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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.
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):
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
- 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.
this post has been ‘refreshed’ for new converts to the5krunner