Saturday, January 14, 2006


I just uncovered an interesting tidbit: Gilles Duceppe's disparaging comments about statisticians were pre-planned--see the update to my earlier post. And yet:
"The sad thing about relying on blogs for information about political choices is that they are high on opinion and low on fact and preach to the choir rather than address issues factually, substantively and inclusively."
So says Michael Bugeja, a professor (of journalism, apparently) at Iowa State, as quoted today in an unperceptive Globe and Mail article titled "Wired up, plugged in, zoned out". Bugeja goes on to say that
"We need print newspapers to do that [address issues factually, substantively and inclusively] because the issues requiring factual analysis are more complex than ever and cannot be stated simply in a TV sound bite or Internet news brief."
Huh? I thought we were talking about blogs, not TV sound bites.

Ah, yes, God forbid anyone rely on blogs and news via the Internet. We need print newspapers that publish reliable stuff. Like this:
"In the current Canadian election, more and more people are getting their news via blogs and subscriptions to Web services that align with their own beliefs, so they hear few opposing viewpoints."
Um, would it be too much to ask for some evidence that this is the case? I'm not disputing the claim that people are increasingly turning to the Internet for news and opinions. But are they thereby filtering out opposing views?

The author of the Globe and Mail article, Tralee Pearce, writes that
"The filters and search devices used to make all this information manageable, [many observers say], are isolating people into niches fashioned to their particular tastes and beliefs. Instead of going to common sources, whether newspapers or broadcast TV, to get the daily news, users are getting only the 'daily me'."
Pearce notes that American historian Christine Rosen has termed this phenomenon "egocasting". Well there's a buzzword. Never mind that it reverses the roles of the producer and the consumer of information.

But more to the point, is it true? One of the things I find quite wonderful about the Internet is that it makes it so easy to access such a broad variety of information and viewpoints. And technology for web syndication like RSS makes this much easier. But perhaps most people just stick to what they feel comfortable and familiar with.

Of course, this sort of narrow filtering could never happen with the print media. First, the major newspapers present such a broad array of viewpoints, you could never accuse them of filtering the content. Second, it's not as if most people only read newspapers and magazines that tend to agree with their own beliefs.
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Anonymous Mike Anderson said...

"The filters and search devices used to make all this information manageable, [many observers say], are isolating people into niches fashioned to their particular tastes and beliefs. --Tralee Pearce

Would it be asking too much for Pearce to back that statement up with some data? I happen to think that Nick Barrowman is a bit of a lefty, but a fine statistician, so I keep reading. Who knows? I might learn something.

6:01 AM, January 15, 2006  
Anonymous Joe Dawson said...

To make any statement about a media format such as blogs and state that they are “high on opinion and low on fact” is obviously an overstatement. Just as it would be silly to say that that news papers always validate facts and all journalists are not bias.

The point may be made that many blogs are high on opinion and low on fact, and that few blogs validate facts may be true. Many blogs are little more then personal rants and flame wars. They are often a way for a person to vent.

Consider this… The owner of a blogs views are placed on the font page and any potential counter points to his or her views are listed in a harder to find comments section. This by its nature appears to place less importance and subsequent value on the counter points. In addition the owner of a blog can control what counter points are seen and what ones are not seen.

This is not significantly different then a newspaper that will pick and choose to published letters to the editor. So the issue of value placed on counter point comments exists in almost all media.

The issue with all media is aware of what you read and see on TV or here on radio and think for yourself. Almost everything is bias in some way, and by our nature we are drawn towards ideas and concepts that we think would be beneficial to our own goals and ideologies.

For example let’s take the concept of “Representative Democracy”. If you asked members of the Green Party or the NDP if they support the concept of Representative Democracy, the odds are very good that they would say “YES”. Is this because they really think this is the best system or is it because the parties they support would benefit from such a system.

11:13 AM, January 15, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

I certainly can't claim to be immune to the human tendency to concentrate on information sources that tend to reinforce what I already believe to be true. But I do devote at least some time to other sources. Usually these are sources that I judge to have some credibility because, for example, they are well written and reasoned. Often I agree with some of their points and this leads me to consider that they might be right about other things too. A good example is the Cato Institute, as I noted previously. When it comes to opinion, it's not possible to avoid "bias". But as Mike Anderson points out, it's worth reading diverse viewpoints, because you just might learn something. My mother's godmother, who lived with us when I was growing up, maintained that you should read two newspapers: one you agree with and one you disagree with. She lived most of her life in England, where newspapers tended to have quite distinct political viewpoints.

2:04 PM, January 15, 2006  
Anonymous Mike Wendt said...

I find it odd that a newspaper journalist would complain about filtering of information in blogs. I need only take a glance at my own local, unabashedly one-sided newspaper to discover that a lot of filtering has already been done for me should I choose to read it. The issue, of course, is not the one-sided-ness of a particular newspaper... it is the concentrated control of many, many newspapers by a few people. By its very nature, the WEB has a built-in freedom of expression (with corresponding individual readers' responsibilities). I figure it is better to have each reader be a responsible CITIZEN (pun intended) and do the filtering than to have the controlled media alone do it.

10:16 AM, January 16, 2006  
Anonymous Mike Anderson said...

Joe has a point about postings vs. comments on blogs. I think the phenomenon is even more complicated than Joe describes; there's an effect based on the NUMBER of comments. I'm happy--sometimes eager--to read 2, 10, maybe 20 comments to follow a discussion. When the number of comments is in the hundreds, I tune out: the discussion tends to wander from the main topic and there's a lot more ranting and flaming.

What attracts me to the blogs as a information source is the linking. Good bloggers (and commenters) link to other bloggers and interesting sources. I've made major changes in my online reading--"breaking out of the niche"--as a result. It's much more difficult to do this with newspapers, magazines, or television.

9:49 AM, January 17, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Talking with my sister-in-law about this last night, she pointed out that by following web links, a few mouse clicks can easily take you from material you agree with to something that comes from a completely different point of view. In this respect, print media generally give you a much narrower window on the world.

8:25 AM, January 20, 2006  

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