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Linux, media bias, and irony

By rusty in News
Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 06:03:17 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

Linux.com is running an editorial by Jeff Alami on bias in the Linux-oriented media. The gist of the article is summarized by the following:

"With the rise of Linux came the inevitable rise of media specifically covering Linux. Print magazines, online journals, and more recently online broadcasts have littered the landscape, attempting to provide coverage of the phenomenon. You need only peruse the grab bag of Linux-related Web sites owned by internet.com and VA/Andover.Net to realize how big Linux media has become. But while Linux media has been popular and ever-present, it has never been truly objective."
True enough, I thought. But then it gets a little weird toward the end. Read on for some more thoughts.

The article starts off sensibly enough. Who can argue that the Linux media is undeniably biased toward its OS religion of choice? Kudos to Jeff for astutely pointing this out, and also for his explanation of why it happens. Linux news sites need Linux to grow, for their own prosperity. If the Linux boom was eclipsed by some other flavor of the week, their readership would drop accordingly.

But then the article presents this puzzling statement:

"Is Linux.com too biased in favour of Linux? What could be changed about Linux.com's content to make it more objective toward Linux?"
Um. Noble goal, but I think they're pretty much screwed from the start by the fact that right there in the domain name is "LINUX.COM". How could linux.com, which is fundamentally a Linux advocacy site, ever move beyond its platform of choice, and present unbiased reporting? Would you expect fair reporting from a "news" site called "windows.com", or "FreeBSDRules.org"? No.

To respond to the question posed in the editorial, no, Jeff, I don't think there's anything your site can do to be less biased. Linux.com is a linux advocacy site. Everyone knows that, it's very very obvious. So go be the best Linux advocacy site you can be, and leave the news reporting to unbiased sources. You know, news organizations.

I know K5 has a definite pro-Linux flavor. Mainly, though, that's a side effect of our more general pro-Free Software bias, which is itself a side effect of a feedback loop with you, the readers. We run stories about Free Software, people who are interested in Free Software come to read them, and stay to vote for more stories about Free Software.

To tie this in to the original theme then, do you think the process here leads to more or less biased coverage of news and opinions? Are we an advocacy site? A news site? Or something altogether different? And where do you stand on media bias, which seems pervasive in the tech news industry? Are there any news organizations you trust to give us the real story?


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Linux, media bias, and irony | 32 comments (30 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
Navel-gazing made easy (3.30 / 3) (#1)
by eann on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 04:56:11 PM EST

I don't think a little self-evaluation is too much to ask from sites like this. Part of the idea of advocacy is that you have to believe you're advocating the best possible product. If Linux zealots can't take a step back and ask themselves if there's room for improvement, rather than just patting each other on the back, then the OS will die. Slowly, yes, but eventually.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.

Unbiased media? Ha! (2.50 / 2) (#3)
by sakico on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 05:20:02 PM EST

Television media is not objective. I doubt anyone disagrees. Very few websites are, either. Magazines are just as bad.

Hell, even newspapers are bad, because they like to create controversy to sell newspapers. Quite frankly, the only sources I expect unbiased news out of are the major newswires. Even they show some bias by heavily covering some stories while ignoring others.

I'm not sure of the addresses, but websites exist which have lists which both show the differences between the newswires and what they cover (The AP ranking Monica Lewinski and Y2K among the most important events of 1999, the European press didn't have them in their top ten most covered stories) as well as what they consider to be the most underreported stories of each year, including things like the presence of carcinogens in toothpaste, facial makeup.

Holograms. (4.50 / 2) (#19)
by Wah on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 11:43:07 PM EST

I agree on pretty much everything you typed. I think we shouldn't look for an unbiased media, but rather one where biases are out in the open, and maybe even covered in the FAQ.

This gets you HONEST media, which you can then take from various sources and build your own picture of the real situation. To take the metaphor one step further. Dishonest media is like a warped lens, if you go through enough of them, the final picture is fuzzy enough that you need pundits to explain it. And so they can pretty much call it anything they want/are told to.

