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Is It Perspective or Deception?

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Yesterday, I started a discussion with a BetaNews commenter identified only as John. He responded to a story I posted here as “Apple Music Takes from Artists to Give to Subscribers“, which at BN followed another appearing on my site as “Apple Music Will Surely Succeed“. The cross-posting with different headline and art keeps with my December 2014 advice: “Writers, Own Your Content!” Comments funnel to BN, which is good for audience building there.

The commenter first accuses me of being a troll and then, based on my response, of being deceitful because of my writing style. You be the judge. I see the exchange as being hugely relevant to what should be good online journalism, and it may reflect two different and (hopefully) valid perspectives—reporter’s and reader’s—about what that should be. 

Rather than blockquote, both sides of the discussion are instead color-coded.

John
Joe is a notorious troll so I can’t tell if he’s serious or not here. Apple too isn’t making any money off the trial offer. A 100-percent royalty of $0 is $0. Apple is betting that the free trial will result in more paying customers, which is good for artists. Of course the artists’ lobbyists would love for Apple to pay artists for anything and everything now and in the future and for the past too. Free trial? Pay me. Mentioned my name? Pay me. Thought about my name? Pay me. That Apple has other profitable products is irrelevant. If Apple owned taco trucks, would you argue that the artists are entitled to a portion of those profits?

Joe
Neither notorious nor troll. The objective of a story like this one, and the other before it, is to present platform for thought and discussion and, more importantly, look at the same news event from more than one viewpoint. I often will write seemingly contradictory stories for the latter reason.

For perspective on my reasoning about presenting perspective:

As I explain in the second-linked story about perspective, which I apply to myself:

You advocate something you don’t believe for the audience’s benefit. Get them to think. To discuss. To vent. That’s a quality of good storytelling—putting the narrative first.

I often accent this counter-advocacy approach with punchy, provocative headlines—with intention to tweak someone. Based on comments, many readers assume the position taken reflects my own, in part because of my affirmative writing style bolstered by using active voice (use present tense, people). I kick the hornet’s nest, knowing it will stir up comment reaction.

In the real world, how you describe an elephant from the front is different from the back. Both perspectives are true but incomplete when singly presented. News events demand even more perspective because of human motivations and how what’s known to true changes over true. Various biases among writers, readers, and the people being reported about require examination from different viewpoints.

I admit to writing impassioned headlines or stories, whether or not I believe them. I don’t write for myself. Journalists often write against character. My style is a bit aggressive to make people think about another viewpoint.

That’s not trolling. It’s good journalism.

FYI: You might also find valuable my perspective on “What is Clickbait?“.

John
‘I kick the hornet’s nest, knowing it will stir up comment reaction’.

Combined with the fact that you dishonestly present the opinion as your own, it’s the definition of trolling! The fact that you explained yourself last year doesn’t give you a license to be perpetually mislead readers. You can’t expect to exonerate yourself by claiming that dishonesty is just your ‘writing style’. You can use active voice without the deceit.

Here’s what real opinion journalists do: They don’t lie to their readers. They may present present counter-arguments but not as their own.

Title these posts ‘Joe’s Counterpoints’ and start every post with the disclaimer that the points presented are not necessarily your own and are only intended to foster discussion. Respect your readers.

Joe
I appreciate your response, but, unsurprisingly, disagree.

Going back to my elephant analogy, so if, hypothetically, I personally find the mammals to be disgusting but in a story describe the front and back that would be dishonest—since it’s not my opinion?

My opinion is immaterial. Some of this stuff I write about I agree with, other bits I don’t. I see objectivity in presenting different perspectives, regardless of my own opinion. That’s being true to readers, not dishonest.

My story before this one praises Apple’s music service. Because from one perspective it offers much. From another—at least for three months—it takes away something from artists. Being the, ah, elephant in the room, Apple by its size and reach gives many independents little choice but to opt out.

My story presents an argument, which in this case I do largely agree with, but doesn’t state it’s my opinion. The pronoun I is used once. There is no deceit or attempted deceit here. It’s an argument that presents Apple Music from another viewpoint.

Besides, the goal of good journalism is to present the truth, which often comes from discussion about news events like this one. Like the elephant has front, back, and sides, the truth is a facet of perspectives. One story should never be enough—and can’t be as more is known.

About twice a year, I respond to someone who makes an absurd troll accusation like yours. Then I repost the interaction on my website for other writers to see. I stand by the approach as good journalism. You don’t need to agree, and I respond for the benefit of a larger audience.

John
Your elephant analogy works against you. If I’m at the front of the elephant but claim that I’m at the back, that is deceit. Journalists get fired for that.

In my previous comment, I didn’t use the word, ‘I’ at all. Why did you then assume that it was my opinion? Because I wrote it! You wrote an opinion piece. The universal assumption is that it’s your opinion. If it isn’t, you’re engaging in deceit.

You cannot hide behind the fact that you’re presenting an alternative view because that can be done without the deception.

Joe
It’s because I walk around and look at both sides of the elephant, I can present both views. To be untruthful would be to present one perspective as the only truth—meaning the only viewpoint.

I may personally prefer looking at the elephant/s snout rather than its tail but present both viewpoints as pleasing. I don’t regard that as being deceitful. Neither should you.

We won’t agree, but the discussion here and that I will put on my site stand as the public regard for anyone else to decide on.

Thanks for your taking the time. Sincerely.


Many readers are fed up with the amount of misinformation presented as fact, and it’s a sore point with me as well. That goes back to my longstanding criticism of poor sourcing standards and the chase for pageviews to feed off the Google free economy.

My stories, whether analyses or commentaries, are meticulously sourced and bolstered with data or quoted people. But is that enough? Is it perspective, as I assert—or deception as John says?

Photo Credit: Martin Pettitt

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