The media bias

This was supposed to be an SNY.tv column before I had some tech issues. It might be up there later, but I’m impatient, so here it is:

I could use this column to weigh in on Mike Francesa’s recent dismissive comments about Matt Cerrone and MetsBlog, but the post would be silly and my motivations transparent. If you read this blog or Matt’s blog with any regularity, you probably know that Matt is my colleague and buddy. Mike Francesa once read a report I wrote about Billy Wagner on his radio show word for word without crediting me or SNY.tv. So I am biased.

On that topic, though, I do feel an urge to respond to the outpouring of comments like this one that seems to follow any criticism — legitimate or otherwise — of MetsBlog or TheKnicksBlog or any new-media outlet that appears to straddle the line between journalism and fandom.

The image above is not a cube. A cube, by nature, exists in three dimensions and has volume. What you see there is merely a collection of connected lines that appear to have depth because of an optical illusion. You likely see one face of the cube in the foreground and the other in the background, and if you focus you can imagine them reversed. But it is difficult to look at the image as a series of lines on a flat surface without perceiving the illusion of depth.

Here’s the fascinating part: That’s not a universal phenomenon. It’s cultural. Because we live in a society awash with similar two-dimensional representations of depth — in art, on television, in advertisements, everywhere — our brains have learned to read depth into that image. But people from vastly different visual cultures would not see it the same way.

We are all biased in ways we never consider and rarely recognize. Our value systems, backgrounds, upbringings and experiences impact our perception just as our beliefs and opinions do. I am conscious of the specific source of my bias in the minor dustup between Cerrone and Francesa but not of the myriad deeply ingrained ones shaping the way I perceive absolutely everything.

There is no such thing as unbiased journalism because there is no such thing as unbiased anything. The ideal of disinterested reporting, though noble in theory, is misguided, especially with the world so dominated by randomness. We see stories develop and we want them to be true, so we draw inferences and connect dots and work to confirm them as reality.

That’s not to say journalists should abandon their pursuit of the truth, and I certainly don’t aim to suggest that most journalists are not conscious of any of their biases. Absolute facts must exist somewhere, and the journalist’s job is to wean them as best he can from the mire of his own perception.

And to me, the best possible first step toward that goal is honesty: exposing our affinities, reflecting as often as we can on our motivations, and disclosing the breadth of our intentions. That’s why, though I am naturally disinclined to being a company man, I believe in the work Cerrone and all of our SNY.tv bloggers are doing.

Admitting their fandom does not in any way prevent them from criticizing their favorite teams or those teams’ managements; it merely strips away the artifice that suggests people covering a team should have no vested interest in its success or failure. I know from reading TheKnicksBlog that Tommy Dee wants to see the Knicks win, so I trust that the moves he suggests and ideas he forwards are ones he believes will benefit the team. Certainly his perspective is skewed by the fact that he roots for the team, but he has never suggested otherwise.

I don’t mean this to slight traditional reporters, and I hope it doesn’t sound like any sort of pretentious new-media manifesto — I would be foolish to suggest I know what makes for a successful Web enterprise with the Internet still in adolescence. And I understand how anyone raised or trained in more traditional forms of media might struggle with the concept of fans providing news filtered through their own perspectives. But again, all media, and everything else, is filtered through someone’s perspective.

A common talking point among media-savvy Mets fans is the idea that reporters covering the team too frequently give passes to Jerry Manuel and Jeff Francoeur because they supply great quotes to fill newspapers. I will not argue that. But I will ask this: Is it conscious? Does a newspaper columnist lay off Francoeur when the right fielder is not hitting because he is aware that Frenchy makes his job easier, or is he, without knowing it, simply not inclined to rip a guy who just looked him in the eye, smiled and laughed at his joke?

I don’t know. I can’t answer for that columnist, just as I can’t speak for any other SNY.tv blogger. I only represent myself, and I know that the content on these sites, presented without pretense, does not bug me at all. Rather, it mostly strikes me as forthright, and eliminates any concern that the writer might be operating under anything but his stated motivations.

Then again, I’m probably biased.

35 thoughts on “The media bias

  1. I’m sure Jesse Spector gets equally uncomfortable when his colleagues at the News and pretty much every paper in the country enter into business relationships with pro athletes/coaches via book deals.

  2. Good write up Ted. The way I basically see it, Blogs and ‘the news’ to me are just different things. Blogs to me are like any other opinion based TV or Radio talk shows.

    There is the “news” just like on TV where I would go to get well, the news. Give me the facts, the quotes, tell me whats going on and leave it at that.

    Blogs would then IMO be the equivalent of something like Around the Horn for sports, or Glen Back or any other of the FOX news types, who then take the news and opine on it.

    But just like on TV and radio, the line between what is ‘news’ and what is opinion is other blurred. If you can separate them for what they are, they both have a place, but they are quite different.