Thet Net gives lots of biased opinions, but they are honest biases, for what it's worth.
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
Re: Holograms. (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by Imperator on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 07:48:17 AM EST

The problem with that is that Joe Average wouldn't be intelligent enough to filter away the biases. (They aren't now, even though biases are documented clearly in the editorial pages.) Objective news reporting should be accessible to the average citizen.

[ Parent ]
What is truth/objectivity? (none / 0) (#26)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 12:17:35 PM EST

Objective news reporting should be accessible to the average citizen.

Given that people have to filter everything they experience through their sensory inputs through the gray matter is embedded in our skulls, and given that reporters are people (and fallible people at that), I don't think that such a beast as objective news reporting exists.

News reporting will always be biased, the best the average citizen can hope for is balanced reporting that covers events from all possible perspectives that have merit. And even there, a judgement call must be made as to which perspectives have enough merit to be included in the report.

My view is that most events are so complicated that the average citizen doesn't really want to take the time to understand the real issues. The average citizen typically wants only the headlines and sound bites that will give him or her the general overview of what is happening. Headlines and sound bites, by their very nature, will nor be balanced. It is impossible to do justice to the idea of balanced coverage in a world of half page articles and thirty second sound bites.

[ Parent ]
Objectivity, News, and K5 (representing open weblo (4.70 / 3) (#5)
by FlinkDelDinky on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 06:13:57 PM EST

Well, for profit news media is biased for two reasons, 1) they can be 'bribed' via advertising/payoffs and such to say or not say things, 2) they need to stay in business so their content reflects the expectations of their customers.

There's no way around bias. Any group, even K5's membership, is going to form a culture. That culture will reflect and filter reality in a different manner than other groups cultures. Even if both groups are highly similar.

The obvious example is Slashdot and K5. They're highly similar in beliefs, pretty similar in content, they even share membership (in fact K5 probably feeds on Slashdot membership, that's how I got here anyway). Even with all they have in common, they've developed different cultures.

However, there's something new with regards to media 'news' content. That's the internet. It's a lot more difficult to manipulate a netizen via major media because if something concerns them they just google that subject and really find out what's going on.

I think it's okay to have bias if you know what your bias's are and why you have them. As long as people know that you've got a certian bias or objective it's just not a problem.

What exactly /is/ advocacy? (3.00 / 2) (#6)
by enthalpyX on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 06:26:09 PM EST

Maybe functional fixedness is hampering my interpretation of this article, but, I don't see That Other Site (well, maybe sometimes) or Kuro5hin as "advocacy" sites as such. Dictionary.com defines "advocacy" as:
The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, an idea, or a policy; active support.
While some of the comments might have this kind of a theme, weblogs, as such, I see more as democratic forums.

When I think of "advocacy" I think of Macaddict or an "All Microsoft software sux" page. It's somewhat unfair to label a site or publication as biased, when it's simply caters to people with similar interests.

Advocacy & bias have a somewhat irrational connotation behind them, for me. Kudos to Jeff, though, introspection is always admirable.

Bias? Us? Never! (4.70 / 6) (#7)
by costas on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 06:41:18 PM EST

Com'on, go on over to Slashdot now, and look through the article on C#. 90% of the comments are FUD spread by Linuxists, because the poor C# is associated with Microsoft.

Never mind that it looks like a decent entry into the next-generation language 'contest', never mind that MS submitted it to ECMA (unlike Sun for Java) to be adopted as a standard, never mind that it will probably end up helping Linux more than any other Unix --same user-base and cost-range (TCO, not initial) as Windows, ECMA-standard, not tied in to a hardware vendor.

If this was an article about Python, TCL, or Perl, the OSS forums would be full of 'This is the language that will kill MS' posts...

