I think an explanation is in order. As eagle-eyed readers of these pages have perhaps noticed, I've written several detailed articles over time, including two on Thursday, about a massive bias that the Huffington Post shows for Apple, while they equally go out of the way to trash Microsoft, often without merit.
I have no doubt that some readers here view it all with a certain head-scratching questioning about why I spend repeated time on the subject. In fact, one of our thoughtful readers, Gordon, left a comment today that read in part --
I don't know that Microsoft deserves all the villainy attributed to them, but when I see some of the stuff you point out I'm mostly amused because it is so over the top.
It's a perfectly reasonable attitude -- and one I suspect many have (and I include myself occasionally among them) -- which is why I think that the aforementioned explanation is in order. While I hope that I've expressed my reaction clearly (albeit at epic length...), I probably haven't explained why that reaction exists in the first place. Especially since a follow-up note commented, "I guess it's more your annoyance at HuffPo that I'm reacting to. It seems petty and I don't think of you as petty."
I don't think I'm petty either, though I do suspect that those who sometimes consider me petty towards them disagree. In this case, though, I think proper justification does fortunately manage to stake its claim.
And so I offer the background. That's the good news. The bad news is that my explanations often are longer than the issue at hand. I tend to do so in the name of Leaving No stone Un-turned, hoping to be as clear as possible. While clarity is not always the end result, it's at least the goal and dream. So, take a bathroom break first and grab a sandwich.
What must be understood is that I have written a tech column for 18 years. I am not making my complaints as an offended FanBoy, but as a tech writer. My complaints are about the reporting of news. About accuracy and fairness. And it's something I'm not alone in, much as my lonely screeds might appear here. On my trip to the IFA Berlin tech show last year, for example, I off-handedly mentioned my perception of HuffPo's Apple Love, and I was surprised how many of the high-end tech reporters on the press bus not only agreed, but laughed dismissively at how poorly they thought of HuffPo's clear bias.
Microsoft products work well and have problems. Apple products work well and have problems. That's life in Computerland. What I'm talking about here though has nothing to do with products or financial success of behemoths. It is the accurate reporting of the news. It may just be tech news (something that I must admit can be convoluted, spoken in its own incomprehensible langue, and therefore easy to dismiss, like listening to someone speak Venutian...), but it is news nonetheless, and it's a massive industry with a huge impact. And I expect fairness. And I think consumers deserve fairness and accuracy. What they buy and use is their own personal choice -- but often the decision on what to buy is impacted by the reporting of that news.
(When a headline blares how most reviewers and early users hate Windows 8, that is likely to scare some potential new adopters off. The "I heard it was really hard to use" gambit. Something that often occurs when a product requires reading a Quick Start manual or doing more than hitting an On button. When it turns out that the headline has little to do with the reality, that's a problem. That's very bad reporting. That's something that can have an actual, real-world impact. Further, it can impact the perception of all the news that a publication is reporting. The "If they're biased about this, what else are they biased about?" scenario.)
Importantly, though, my concern with accuracy and fairness in reporting isn't just a general one about news, but I single out the Huffington Post because...I write for it. I have written for it almost since its inception. I have written over 600 articles for it. So, I have a lot of time and interest vested in it. Sweat Equity is the important-sounding term. And I don't just "write and/or sweat for it" -- politics, entertainment, sports and humor -- but I also write tech articles for it. So, I care very much about how it -- and its tech reporting -- is perceived. Among all my other aforementioned concerns about news reporting in general, it impacts how my own work is perceived.
Hey, when the perception of your work is dancing on a thin wire to begin with, every mis-placed snort risks sending your tumbling into the net below.
(It may impact more than that. As readers of my "The Writers Workbench" column may have noted, the last two articles have been reviews of tablets. What they also may have noticed is that although I've included reviews of Windows tablets, I haven't reviewed the Microsoft Surface. That's because for over two years, Microsoft has refused to send me one for review. To be fair -- whimsically, a concept at issue here... -- I can't swear that the reason is because of the Huffington Post's attitude toward Microsoft. But I certainly can't imagine it helps.)