  3. I appreciate the argument here, but I don’t think I’m entirely on board. I don’t have a problem with your site – this is clearly a “fan” blog, not a “voice of SNY, the voice of the Mets” blog. It’s akin to a newspaper column, which we know to read as opinion. The columnist wants to keep his job, sure, but his job may be as much due to interesting provocation as company-line towing.

    Metsblog, I’m a lot more iffy on. It’s got the team’s blessing as the “official” blog, and there is payment associated with that imprimatur. How do we conceive that what metsblog presents doesn’t entail some even back-of-the-mind consideration about what the team wants presented? How do we believe that Cerrone doesn’t care very, very much about retaining that official imprimatur?

    And as a side note – Cerrone’s abuse of “polling” has driven me right up the effing wall since day one. The “polls” he takes are in no way actual sampling polls, and I do believe that when something is presented as a poll on television, to people not listening for footnotes, there should be some intellectual integrity behind it. Oh, this drives me mad. Sorry.

    • That’s a fair contention, but there’s an important distinction between being affiliated with SNY and being affiliated with the Mets directly. The team does not pay Matt. SNY pays Matt. I don’t know exactly the terms of his arrangement (nor do I care to, since I avoid the business end of things as much as I can), but I imagine his paychecks come from Comcast as mine do. And I’m sure he feels secure in his role because he knows he gets a buttload of traffic. And SNY affiliated with MetsBlog after Matt built up that traffic on his own, so the network should in turn trust him to understand what’s best for his site.

      But to that end, I imagine the bias skews both ways: If he is concerned about maintaining his relationship with the network and access to the team, he is probably equally concerned about seeming too supportive of the team for fear he’ll appear a shill. That’s something I can speak to from experience. Matt — and me, for that matter — has to remain fair if he knows the team’s media-relations staff will read his posts, because inappropriate or unchecked criticism could cost him access. But that’s true for any reporter covering the team.

      • those are both good points – that it is an SNY deal, and that he’s obliged to pay possibly even extra attention to his credibility because of the deal. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but good points.

  4. Pretty hacky stuff here Ted. Everyone knows Matt is a complete hack who never criticizes the team for anything because of his connection with SNY.

    When you sell out (look yourself in the mirror) you lose the privilege to write defensive columns like the one above.

    • Ryan, I look myself in the mirror all the time. It’s hard to pull my eyes away from a face like this one.

      Seriously, though, you can call me anything you want, and I know you have no real reason to trust me, but I never, ever publish anything I don’t believe.

      And if you think an affiliation with SNY prevents someone from criticizing the Mets, you must have missed the columns/posts where I called for Minaya’s head, blasted the process behind the Francoeur deal, implied the team lacked understanding of basic microeconomics, suggested that the Mets’ entire front-office was asleep at the wheel, and compared Minaya and Adam Rubin to howler monkeys bellowing nonsense.

      • Ahh, the always controversial opinion about the Jeff Francouer trade, the most boring trade in American history. And the always appreciated Mets company line that Omar was wrong but so was Rubin. Nice work Ted.

        Ted, how about that none of your SNY blogs, even the flagship has even touched the Mets dropping payroll $22 million this offseason. No, lets not touch that one. That is not relevant to Mets fans, that is not a complete slap in the face. That’s the hackiness element, that’s the sellout who can’t write what he feels or thinks because his paycheck comes from the team he is covering.

        Why also does Matt write like this…maybe it allows him to hedge his opinions…saying something without saying anything…so he doesn’t look access…maybe i dont know….maybe access to interview Kevin Burkhardt….the always hard-hitting Kevin Burkhardt…so that he can ask him…why Alex Cora…does all the little things right? …..Maybe I don’t know….

      • The article you linked below, why? You don’t mention Mets payroll at all. You certainly do not mention 22 MILLION DOLLARS. In fact the article stems from yourself being criticized for not being critical. Which is my point.

      • In that post, I linked and responded to an article that said the Mets have no money left, which pretty clearly relates to the Mets’ payroll. I didn’t mention 22 MILLION DOLLARS because it was February and I had no way of knowing if the Mets were done spending. Since I rarely obtain any inside, anonymous-source type information, I had no way to know whether the Mets’ decline in payroll was due to bureaucratic inefficiency or an actual lack of money. I still don’t.

      • OK, so Ryan is upset Ted did not clamor on about a $22 million payroll deduction and uses it as evidence of Blogger Bias. It appears he’d rather have bloggers continually harp on the ineptness of Mets Management – on the field, at the GM level and definitely at the owner level. That would make him happy and serve as proof that Ted, Matt et al are their own people with no puppet strings to SNY or the Mets. It seems Ryan is not a reader of the blogs or listens much to SNY during Mets games because they are filled with criticisms. As Ted writes, every person has a bias and that bias permeates their attitudes and being. Get over it. Be your own juidge of the info and save your tirades for those who care.

