Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fred Wilson Asked, Fred Wilson Gets

Fred Wilson Asked, Fred Wilson Gets
Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder

World Famous Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson wrote on his blog yesterday:

"I have never spent much time trying to obtain perfect grammar, spelling, and wording .... I'm not a perfect speller by any means. And I mess up/mix up its and it's all the time. I went to an engineering school not a liberal arts school and it shows at times ...... But there is a solution that I'd love someone to build. If anyone could make basic edits to this post that don't change the meaning, I'd love that. I don't want an editor, but I am quite taken with the idea of audience powered editing."

Mr. Wilson, you asked and you shall now receive. Though our tool is not meant for that -it is meant to crowd-edit news stories for spin and inaccuracies- it will work perfectly well for this.

I am not a grammar expert -and commit typos faster than I type- but, I did have fun in the guise of a nit picky editor. Based on my personal experiences with editors, I also performed one of their most egregious, rude and, sadly, common errors---take a look at the extract and, see if you also find it nearly unforgivable!

If you would like to see how that changes appear on your blog, please simply add Spinoculars to your Firefox browser: When you have Spinoculars, visit your post.

For Mr. Wilson's readers: please feel free to augment my additions to the article---and, please, vote down or edit my rude pseudo-error. You can all vote them up or down without the Toolbar at or, you can create your own edits to Mr. Wilson's piece on his own page with our toolbar.

Monday, December 29, 2008

News Transparency Brothers and Sisters

News Transparency Brothers and Sisters
By Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder

Many of you read about, a news start-up from the halls of academia who hope to remake the new world by turning to readers to decide which stories get investigated---because only stories that get funded make are published. It's a cool idea which has garnered a lot of press.

I hope won't mind if I consider them part of a movement we call News Transparency. This is a movement peopled by folks like us,, and the like: all of us seem to have the goal of news unfettered by bias or inaccuracies. Where we seem to differ, though, if in whether or not a commercial entity can be trusted to provide that type of look into media. is a for profit business, as is SpinSpotter and some feel that make us less trustworthy.

I do think that entities who demand transparency must themselves provide it. In the case of SpinSpotter, we went to come fairy unusual degrees to be transparent ourselves; have you read our management bios? We list, among other things, our political donations (all of them of which we are aware---not just the so called "big ones"), our charitable donations and our political points-of-view; at regular intervals we also publish our advertisers and business partners, for all the same reasons. While one could still be a transparent cheat, we think that exposing our interests will make it easier for you to expose us should we ever skew results to make ourselves happy or to drive an agenda other than our stated one: to make news reporting transparent.

Here, though, is a question for the non-profit entities in the equation: how you do you deal with issues of transparency as relates your donor base. Do you think your users have a right to know all of your donors? It's a sincere questions, not a jab. Please let us know.

Monday, December 22, 2008

When will the NY Times get better at being lazy?

When will the NY Times get better at being lazy?
By Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder

Is this laziness, spin or ... actually, there is no "or" for this.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Magic Legitimacy of the Neutral Professor

The Magic Legitimacy of the Neutral Professor


If SpinSpotter can figure this out why can't Fox News?

By Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder based on the work of SpinSpotter Community Member Devio.

Tort Lawyers and some News Organizations have a game they like to play. It's called the Magic Legitimacy of the Neutral Professor. The game works like this: when someone is a professor, they are perfectly and permanently neutral. They are great "experts" in court. In fact, they are so neutral that such Ph.D'd professional experts often specialize as defense experts or prosecution experts. And, magically enough, they are still just seeking truth. After all, they are professors and, as such, they are above having a point of view.

When the magically neutral are quoted in news articles, they enjoy the same veneer and, often, employ the same decision to specialize. It's a neat game when it works. It's no fun when you get caught doing it and that magic assumption of neutrality falls away.

This week, Fox News played that game with three people in a single article which seemed to attack the Associated Press's analysis of Global Warming. Read the Fox News piece yourself and then tell me, would you noticed this and this?

For the bereft of time---here's a screen shot (click to enlarge:

In the case of Fox News vs. AP on the topic of Global Warming, Professor Deming seems an excellent choice to play the role of the prosecution witness/genetically neutral brain without guile or ambition.

All great professors have points of view, all great journalists do as well. But, if a journalist uses a source so easily attached to a point of view, that journalist simply must disclose that. If the journalist is writing from a point of view, they should disclose that as well. To do otherwise seems a little less than honest ... in fact, it seems like game-play.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What Channel Will You De-Spin?

