06/01/2010 4:37 PM ET
The media bias
There's no such thing as unbiased anything
By Ted Berg / SNY.tv
The Necker Cube is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. (Wikipedia)

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 space, my 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 for this site 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 seem 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 world 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 telling the truth, and certainly not 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: honestly exposing our partialities, 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 during a slump 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 and 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 always without pretense, does not bug me at all. Mostly, it 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.

Ted Berg is the senior editorial producer for SNY.tv. He can be reached at tberg@sny.tv or via Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/OgTedBerg.
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