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):
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.