Rant 1.5 – Is your favourite sports gadget blog truly independent?

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After a recent post, “Rant 1 – 2019 – The Problem with sports watch reviews, freebies and tech bloggers” I started to think a bit more about the issues of the INDEPENDENCE of reviewers/bloggers in the sports gadget market.

We all have our favourite sources of online news, scandal and general tech-titillation. I’m no exception. Some of my favourite sources claim to be independent or expert; 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 some would say, “This is a free sample that I am going to keep but probably never use, but here I am disclosing that to make myself independent of the giver“.

For the avoidance of doubt: If you want to get a long response from a comment to a tech reviewer just bemoan their lack of independence 😉

I cover part of the topic of independence in this link: Rant 1 2019. Actually, that “rant” was more of an explanation of the overt difficulty in financially succeeding at writing a sports gadget blog. Of course, there are many ‘behind the scenes’ factors that come into play when trying to succeed like ‘credibility’. Credibility seems, in part, to be linked to the word independence in this game but let’s put that to one side for a minute.

Rant 1 – 2019 – The Problem with sports watch reviews, freebies and tech bloggers

Indeed does independence really mean anything useful to the reader? Probably not, as we shall shortly see…

For example, the fictitious IREALLYDONTLIKEGARMIN.COM almost certainly has an explicitly-biased agenda. Would you accept their view as an ‘independent’ view? Clearly not. Oh…wait a minute. Their view probably REALLY IS **independent** of Garmin. I mean TOTALLY INDEPENDENT OF GARMIN. It’s just that they are going to be supremely biased.

So do you want INDEPENDENCE or do you want a lack of bias? We’ve changed the question already. Perhaps if you also read the fictitious, ILOVEGARMIN.COM then you would be getting both a pro and an anti set of views and thus your opinions, overall, might be balanced. Wouldn’t that give you what you really wanted all along? Maybe you should read MORE BIASED content instead of the ones you think are independent?

Wider Than Independence

Clearly, I’m playing with words to some degree, so I’ll hone in on the point I’m trying to get to. 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 sources of online gadget content. WHICH IS FINE. You’ll still like them. In fact, you’ll probably like them more if you better understand the angle that the author(s) is/are taking.

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 quite possible to make a living from building a blog around this TOTALLY DEPENDENT way of operating – I can think of a few as I’m sure, can you. 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. (Actually I REALLY am independent from Garmin’s formal sources but that’s another story, I’m clearly dependent on them to make and sell products)
  • Unbiased – Bias is a personal thing to us all, based on our life experiences. I suspect we are all biased in many ways; all the time. I would contend that bias is a necessary evil, inherent to the human condition. Perhaps BIAS only becomes a problem when it becomes entrenched and unchanging and turns into a prejudice?
  • 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 gather 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. I TRY TO PROVIDE BALANCE.
  • Fair – Are the same levels of criticism and scrutiny applied to either side of a specific discussion about which product might be best for a certain type of usage? Probably they are usually not as content is usually about the applicability of one product whereas “Top 10” type content necessarily becomes very, very short on detail and reliant on soundbites.
  • 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. So by weight of numbers, coverage of their products would be PARTIAL. Perhaps the blogger could instead be proportionate in their coverage but then that proportionality would also be partial!
  • Objective – the representation of facts is not as obvious as it sounds. What exactly is a fact? It is a fact known to many people that Garmin sports watches generally 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? In case you were wondering, I’d say I was: mostly independent on opinions but dependent on timely information and not that dependent on the 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).

But I think the ‘Me?’ question could perhaps be posed in a different way. After all, this post is really about YOU and how you arrive at your views.

What if you don’t care about partiality, independence and the like? What if you just care about hearing a certain viewpoint? Or many such viewpoints? It’s just that you want to hear those viewpoints in a well-put manner. Most intelligent people have opinions and they have opinions because they can always change them, whereas blindly sticking to supposed ‘facts’ can be limiting especially because the capability of tech is continually changing the facts of what can be achieved and how well it can be achieved. Plus, one man’s fact is another man’s counter-fact eg “The sky is blue”…is a fact. But the man in Australia says “Nope, the sky is black here with stars in it”. Two “facts”, just not sufficiently clarified or comprehensive in their scope.

Some of you might want to hear a dependent, biased view simply because it might challenge your way of thinking. But then you need to judge the speaker/writer to some degree to weight their opinions and might come up with a list of important characteristics about the person rather as well as what they write.

  • Sound judgment – using shrewd assessment to reach correct conclusions
  • Integrity – honest & moral
  • Likeability
  • Expert – knowledgeable

or SILE (silly?)