What Channel Will You De-Spin?
Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder

As we near the release of our Explorer Toolbar for Human Spin Spotters, we are testing a new video that which you can see right here. This has already caused a little bit of controversy ... right now 50% of people who have commented on it think it's "anti-Obama" and 50% think it's "anti-Bush". So, perhaps we made the vaunted middle-ground for lending offense. But, we didn't mean to lean either way...the piece is about Spin Images, be they words, pictures, camera angles, lighting, special effects of complete doctoring of photos. Can you spot the spin? Are we re-spinning?

If this video inspires you to do something about media-spin then please grab your Spinoculars and set forth; the most efficient, fun and easy way to contribute to a de-spun news media is to de-spin the channel you think is most guilty of spin. You will enjoy the feeling of editing their pages! Do this once a day and share what you find, through our share tool, by joining our Facebook Group or simply my leaving your comment here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fox News: Let’s play obscure that source

Fox News: Let’s play obscure that source
Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder

An excellent, text-book piece of really bad journalism from Fox News.

Human SpinSpotter prepare_for_y2k finds Fox News using an expert to deride Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald---the man prosecuting Governor Blago. The problem is, Fox News chooses not to tell you why this expert has a dog in the race. This is why you need SpinSpotter.

Fox News: Let’s play obscure that source

The New York Times: Psychiatrists

The New York Times: Psychiatrists
Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder

Isn’t it great when your newspaper can magically examine people’s psychological health---without ever examining them, or having anyone else do that?

Today, the New York Times, explains that Governor Blago is not corrupt, he’s insane.

Add your own edits, here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Opinalysis: The Mystery Meat Of Journalism

Analysis: The “Mystery-Meat” of Journalism
Todd Herman, SpinSpotter Founder

News Publishers have taken a bad rap for their supposed failure to innovate. In fact, they have never been more creative: the Big Picture from allows readers to make the decisions faced by newsmakers, and iReport from CNN meaningfully combines reader input with CNN content; these are two examples of brave new ways to tell a story. In terms of impact on the craft, tough, they pale in comparison to an industry-wide invention. In the past few years, News Publishers invented a brand new class of writing: Opinalysis (not be confused with Analypinion, the distinction requires no explanation). 

Clamato™ is a blend of the bodily fluids of clams and tomatoes; Opinalysis is a blend of two things: one-part professional writers, objectively and carefully analyzing objective data in their area of expertise in search of verifiable changes in trajectory worthy of note and one-part someone with a keyboard belittling people or actions they don’t like. The mix is not always 50/50, sometimes it approaches 0/100, as in this case from the New York Times (best viewed with Spinoculars; that is not -just- a sales pitch, it’s true).

In this Opinalysis, New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley analyzes the final debate between Senators Obama and McCain. The reader can discern what mix of clam fluids and tomatoes the piece contains---among the statements:

“Barack Obama looked like a polished summation in a long civil case, Joe the Plumber v. George W. Bush. John McCain was closer to a personal injury lawyer, staring into the camera to address “Joe the Plumber” as if he were standing by with an 800 number. (‘If you or a loved one has been wronged in an accident ...’ or in this case, in an Obama tax bracket.)”

“[McCain] kept taking out his pen to write on his yellow pad, almost as though it were a surrogate for reaching across and throttling the younger man he does not think should be challenging him because, as his aides put it, he hasn’t bled.” 

Is there a living editor who can explain the objective data-set Alessandra Stanley used to analyze this debate? Did the CNN crawler’s live-feed of McCain’s brainwaves, heartbeat and temperature and Ms. Stanley’s advanced medical degree enable her to Opinalyze that McCain was contemplating violence against the now President-elect? Was it Frank Luntz whispering creepily in her ear from a Fox News production studio that his live-feeds from his panelist’s bodies indicated Senator Obama was, in a scientifically verifiable way, coming across as a “polished summation”? 

The New York Times is far from alone in this: CNN Opinalyzes that, when she becomes Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton must become an “honest broker.”

“If confirmed by the Senate, Clinton will have to transform herself from politician to diplomat, and her biggest challenge will be changing the vision she expressed as a senator from New York and as a presidential candidate and become an ‘honest broker’ [emphasis mine] the role the U.S. secretary of state often plays in the world's hot spots.”

