available and as circumstances changed. X number of people dead changes, for example.

You report what you know to be true, and based on reliable sources. A doctor or policeman on site is more reliable than NPR, no disrespect meant to the organization.

During our group chat yesterday, one writer aptly expressed: “You can also be biased, yet objective”. Yes you can, particularly if focusing on what you know to be true based on reliable sources—those you can trust.

News reporting is a sacred trust. As blogger or journalist, you pass on your trust in sources to your readers and in process build up their trust. Responsible reporting is all about trust.

My writing style is confrontational. Commenters often accuse me of linkbaiting. I told my colleagues yesterday: “I never linkbait. There’s not one story I write that I think about linkbaiting. Ever”. The way I write now is how I always have, going back to the days of print.

But I always write about what I know to be true. Based on reliable sources. I encourage every news writer to do the same. Don’t solely source other blogs or news sites — or social networks. Source responsibly. Report what you know to be true in the moment, and that may change as the story evolves.

Photo Credit: Robert Scoble