We would all like to think we have those characteristics, I guess. Nearly everyone I know has integrity and many of them are knowledgeable in their field but are too modest to say so. Personally, I know quite a bit “about all-things-triathlon” as I am deeply interested in it from many aspects but there is an AWFUL LOT to know and I don’t know it all – physiology, training principles, motivational psychology, mechanics, electronics and so on.

If you applied the SILE criteria to your other favourite blogging reads I suspect you’d discover some inconvenient truths as well as some rather pleasant ones.

#Discuss

this post has been ‘refreshed’ for new converts to the5krunner

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4 thoughts on “Rant 1.5 – Is your favourite sports gadget blog truly independent?

  1. Very good post.
    Makes me think of the old saying “owe the bank £10,000 and you’re likely in trouble. Owe it £100Bn and the BANK is in trouble”. (or some nonsense like that).
    There are some reviewers and bloggers (can you think of any?! 🤔) who have worked their way into the latter category. They are very dependant on obtaining products early etc, but it’s very very much in a brand’s interest to ensure they have a review or opinion ready on day 1. There’s very much a mutual dependance there. Does that subconsciously influence the end review? Dunno.

    • I was more writing this piece from the point of view on the perceptions and understanding of “independence”.

      if you were a BIG ManU fan and inadvertently got in the ManC end for a local derby. (let’s say 20 years ago). would that affect your behaviour and attitude towards the match? probably..both while you were watching and afterwards as you reflected on the game. ie relationships DO matter, even if subsonsciously

  2. You raise some interesting points, especially the independent aspect. I think you can be independent, even if you receive pre-release or NDA information on a product. However, you will blow all of that if you are biased towards that brand or don’t call out its short comings.

    But can someone be unbiased and independent to a brand that loans them free stuff? For me it boils down to how hard do you want to play the game? If this is your job, will you risk it all to annoy a brand? If like me (and you) that have a day job, this risk is lowered. But for those that depend on this to put food on the table, I think a small nag is always in the back of the mind about how far to go.

    You also have the fact that some brands maybe fearful of some bloggers/publications and pamper to them. But on the other hand. The same blogger/publication is not on Apple’s radar and never will be. So does the brand or blogger need to manage relationships or risk being in the cold? Its a fine line to walk.

    But the 2 biggest problems at the moment (also historic and for sometime)
    1, Distinction between reviewer vs Influencer. While those that are on the “inside” can see the clear difference between the two, some readers/consumers do not and this is dangerous. You will see people recommending products that are total crap.
    2, Reviews that have been pulled together by someone that has not really not used the product, then pulled the review from the brands PR material. I see this all the time, a recent case was a review of the FR245 by a big publication that said it had mapping for the first time. When called out, it was defended by saying “breadcrumb mapping”

    Ultimately, I do think this game is going to get harder and EVERYONE is going to become under pressure due to the cost to setup these days, which will then challenge and test those points you make above. Take for example a YouTuber I was chatting to the other day. He has a decent subscriber base, gets about 1million views per month. His setup his is iPhone 11 with some external lighting, edits on a iPad Pro, then direct to YouTube. So his cost base is very low, but his income is very high and compare that to someone that has a studio and travel costs, well you can see how the winner will be.

    So being independent and unbiased is all down to how far you want to push relationships. Whereas, balanced, fair, impartial and objective is all down to the persons character.

    Then you have the PR agency involvement, which that is another debate entirely

    • good point on the influencer/reviewer distinction. i think that passes a lot of people by, as you say.
      I suspect only a tiny number of reviewers/influencers make a living in this field. what is a living for a student is very different to what is required if you have 2.4 kids and a mortgage.
      I’m talking about blogs there. Youtube is very different and the example you give i believe is correct. the barrier to entry for youtube can be low both in terms of TIME and TECH COST.

      reviews by people who have not used the product- let’s face it, those reviews ARE MUCH EASIER to write than ones where you get to know a device. it’s 0.5 days vs. 1 week kind of difference. that’s why there are lots of sites doing the former and i don’t think ANY of them can make any money unless they scale up to the point where they can make serious money out of advertsing from high volume traffic (that means many millions of annual page views)

      My biggest gripe here was that everyone focuses on ‘independence’ when it’s the wrong word to focus on.
      I think we are all dependent in some way.
      I blithely say that, “I’m indepdent of Garmin” as it makes me feel good/superior/poor (choose one that applies). Yet I am dependent in some ways on the product, on the content they produce (eg spec sheet until i can verify it myself) and so on. so it’s “independent of their pr machine” that i suppose i mean.

      yes “balanced, fair, impartial and objective” – maybe they are linked to character as you say (though not exclusively…also linked to knowledge) eg I delve into your home automation stuff from time to time and your trustwortiness, to me, stems from the fact that you seem to know what you are talking about.

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