The odd and unfortunate thing here is that I think the Huffington Post has some excellent tech writing, and some of the most extensive and highly-readable tech coverage anywhere. As such, it probably draws more readership from people who wouldn't otherwise be caught dead reading about technology. But that's a double-edged sword. One the one hand, the Huffington Post is a huge venue with a major audience, owned by AOL, with a significant readership. On the other hand, their glaring bias in tech reporting is therefore all the more problematic. There are many people who actually do read about such things and believe them. It's like if you were in Mozambique and someone translated the grave insult your waiter said to you -- you'd take their word, since you have no way of knowing anything to the contrary, and then tell everyone back home how rude they are to Americans in Mozambique. But all he might have said was, "The sea bass is particularly fresh today, sir." And so Internet stories get forwarded on, which get forwarded on. And so it has a very real and far-reaching impact.
My definition of "petty" is therefore at vast odds with this. Mind you, I'm biased about this, so my sense of definitions is hardly definitive. But when you are one of the leading and most influential online sites in the world, I believe most of what you do is consequential.
Not to worry, I'm coming to the end soon. Though since we've established that my sense of definitions could be subjective, the concept of "soon" is flexible.
It's important to understand, as well, lest one think this is merely something I sit in a corner and howl alone at the moon about, I've had repeated exchanges with the news editors at the Huffington Post, I've posted public comments to stories (and had readers post thanks for expressing what they'd been thinking for years) and, perhaps most notably of all, had a 45-minute conversation about it directly with the HuffPo's Technology Editor -- without her hanging up on me. In fact, it was a very substantive talk, and she even acknowledged some errors and was surprised to hear about problems she'd been completely unaware of, which she said she'd work hard to fix. Alas, a few months later she moved on to other work (for all I know, she's working at Apple. Okay, sorry, cheap shot. Though it might be true...), and the problems continue, if not worsen.
Believe me, I understand when some think I'm going on a circus rant about the Huffington Post's Apple Love. (At the very least, I do hope they're entertaining. Hey, I try...) And I even understand why some may even think it petty. Indeed, it's knowing all that why I thought an underlying explanation of the background was important. Whether it is convincing is up to personal taste. And honestly, I know that when most people see an article that even hints at technology, their eyes glaze over and go racing past. Which is fine. Mine sometimes do, too. Happily, it's a grab bag omnibus here (as one reader described it), so another article less-numbing will be coming by in a minute, hopefully. But with a subject so tortuous to many, that's all the more why I think the reasons underlying the rants, which run deep, must been seen in a wider perspective.
And here is that perspective. And it only took 20 paragraphs to get there! Which is actually pretty good by my standards --
I don't support conservative views, and I don't tend to watch conservative news, but I still expect Fox to be accurate and fair. (And I'll bet their viewers do, too, even if they don't know they're not getting it.) I feel no different about tech news. I just take it to heart, because I've written about the field for almost two decades. And I try to be accurate and fair about it, and about everything I write. I expect nothing less from major news sources. And the Huffington Post is one of the biggest and most influential.
I don't take "fair and balanced" to be just a mere ad line, and something that can therefore be ignored with no meaning, or worse, with no consequences. I expect all news, whatever it covers, and whoever covers it, to have a striving for accuracy, fairness and honesty as their foundation.
But when it's my own field that I write in, it's a baseball bat to the head when accuracy and fairness is ignored. Because I care about it, and because it impacts me. And because, as I said, readers and consumers deserve it.
Is it over-the-top amusing and petty? I am spot-on sure that some will see it that way. I am sure even that some will see this explanation as over-the-top. I have not been referred to as "rabbinical" without reason. But I think explanations are often necessary, however they are perceived.
This is my quest. To follow that star. No matter how hopeless. No matter how far. To fight for the...sorry, I'd better stop now, or I'll owe song royalties to Man of La Mancha.
Hey, we may be a circus here sometimes, but hopefully at least it's a three-ring circus.
And every circus needs its ringmaster...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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