But first some housekeeping.
I’m going to be honest. While I’m ramping up the website I just don’t have the bandwidth to do a daily aggregation post. I still find them really worthwhile to do, however, so I’m going to set them to occasional mode. They’re worth reading if you’re interested in my general perspective on things. And, of course, I am always on the hunt for interesting tidbits so don’t feel afraid to flag something of interest for my attention, email me or leave a comment.
For now, beware it’s half term, so posting might be a little light this week.
The other thing I wanted to point out are my general rules of operation.
Very briefly (because I plan to publish a far more comprehensive charter of founding values and codes of conduct shortly) I think it’s really important in this day and age to be brutally honest with your readers about your agenda, your expertise but also your potential vulnerabilities and biases.
The whole premise of The Blind Spot is to challenge consensus, but it’s also to break away from the mainstream blob that I feel is not holding up to its journalistic social contract with readers.
One of the problems, I think, is that the masthead values of many news organisations don’t always match the values of the staff they employ. This is due to the general compromises all of us make when trying to break into a highly competitive industry. Back in the day, this was never a problem because the masthead values dictated everything from the top down. But social media, and digital communication tools in general, have made it much easier for those who feel aggrieved by their employers’ values (even though they entered into these organisations with their eyes open) to group together behind closed doors, and organise from the inside to pressure employers to change their mission values.
New masthead agendas abound as a result.
There’s no problem with that per se if the mission shift is transparent. Any publication that bills itself as having “A New Agenda”, one could argue, is at least being honest about what’s going on.
But readers aren’t always quick on the uptake.
With The Blind Spot, I want to encourage values-centred journalism, which is focused on living, breathing and operating by institutional values in all your operations. I feel it’s important to make these values clear as soon as possible.
One of the most important values that I feel is missing in the journalistic space today, and which I strongly want to exercise, is transparency. Transparency about sourcing. Transparency about access deals. Transparency about one’s true opinion and biases. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, transparency about funding and who is influencing your perspective. I want to work for my readers, and myself, not other interests.
(Transparency about sourcing by the way doesn’t mean the old Bloomberg rule of only using named sources. In my book, it means being clear that an unnamed source comes with its own compromises and agendas.)
I don’t think it’s possible to be entirely neutral. But being open about your biases and being fair to the other perspective is the next best thing.
Another critically important part of that is being honest about your own competencies.
Competence and expertise in journalism, however, is often a double-edged sword.
A 20-year Washington correspondent might know everything there is to know about the global political scene. But there’s also a very high chance he or she may have gone, as the industry puts it, “native”. Going “native” means everything from getting too close to your sources (like Walter Duranty in Moscow), cutting so many access deals you can no longer do effective journalism, being exposed to kompromat in your own right, or — equally severely — losing sight of the bigger picture.
The problem for readers is that “native” reporter risk can only really be balanced with “naive” and potentially “ignorant” reporter risk. This is a problem in its own right. Readers need to beware that while a reporter is getting up to speed on a new beat or patch, they’re likely exposed to vested interests trying to manipulate him. Equally likely, the reporter might inadvertently be writing something a bit dumb or naive out of sheer inexperience. Not maliciously, of course. It’s just a process of learning.
All this, however, can be easily regulated with transparency from the reporter about just how informed they are on any sector.
The sweet spot — and the best journalism — is going to come from a reporter who’s been around the block enough to know how the general game is played, but is still fresh enough in a sector so they’re not corrupted by either access deals, sourcing or favours. Even better if they can still see the bigger picture and how it interconnects with all sorts of other areas.
My promise to you (especially when I do aggregation posts) is to be clear about my levels of competency, so that you can get a much better idea about how I editorialise content.
If you see an INFORMED ALERT, that means I may be very informed but also potentially compromised due to being too closely connected to the sector. That doesn’t mean this information doesn’t have value. It’s still worth communicating and processing. Knowing how an industry operates from a practitioner’s perspective helps inform the bigger picture. The downside is, I might be too close to some sources. On the plus side, there’s an expertise and a competence.
If you see a NEWBIE ALERT, that means the commentary is possibly about as valuable as a reaction video on YouTube. But please be kind. Offer feedback. And help me inform myself.
SWEET SPOT – Anything that doesn’t carry a Newbie or Pro alert.