Matt Gemmell

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An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

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Opinions in Journalism

tech, blog & writing 1 min read

I read Ben Brooks’ article on The Verge’s lack of compelling reporting with considerable interest. It talks about the all-too-common bet-hedging approach to tech journalism, referencing MG Siegler’s piece (also about The Verge). Both articles make the point that, as readers, we’re often looking for insight to help with a buying decision, rather than raw information.

Even-handedness is admirable, but it can be (and often is) taken too far. We get caught up in the concept of impartiality, and forget that there’s more to product-related journalism than just repackaging information. No product exists in a vacuum, and if your ‘review’ seems to go to excessive lengths to equivocate, it’s then that I’ll suspect you have an ulterior motive.

The discussion reminded me of a TNW article about how information spreads more widely from journalists’ personal Twitter accounts than from corporate accounts. That makes complete sense to me. Human beings are hard-wired to form opinions; indeed, to form very polarised, strongly-held opinions - so much that we must actively struggle against innate prejudices and a tendency to oversimplify.

No-one is saying that bias is good, but trying to maintain an artificial neutrality is an overcompensation. Having an opinion is important. In many cases, it’s more important than what your opinion actually is. People will either agree or disagree, and either situation is vastly preferable to a reader having no strong reaction at all.

We all acknowledge that poor journalism expresses opinions formed with some kind of external bias (I do believe that some ‘biases’ can be legitimate, such as a track record of poor construction quality leading to trepidation about long-term durability of a new product - that’s a rational loss of confidence, not an unfair prejudice). Sadly though, this fear of bias had led to an unreasonable desire to not display any strong opinions at all.

When writing something that constitutes an opinion - such as a product review - impartiality is a starting point, not a policy. A review is the forming of an opinion, and a write-up of your review is the expression of that opinion. That’s what reviewing means.

Even an analysis shouldn’t be divorced from opinion. Analysis is an attempt to improve comprehension, and while it’s always valid to make data more digestible and comprehensible, a truly valuable analysis builds on that by then delivering an actual interpretation followed by corresponding advice.

Bias is bad, but forming opinions is good. Be as impartial as you can in your willingness to form opinions, but do form them. Anything else is poor journalism, and (far, far worse), unengaging writing.