      • To this day, Ted nor Matt have commented on the EXTREME amount of drop in payroll which is suspicious. Downright suspicious. Other Metscentric blogs have. SNY Sponsored Blogs have not.

        Your article is not relevant to the conversation and it was not a good article anyway.

        I am a big fan of SNY Mets broadcasts. The Big 3 can be very critical of this organization, which is great, and which they should be. There has not been a bigger disgrace of organization management in baseball than the New York Mets (Randolph Firing to Present) Metsblog and Tedquarters has not been critical, at all. They would rather talk (along with Burkhardt) about how Alex Cora does the little things well and Fernando Tatis provides veteran latino presence, all the while the team and the organization is imploding and frankly a joke to the rest of the league.

      • The point is, Ted and Matt could be agents of real change for this organization. They have the readership. They either choose not to be or they are not allowed to be. They would rather talk about Jose’s love of music or how fast Elmer Dessens can drink a milk shake.

      • Evidently Ryan will not be satisfied until Ted asks that the head of Omar Minaya be brought to him on a silver platter. To suggest that he is not critical of the Mets is, well, moronic. That said, I agree with Ryan that it’s just distasteful for Ted to show interest in subjects outside of the Mets. How dare he indicated that – GASP! – might have a life.

      • “They would rather talk (along with Burkhardt) about how Alex Cora does the little things well and Fernando Tatis provides veteran latino presence.”

        And with that, I feel no obligation to respond to anything else you say, since you’ve obviously never read this blog before.

  5. Ryan,

    are
    you suggestion Matt never criticizes the team? Wow choice words there against a guy who has been very critical of this team since he created the blog. Do you even read his blog on a daily basis because if you did you would realize your previous comment holds no merit!

  6. Ted,
    You are right that you guys are biased, but I find that the blogs provide an excellent source of quick information, and when new information, which may or may not contradict what you have said comes out, its up there quickly–unfiltered–Matt’s blog especially. But I have also found that at times your blogs also provide a more thoughtful approach that that of talk radio. Talk radio just wants to work people up to get ratings, while you guys actually take time to explain things when you see them (like your recent blog about stats when 2 runs are scored by one player). Also, because you are actually interested in the team you are reporting about you take the time to go in depth a bit on an issue you find interesting (as above), and, as a reader, I can either follow along if I have an interest, or watch for the next blog. I will continue reading both blogs with enjoyment.

  7. Put an opinion out there in print and you can count on half the people reading it will not agree with said opinion.

    I cannot accuse Cerrone of towing anyone’s company line, least of all the Mets as he represents to me the epitome of the bipolar Met fan. One day he’s at the top of the roller coaster spouting how all is going well and self admittedly the next day at the bottom reversing his own opinion. Just because he doesn’t often go off on a rant about his opinion either way I can’t imagine how readers would equate that to essentially selling out or having any kind of bias.

    I’m not a regular reader anymore of Metsblog as I once faithfully was, but that has more to do with the direction the blog took more than MC’s opinions when passing on any tidbit. I enjoy participating on blogs as much reading them, for the simple enjoyment of the debates on all things Mets. Metsblog doesn’t make that as easy as it once was (i.e. auditioning for the right to post) but I do check in for the latest and greatest breaking news story quite frequently.

  8. My problem with MetsBlog is I just do not really care about Matt’s opinions or his name-dropping. I just go to whatever link they have and especially ignore the comments.

    I go on a bunch of Mets message boards and mets-related sites/blogs so I get my filter. Ted, you mentioned how Mike did not credit you for one story well the same thing happened to a friend of mine with Cerrone. I will not go into the details but basically one day Matt was in the dark when my friend asked about this minor league player, with my friend clearly knowing a heckuva a lot more about this play. Cerrone gave him a short response that he knew nothing about him. The next day there is an entire post dedicated that minor leaguer with absolutely no implied tip off that he got it from anybody when he almost word for word quote my friend on his evaluation. So I cannot really be all that mad when I know it can happen on any medium.

  9. Ted,

    As Keith Hernandez put it, there’s way too much media, sports talk radio, etc… I consider that a good thing for which the popularity of baseball speaks for itself right there, now covered year round.

    However, in NY and especially since Steinbrenner took over, there has been a media frenzy around New York baseball. People like Francesa, Ken Rosenthal, and others care more about ratings than accuracy when it comes to reporting. Very few people today objectively report news which is the evolution of the media.

    A journalist (who is slipping my mind right now) posted all of the predictions, facts they were incorrect on and it was refreshing and honest.

    I appreciate all of the hard work the media does (be it traditional journalists or bloggers). I see far too many people jump on the bandwagon of someone’s report. Rather people should be sifting through all of the facts and formulating their own opinions.

    It would create less stress, drama (the bad kind), and a more enjoyable experience.

