Rant 2 – The Sequel: Is your favourite sports gadget blog really independent?

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After a recent post “Rant 2016: The Problem with sports watch reviews; freebies and bloggers”, I started to think a bit more about the issues of the INDEPENDENCE of bloggers in the sports gadget market.

We all have our favourite blogs, I’m no exception. Some of my favourite blogs claim to be independent; others, to me, don’t seem to care.

If you directly asked any sports gadget blogger “Are you independent?” Then the blogger would immediately find a high horse upon which they would promptly jump and a lecture would ensue. The lecture would cover phrases like “I always buy the kit I use myself” or “I always return manufacturer samples” or, perhaps more honestly, “This is a free sample that I am going to keep and use, but here I am disclosing that to make myself independent of the giver“.

There’s a lot of nonsense said here as people try to justify their independence to themselves 🙂

I cover some of the topic of independence in the 2016 rant, shown above. Actually the rant was more of an explanation of the difficulty in succeeding at writing a sports gadget blog. It’s just that one element of succeeding is ‘credibility’ and credibility seems to be linked to independence. That’s why I thought a bit more about independence and what it really means. Indeed does it really mean anything useful? Probably not, as we shall shortly see…

I came to the conclusion that we all seem to like one site or other for ‘some reason’ but then tend to partly justify that ‘like’ by accepting the author’s statement on their own take on their activities. For example the fictitious IREALLYDONTLIKEGARMIN.COM clearly would have an agenda. The author would no doubt claim some sort of independence, or non-reliance, on his/her bete noir. So would you accept their ‘independent’ view? Clearly not. BUT their view probably IS **independent** of Garmin they would probably be THE MOST INDEPENDENT SITE in that regard!!! BUT it probably is NOT going to be a balanced site.

To cut a long waffle short I came up with this list. It’s a good list, a beautiful list (there’s a phrase that could catch on):

  • Independent,
  • Unbiased,
  • Balanced,
  • Fair,
  • Impartial,
  • Objective.

Just glancing through the list you will probably immediately start to re-evaluate your opinion of your favourite blogs. WHICH IS FINE. You’ll still like them. In fact, you’ll probably like them more if you understand where the author(s) is/are coming from with their views as that will then help YOU form a more considered opinion.

Let’s get the dictionary out:

  • Independent – “free from outside control“, or “not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence” (read that again, closely);
  • Unbiased – “showing no prejudice for or against something”;
  • Balanced – “taking everything into account; fairly judged or presented“;
  • Fair – “treating equally without favouritism or discrimination”;
  • Impartial – “treating all rivals or disputants equally“; and
  • Objective – “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts”.

Using those definitions let’s apply them to sports gadget bloggers:

  • Independent – clearly if you get pre-release samples (I occasionally do) or pre-release information (I often do) then the sports blogger (me) is patently NOT *in*dependent – they are DEPENDENT on the product/information being provided in some sort of non-public manner. It’s possible make a living from building a blog around this TOTALLY DEPENDENT way of operating. Think about the ramifications of dependence on a blogger’s livelihood should they decide to become TRULY INdependent. Game changer…no samples, no info, no inside track.
  • Unbiased – The essence of a blog must surely be to avoid corporate speak and write in a genuine voice; to exude some aspect of the author’s personality? I suspect we are all biased in many ways; all the time. Hopefully not prejudiced but certainly biased. Bias is a personal thing to us all, based on our life experiences. I would contend that bias is a necessary evil, inherent to the human condition.
  • Balanced – So if we are biased then it is important to realise that and accept that. Perhaps even state that. BUT THEN check our own opinions and endeavour to present counter-opinions in an attempt to give a balanced view. From a personal point of view my personal product bias would be in favour of Garmin – yet I often write negative things about Garmin TO PROVIDE BALANCE (Garmin really don’t like that, by the way).
  • Fair – OK, so the sports gadget bloggers counter their bias with balanced opinions and coverage. But do they apply the same levels of criticism and scrutiny to either side of a specific discussion? Two separate and equally biased articles, one for each side of the argument, should be both balanced and fair – but who does both such articles?
  • Impartiality – is even trickier. In the sports gadget market it is VERY hard to treat all rivals equally when all rivals are not equal. We might bemoan an excess of coverage towards GARMIN but they are the market leader (in many segments) with the most products. So by weight of numbers, their coverage would be PARTIAL. Perhaps the blogger could instead be proportionate but then that would NOT BE impartial.
  • Objective – the representation of facts is not as obvious as it sounds. What exactly is a fact? It is a fact that many Garmin sports watches have the most features. But it is probably also a fact that many competing brands have EXACTLY THE SAME number of GENUINELY USEFUL FEATURES for MANY TYPES OF USERS. Some people choose their facts carefully. Me too, probably.