Since when did technological progress became a religion? since when a technology is judged by who created it, instead of its merits? I understand that advocacy has to play a big role in OSS (to get the eyes to make those bugs shallow), but the current state of affairs is sad.

There is good technology being created outside of OSS, and there is truly sucky technololgy being kept alive because of OSS. Maybe we need a tech-sceptic site that will bitch against *everything* :-)...

memigo is a news weblog run by a robot. It ranks and recommends stories.
Re: Bias? Us? Never! (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 08:01:36 PM EST

Err, C# requires COM, and last time I checked, COM hadn't been implemented on my Linux box.

[ Parent ]
Re: Bias? Us? Never! (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by costas on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 08:08:06 PM EST

AFAIK, COM is a virtual function interface standard; it could be implemented under Linux, if someone put some effort into it. I think the barrier is most likely MFC and WFC --although I think those could be ported as well, through WINE or something...

memigo is a news weblog run by a robot. It ranks and recommends stories.
[ Parent ]
Re: Bias? Us? Never! (none / 0) (#14)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 08:16:41 PM EST

Why hasn't COM been implemented? I'm not a Windows programmer but as far as I can see COM is just some trickery that allows you to map strings to virtual functions. What's so difficult about that?

[ Parent ]
Re: Bias? Us? Never! (5.00 / 1) (#17)
by mihalis on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 10:31:33 PM EST

Mozilla uses a variety of COM called XPCOM. Naturally Microsoft's own code wouldn't be easy to port to XPCOM, but it's quite conceivable that if C# requires COM a dialect of it could be implemented in a portable manner using XPCOM or something similar.
-- Chris Morgan <see em at mihalis dot net>
[ Parent ]
Re: Bias? Us? Never! (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by nicksand on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 08:08:06 PM EST

Well, as far back as I can remember, there has always been a strong chunk of religion in technology. Remember the old PC vs Mac days? How about Vi vs Emacs? Commodore vs Spectrum?

I do agree with you that religious advocacy is a bad thing. Having been on that side of the fence, I realize how much love for an operating system/program/concept can skew your view of reality. These days I go with the "why can't we just all get along?" philosophy.

[ Parent ]
Re: Bias? Us? Never! (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by FlinkDelDinky on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 04:44:43 AM EST

These days I go with the "why can't we just all get along?" philosophy.

Why? Firstly, Emacs really is bloated crapware, Vi users really are extra intelligent, creative, well adjusted people, PC's are truly of the people for the people and Mac users are truly elitest snobs who are to stoop1d to realize that the 'creativity' is just plain banal, and you're obviously a heretic to mention Commodore (and therefore the C64 and Amiga) in the same sentence with that idotic little toy computer.

};-] (<- Yes, this post is a joke)

[ Parent ]

Ha! Ha! Only Serious! (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by CodeWright on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 06:59:23 AM EST


Watch Out! The Emacs True Believers will smite you!

........Fortunately, it'll take 'em half an hour to load up their editors, and another half hour to navigate the various control and meta characters to begin editing their flames.... so you have enough time to slip quietly away...

A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
ROFL (none / 0) (#24)
by rusty on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 10:38:26 AM EST

Rule number one: Editors Do Not Run Code.

That's all I have to say on that. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

C# Doesn't hit me as that great (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by Neuromancer on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 08:13:43 PM EST

A lot of programming languages don't exactly grab me by the balls and say, "Love me." C# is one of them. I'm not saying it's a crappy language. I'm just saying, well, you get the point. That's nothing against the developers. I wasn't crazy about Java until I used to, now, I like it ok. Maybe someday, I'll want my children to be the godchildren of it's developers, then, maybe not. I don't particularly think that interpretted languages are the way to go with embedded systems, and ever since Java took that turn, well, you get the idea (though with a little work, it would be the best language for embedded systems, and compiled versions of it would be great! I'm sure that progress will continue moving in this direction if that is to be the real goal (and it has a bit))

[ Parent ]
Re: Bias? Us? Never! (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by swdunlop on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 09:15:04 PM EST

Actually, I agree.. There are two features in C# that I rather like. The first is making it relatively easy to override the reading and modification of properties of an object. The second, is that I don't need to use forward declarations.

