This morning, I was perusing Romanesko when I noticed a BusinessWeek article on a new Web site called SpinSpotter. The idea of the site is to use their “spinoculars” (aka a downloadable toolbar app) that picks up on the bias in newspaper articles. Here are what the spinoculars look for, according to the BusinessWeek article:
The application’s algorithms work off six key tenets of spin and bias, which the company derived from both the guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code Of Ethics and input from an advisory board composed of journalism luminaries.
The tenets are: reporter’s voice (adjectives used by a journalist that go beyond the supporting evidence in the article); passive voice (example: a story says “bombs land” without stating which party is responsible for them); a biased source (a quoted source’s partisanship is not clearly identified); disregarded context (a political rally’s attendance is reported to be “massive,” but would it have been so huge had the surviving members of the Beatles not played?); and lack of balance (a news story on a controversial topic gives much more credence to one side’s claims).
I was immediately intrigued by this. Ignoring the pros and cons of SpinSpotter, I downloaded it to see how it worked. First, I tried it out on my Web site, but to no avail. None of my articles seemed to show any bias. I’m not sure if my site isn’t cool enough to warrant being searchable or what.
Anyway, I tried some Boston.com articles and then some New York Times articles and only one came up with anything, a balanced source issue. It was this article.
Now onto the cons. Wordyard, a blog by Scott Rosenberg, completely disses the site, saying humans are not objective,therefore their articles cannot be.
SpinSpotter’s design starts from an assumption that there is some abstract and definable concept of “bias” independent of our own relative perspectives. But we all encounter the biases in the coverage we read through the lens of our own pre-installed biases. And so what? Every act of journalism is biased! We can’t and shouldn’t set out to eliminate bias from journalism, not only because it is impossible but because it is unwise. Instead, we should expect journalists do a better job of being fair and accurate and passionate in their quest for the truth as they see it. We should help readers find the journalists they trust and question the ones they don’t. And we could all use help finding our way through this new era when there is little boundary left between the one group of journalists and the other of readers.
What do you think of this site? Is it fair or unrealistic? Try it out and let me know what you think.