07.07.10

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News Failure

Posted in Marketing, Microsoft at 7:02 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Investigative journalism is dying

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Summary: New evidence that news/opinion sites rent themselves to corporate interests rather than maintain independent, professional judgment

EARLIER THIS year we wrote about the corruption of news by PR agencies. At Techrights we have a policy of ignoring or telling off PR people. PR is — by definition — associated with reality distortion fields.

Some sites pretend to be news sites, but they are merely an aggregation of output from people with agenda, sometimes commercial agenda (like the company they work for). Previously we showed how the Huffington Post gave Microsoft and the Gates Foundation a platform [1, 2, 3]. Arianna Huffington herself sells out to Microsoft by offering Microsoft (and Gates) a platform it does not deserve.

ScienceBlogs helps expose the type of things the Huffington Post lets notorious groups post without apprehension:

At ScienceBlogs we value our independence. Just consider the recent posts over the laughable PepsiCo nutrition blog to see how seriously people take this. But one thing that would never happen is for anything we write to be edited without our consent.

As I wrote yesterday, I am disappointed in the Huffington Post’s decision to grant a public stage to David Klinghoffer, Senior Fellow at the intelligent design “think tank” known as the Discovery Institute. DI is a self-avowed propaganda vehicle seeking to “wedge” religion into public schools. Once HuffPo handed him the megaphone Klinghoffer proceeded to assert blatant falsehoods about how Charles Darwin was responsible for inspiring Nazi eugenic policies towards a goal of racial purity, claims that have been refuted again and again.

[...]

Needless to say, the Huffington Post has had a very poor record as far as science is concerned. A simple search will bring hundreds of posts in the last few years from this network alone (and I guarantee you most will be critical). However, in contrast, some of their political writing has been quite good (see here and here for two recent examples). Since I am a political writer, as well as a science writer, I was conflicted about the opportunity to write for them. However, the positive response I received from my critique of US policy in Haiti and the abuses of Coca-Cola suggested I made the right choice.

But what should be done now? Reject Huffington Post as a hopeless loony bin? Focus only on political writing and let the pseudoscientific ramblings fester in their stew of illogic? Or is it useful to have a few contrarians in the mix?

Ironically enough (probably by sheer coincidence), on just about the same day ScienceBlogs (which offered the criticism above) is exposed by The Guardian, which occasionally sells out to Microsoft by offering Microsoft a platform it does not deserve [1, 2, 3, 4].

“At ScienceBlogs we value our independence,” says a writer from ScienceBlogs, but The Guardian shows them selling out too:

• Should ScienceBlogs.com have agreed to host a controversial blog on nutrition, written by PepsiCo? No, say the site’s readers, as some of its star bloggers stop their blogs in protest

Much consternation over at the home of science blogging, ScienceBlogs. The forum for the brilliant Orac, Pharynula, Molecule of the Day, and countless other insightful, funny and informative blogs has decided upon a bizarre new strategy in sourcing new posts. As of yesterday, the platform will host a new blog written by food giant PepsiCo, all about the company’s specialist subject of refreshing sugary drinks and their benefits for dental and dietary health.

Sorry, no, PepsiCo’s scientific staff will be writing about nutrition on the new Food Frontiers blog. I’ll give you a moment to get back on your chair.

There is a level of hypocrisy here because The Guardian does promotional things for companies. It’s good that Microsoft Jack has more or less left The Guardian, but he keeps posting in ZDNet UK instead (even this week). They merely relocated the problem and almost no publication is worse than ZDNet when it comes to corporate bias. We gave heaps of examples before.

“The analysts…the financial analysts particularly carry a lot of weight. We may think that, you know, Christine Comerford and Jesse Burst and other people who write in the Windows magazines are important, but the most important analysts are the guys who work for, like, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers and the other financial analysts. And if you can influence those guys’ opinions…and they almost never hear directly from. like, evangelists, and so when they do you have to be real careful. You don’t want Bill calling you up and saying, “What was this I saw from your _______?“ You have to be real careful. But going to those guys and giving them information can be very, very leveraged, because, you know, everybody reads PC Week, but the VPs and above, those guys are reading the Goldman Sacks analyst reports. They’re the guys, you know, really making the decisions.”

Microsoft, internal document [PDF]

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2 Comments

  1. BrownieBoy said,

    July 8, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Gravatar

    >> It’s good that Microsoft Jack has more or less left The Guardian, but he
    >> keeps posting in ZDNet UK instead (even this week). They [the Guardian} >> merely relocated the problem…

    What was the Guardian supposed to do with Schofield, Roy? Bump him off, maybe?

    Once he’s left their employ, he’s free to do what he likes.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I’m not blaming the Guardian for it. I was referring to ZDNet, which even adds Microsoft employees as bloggers (e.g. John).

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