Me? I’d say I was: mostly independent on opinions but dependent on timely information and not that dependent on product; frequently biased; driven to deliver balance; mostly fair; partial but proportionate; and objective. I’m sure I could do better (even though I have a day job and a half). So a company can ‘play’ me by giving me lots of info. It would have to be newsworthy, of course. So that will VERY RARELY happen in reality for me.

But then again; a representative sample of 100 drivers would probably ALL say they were better than the average driver. Which clearly is not true. We have rose-tinted mirrors as well as rose-tinted spectacles! 🙂

If you applied these same criteria to your other favourite blogging reads I suspect you’d discover some inconvenient truths.

 

0 thoughts on “Rant 2 – The Sequel: Is your favourite sports gadget blog really independent?

    • clearly not.
      as in the article
      •Independent – “free from outside control”, or “not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence” (read that again, closely);
      •Independent – clearly if you get pre-release samples (I occasionally do) or pre-release information (I often do) then the sports blogger is patently NOT *in*dependent – they are DEPENDENT on the product/information being provided in some sort of non-public manner. It’s possible make a living from building a blog around this TOTALLY DEPENDENT way of operating. Think about the ramifications of dependence on a bloggers livelihood should they decide to become TRULY INdependent. Game changer.

      neither do I pretend to be independent – or at least I won’t in the future, now I know what it means 😉

    • lol
      how can u make $100,ooo from garmin watch sales thru clever training each year and be independent, that would make me dependent as hell

      • I take your point but think the figures are out. That commission would mean sales of US$1m. at an average of, say, $200 per item that would be 5000 garmin items per year or 100 per week. Sounds like quite a lot. Possible, I suppose

  1. As an ecologist and cultural anthropologist: The whole idea of independence is quite ridiculous. We live in the same world, interact with each other, so there are dependencies. The only question is how up-front we are about ours, giving others a chance to make their own impressions (and maybe give us feedback on blind spots we may have).

    Single factors do not an (in-/)dependence make.

    What I mainly wonder is when more companies are going to realize the power they have over influencers (Macchiavellian as that may sound) and stop all chasing after the same high-numbers people. But then, even PR people aren’t independent, need to justify where they put their resources…

  2. I was completely in agreement with you until I realised I don’t care much about any of these things 🙂 Is DCR biased? Yes, very much so. He does take great effort to stamp that bias out though, and the articles are mostly fair opinions. He also has to put up with usually being the example in these types of discussions precisely because people trust him. I’d still trust him if he kept all the freebies…
    Where he does differentiate, is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a press release posted on the site. Very occasionally he might post a short “by the way, this happened” type article when time is short, but it’s never written by the manufacturer. Credibility is very different from independence for me. Ray is a great example of credibility – his posts are mostly formed of how stuff works on the unit he’s testing and pictures he took. This (and the sheer quantity) shows me that he’s spent time with a unit and learned to love or hate it. Compare that to the major gadget sites who “review” after barely touching something, and use stock pictures.
    I knew the Fenix 3 screen was much dimmer than the marketing pics because Ray took a pic and showed me before I bought it. I knew the Spartan Ultra and v800 were unfinished at launch because Ray basically posted a “WTF?!” article on each. That’s what I need from a review site, and that’s why I go back. I just wish he had time or motivation to revisit devices after 6 months when they’ve been fixed and the bugs ironed out as there’s a definite lack of good reviews of products when they are properly finished on the Internet.
    Yes, I also see his very clear love of Garmin and a weird bias towards the P1 pedals (that I can’t fathom, and it’s stopped me getting the BePro which on paper seem better) – both of which he’s posted negatives about alongside positives. I Don’t care though, he’ll remain my go to site for real information because he’s thorough and honest.

    • Yes, I broadly agree with you as always. DCR is as flawed as the rest of us. You say he is thorough and honest (I have no doubt he is honest and mostly thorough). Yet, for example, in the important aspect of GPS accuracy he says in his 920XT review “All that said, I’ve seen consistently impressive results when it comes to GPS accuracy with GLONASS enabled-“. IMO The 920XT is patently NOT impressive when it comes to GPS accuracy, I’ve found that repeatedly and consistently for WELL over a year and others have found that too in formal repeated testing with statistical analysis eg @fellrnr. I would say that the 920XT is ‘acceptable’ with GPS but that is a looooooong way from ‘impressive’.

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