    • I agree there is too many media and sports talk radio but I also think there are too many bloggers who just fire stuff up.

      In the end everybody’s a person and there are some people who just like to stir it up, are ill-informed, lazy, and not as knowledgeable as they proclaim to be. Be it bloggers, host, or journalists. Journalists are held to higher standards but consider the unique position of the blogs on SNY, I think there should be higher standards than Joe Blow on blogger.com

      I also would defend Rosenthal, who I think does get most stuff right.

      In agreeing with your statement, I think there needs to be a BS meter with all the team bloggers rather than falling into the stirring pot by those who are criticized, as you are letting them keep their jobs. Evan Roberts may be the dumbest sports talk radio host I have ever heard but thankfully he is not that relevant while Francesa is always relevant but really Evan on steroids in the end.

  10. Ted,
    I love your posts. They’re interesting and thought provoking takes on a game many of us have known or our lives, but have we really?
    Great job!

  11. As usual, Ted, a very well-reasoned, thought-provoking post.

    I’ve got to agree with Anit to a point, though – with the Mets as the ‘face,’ if you will, the flagship of SNY, Metsblog takes added importance, even moreso than Brian Bassett over at The Jets Blog. As a result, Cerrone’s got to feel a bit antsy with his position.

    On the whole, though, I’m glad that there’s some element of fandom in sports blogs – otherwise, where would all the fun be?

  12. Interesting post, Ted, on an interesting subject.

    Having been in the “mainstream media” business for a few years, I’d agree wholeheartedly that the very idea of “objectivity” is a joke. Certainly reporters should strive for this goal, but when you have a system set up the way it is – where beat reporters cover a single team for sometimes years at a time – there’s no doubt some cozy relationships develop.

    I’m an avid Metsblog reader, and have been since well before SNY existed. That’s the primary reason I trust Matt explicitly. He’s been Matt Cerrone since day one, and has rarely wavered.

    I felt very uneasy about SNY picking him up, and given the relationship(s) between the team and the station and the station and the blog, I can see why it raises red flags for some people. Hearing Gary doing Metsblog promos on SNY’s Mets broadcast certainly sets up the expectation that Matt is the “online voice” of the team. As such, it’s easy for those who disagree with Matt to shout shrill accusations of “shill!”

    Add in the fact that blogs mix straight reporting with opinion and it can be confusing if readers aren’t paying attention.

    It would be wise for all of us who consume any media, traditional or otherwise, to approach with caution and consider wisely the backstory and track record of those we’re trusting to bring us news and opinion.

    For me, Matt is a perfect voice for my breed of Mets fandom. I trust his yearning for objectivity when appropriate and appreciate his measured reaction when it’s opinion time. The unparalleled access he is afforded because of the affiliation with SNY allows me, the reader, to glean much more information that would otherwise be possible – and, presumably, allows Matt to collect a paycheck that helps keep the valuable Metsblog service online.

    Then again, maybe I’m just a shill for Matt Cerrone.

  13. Anyone who thinks SNY has a “cozy” relationship with the team has clearly never spent much time on SNY. I can think of no other team-owned network that regularly hammers the team on its bone-headed decisions like SNY does time and time again.

    • I agree. Not to mention you are employing personalities led by likes of Joe Benigno who whine about the team on a daily basis.

      Gary (who sounds like a dirty homer when this team is winning and a fatalist when the team is losing, basically your average Mets fan), Keith, and Ron are hardly water-carriers for this team. Their effusiveness is intelligent, well-reasoned, and common sense, which I cannot say about a lot of the tactics SNY has employed which is really just ESPN-wannabe in the end.

  14. Bottom line to me is that no one, like ted says in truly objective. All reportes and writters have their bias. If you read and follwo sports news regularly you just pick up on where those things are.

    Like Wallace Mathews hates the Mets, Gammons is a Boston lover, and Jason Stark is a Phillies shill. Read thier work and research thier background and you see it and and know why they are the way they are.

    Bottom line is that just like in all other aspects of life, more than one opinion is the way to go. If a big story happens, dont just read Cerrone and follow his opinion. Dont just read Ted and say he must be right. Read a bunch of opinions, clearly they are enough as everyone has one, see how everyone is supporting thier opinions, and form your own view of a particular subject.

  15. Fantastic writing, Ted. I am a huge fan of all the work you do, on this blog, the baseball show, and SNY.tv. Keep up the good work, bro.

  16. Wow… I came back here… because I read something about a rant… in the comments section… of the latest post.

    I don’t really… get all the vitriol…. about sports media…being biased or not…in this day and age.

    Most people…who would enjoy TB’s stuff…should have the capacity to recognize…everything is biased on a sliding scale…its up to you to weight it as you see fit…and evaluate whether it effects…your enjoyment of the content.

    …rabble….rabble…

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