The question is, do I /trust/ Microsoft, or any commercial software company, enough to use C# in my own projects. Will it be there, five years from now, or lying in the shelves and shelves of orphaned software that doesn't work quite right on the latest OS. (Liana was a good example of this. I loved Liana, but it died a slow, quiet death, commercially.)

And yes, I know those features are available in other languages. Don't waste the keystrokes to flame me on that one. There's also the added bonus that their library /has/ to be better conceived than MFC. After all, it couldn't get much worse, could it? ;)

[ Parent ]
Re:...technological progress became a religion... (none / 0) (#28)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 02:51:16 PM EST

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but "Techgnosis" by Erik Davis discusses this idea at length.

It seems that technology and the progress thereof has been a religion to societies for 1000s of years.

The book is a very interesting read, albeit at times quite dense. Davis shows the mysticism and religious fervor attached technology from ancient societies (Greeks, Babylonians, Sumerians, etc.) to today.

[ Parent ]
Die! (none / 0) (#32)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Jun 28, 2000 at 09:06:09 AM EST

There are no Linux "Enterprise", to plain FUDs against M$FT! And C:\ is a really SHIT!

[ Parent ]
Hmm.. (4.00 / 3) (#8)
by Marcin on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 07:06:41 PM EST

I know that if I come here I'm going to get a very biased opinion about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. :) Okay, 'as I think of it' rambling coming up..

Really though, is there such a thing as an unbiased news source? Basically if the news stories are put up by the site maintainers (ie. /.) then obviously their biases will come through in the stories posted, no matter what they'd like you to believe. If you come to a community moderated site like this then you'll obviously get the communities bias. At the moment most (I assume) of the people here are the same people that read /. or once read /., so their bias as a group will flow through to the moderation.

Maybe eventually once K5 becomes more 'detached' from /. then the community will become more diverse and the bias won't be so evident? Maybe as moderators we need to consider moderating up stuff that won't necessarily be something we're interested in but are generally interesting, in order to attract a different group of people?

objectivity be damned (4.70 / 7) (#9)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 07:39:22 PM EST

Why the obsession with objective reporting? Hunter S. Thompson has a lot to say about objective reporting, namely that it is the source of all that is bad with the media today. Every time some politician makes him/herself the fool, the media doesn't jump all over them, baying like hounds (compare to some people during the Nixon era, and most reporting early this century); they present a mild piece, properly 'balanced' so as not to skew objectivity. What are they talking about? This isn't a flower show review, this is actual content! Let slip the dogs of war! Now there's a major difference between subjective reporting, which Linux sites do, and blatant lying, which thankfully we do not. There need be no connection between the two, as they are not related.

Re: objectivity be damned (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by CodeWright on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 06:59:37 AM EST

Hear hear!!!

To hell with "unbiased" news. It's an unattainable fiction.

Rather.... many "honestly" biased news sources can be polled for a composite image of emerging history.

A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
Name != bias; think of print magazines (3.20 / 5) (#15)
by mahlen on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 08:28:26 PM EST

There are plenty of examples of media that cover a topic that are not advocacy. Windows magazine, PC World, gaming magazines, all are media sources that cover the topics described in their title, yes. But they also have have negative things/suggestions to say about the current state of their technology. If i was considering installing Windows 2000, those are magazines I'd look to for advice. So it's entirely possible and appropriate for Linux-related media to have criticisms of the state of Linux. That willingness to do so marks the difference between a fandom site and journalism. I'm not claiming that these media are completely "objective", just that they don't appear to be "my choice can do no wrong" fans.

Media criticism can influence the direction that technology takes, no doubt. But worshipping at the alter of a minority choice for the sake of "supporting" it is the road to long-term problems. I wonder if more Mac media had complained that Windows 95 had pre-emptive multi-tasking and Mac OS didn't (and I believe still doesn't), maybe Apple would have closed that tech gap sooner.

One of the disadvatages to the free software community is that, because the source is available, the standard response to a complaint is, "Good idea. You've got the code, go change it." While, yes, a great freedom to those who have time/ability/interest level to do so, not much help to others. They can only resort to influencing others, and if the Linux media gives them no voice, they may give up in frustration.

True love admits the faults of the one you adore. I love my wife dearly, but I am not under the impression that she is perfection incarnate, nor would I pretend so to others.


If I've explained all of this correctly it should make less sense than before.
--Robert Hayden

Re: Name != bias; think of print magazines (none / 0) (#25)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 12:10:56 PM EST

There are plenty of examples of media that cover a topic that are not advocacy. Windows magazine, PC World, gaming magazines, all are media sources that cover the topics described in their title, yes. But they also have have negative things/suggestions to say about the current state of their technology.

This is true - and I was going to say it. But I think you've missed a subtler issue: Even when/if some "MS Windows Magazine" flames Microsoft, they're doing it to boost Windows - to make MS fix a bug, or release some new features, or whatever. "MS Windows Magazine" might ask "How come them Macgeeks got features we ain't got? huh? huh?" but it will never say "Hey, we should all go switch to Macs 'cause MS will never deliver on the features we want."

Do you see the difference? The closest Linux.com will come to objectivity will be "constructive criticism". That's not a bad thing - but it's something that readers have to keep in mind.

People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.
[ Parent ]
Critical thinking (none / 0) (#27)
by seppanen on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 01:57:15 PM EST

Actually, I would love to find a linux site that was more critical of linux. I have a love hate relationship with linux. I love what I've learned and been able to do with it in the 3 years that I've used it, but I'm constantly disappointed by how difficult it is to do some rather easy things (BTW: I use it full time at work and home). I'd feel more community with other users frustrated by using this powerful but raw tech. I find no joy in linux worship, nor in the present state of noise on slashdot (which once very much was community spirited, I remember hearing about it at a TwinCitiesLUG meeting). It would almost be ideal to have some generic *nix site (NO SCO UNIX Please). If it's out there please post an url.

[ Parent ]
Re: Critical thinking (none / 0) (#29)
by FlinkDelDinky on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 04:44:32 PM EST

Rootpromt may be what you're looking for.

[ Parent ]
post the tariff! (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by mihalis on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 10:36:20 PM EST

Personally I trust The Register because they post the tariff they charge for blatant media bias. Can't say fairer than that!
-- Chris Morgan <see em at mihalis dot net>
What constitutes 'news'? (none / 0) (#30)
by Anonymous Hero on Tue Jun 27, 2000 at 10:48:52 PM EST

Is linux.com a 'news' site? What is news? Discussion. Disclosure. Art. Whatever you want to call it.... The web is more like a bunch of people standing in a room. If I start to speak to a small crowd standing around me about what I think of NetBSD, am I a 'biased news source' because I like it, and speak of only the good things?

Less Bias Makes Sense (none / 0) (#31)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Jun 28, 2000 at 12:43:43 AM EST

Personally, I'd like to see the Linux friendly news sites once in a while support and encourage criticism of Linux. Without debate about the merits and faults of the operating system one would be without goals to work towards. However, whenever someone points out that font support in linux sucks, a flamefest ensues and everyone ends up in the same place but with a slightly scorched ego. Without anyone pointing out that linux needed a desktop environment, noone would have had the initiative to create Gnome or KDE. Perhaps eventually the sheer childness of linux advocacy will drop off and intelligent debate will begin at these "news sites".

Linux, media bias, and irony | 32 comments (30 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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