Is there a set of data -beyond what which resides in the the gray matter of those who think of Senator Clinton is a dishonest broker- from which CNN’s State Department Producer Elise Labott draws this conclusion? How about one of her other conclusions that President-elect Obama’s national defense team is an “all star cast?” It would be tremendously nice of CNN to share with us where Mr. Labott’s “analysis” and “opinion diverge” ... if anyone at CNN knows the mix or the rules of the official difference.

Fox News, though, practices a form of analysis that is perhaps the sneakiest. In this case, as SpinSpotter user Sylvia L points out, Fox News invents an angle (President-elect Barack Obama and Indicted Governor Rod Blagojevich had “Ties”).

“The matter also highlights ties between the disgraced Democratic governor and some members of Obama's inner circle. His top campaign strategist, David Axelrod -- who will move to the White House for a senior adviser's job -- lists Blagojevich on his firm's Web site as one of his clients, when the politician was a candidate for Congress.”

Sylvia L user the Spinoculars “Edit” function to correct the record (in her opinion, you are welcome to disagree here.) Note her edit after the strike out:

How much of the discussion about Obama’s “ties” are organically grown and how much came through “Opinalysis" by the media?

This is the precise problem with Opinalysis: how much clam-juice and how much tomato will one swallow? 

The free press, a necessary component of a free democracy, is well within its rights to create words in blenders. The readers of a free press, a necessary component of a non-Federally subsidized News Publishing industry, are free to reject them. According to Pew, 56% of Americans actually believe that our free press is “bad for democracy”, 70% believe reporters try to get the candidates they support elected. The full data-set is too long for a blog but it suggests some obvious questions. According to Pew, only 16% of Americans “believe all of most of what [the New York Times says]”, do News Publishers become more worthy of being believed when they create the journalistic equivalent of Mystery Meat? News Publishers are competing against Twitter for debate coverage; do they serve themselves when they publish something other than that for which they are uniquely able and inclined to deliver? Now that they are competing with billions of personalities, are they choosing a wise battle by turning journalism into personality media?

Americans historically desire one thing from powerful institutions, a group of which the News Media is still a member. Americans want honesty. Like all weasel words and faux-phrases - “sources say”, “cheese-food” and “mistakes-were-made”- “Analysis” when used like “meat by-product”, will engender distrust because it is neither clam nor tomato, neither cheese nor food. It is not an honest claim. 

News Publishers have, in fact, been wildly inventive: iPredict lets users predict what will be news; (born from students of the Columbia School of Journalism) is news funded directly by readers who vote with their dollars on what the team investigates. But, the GMO-like Opinalysis is a bad invention. Like other bad inventions -Hairless Cats, Vista Capable and Turkey-Drops- it should be discontinued. News Publishers should reject this sausage. They should create and publish rules for what constitutes analysis. Writing that is actually one person’s feelings or reactions to a person or event and is in no way based upon any form of objective data should be labeled what it is: Opinion. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Uber-Spin of the "Auto-Industry Bailout"

By Todd Herman, Founder of SpinSpotter

Before I use Google News Search to track a little spin today (see below), I have the fiscal duty and general joy to say that SpinSpotter is a great tool for seeing spin on the big-five news sites. As we grow and as you teach our SpinBot, it will be a great tool on all of them. As proof of that I offer this: our users have already taught us that the phrase indusrty-bailout is a “dead give away for advocacy of the plan” they have also taught us that “The Big Three” is also a Spin-Laden term especially since Toyota is number one, and Detroit’s automakers are near collapse unless they get our tax money (or, rather, our line of national credit). Our SpinBot has been calling those phrases out since before the CEO’s from Detroit flew to D.C. in their Globe-Warming machines.

In the media narrative, though, how is the phrase “auto-industry bailout” being utilized? A self-serving way to ask that: what is the Uber-Spin?

Google News Search is a really cool way to tap the Uber-Spin, the evolving narrative around how news gets colored---one day we will do a better job at that. From Google’s servers, then, comes today’s object-lesson in Uber-Spin. The American Media seems to have invested in, and helped re-sell the phrase “auto-industry bailout” and the meme that it’s the industry -not three companies- that need a “bailout”.

Fun with Google News Search:

Auto-industry bailout”: returns 5,755 stories:

Adding “Toyota” and “BMW” to the Search returns three (6) news stories!

That means Google News found all of six news stories about the so called "industry bailout" which contain any discussion of the number one automaker, Toyota and another brand which builds cars in the United States.

The search returns for “auto-industry bailout” and “Toyota” is better at 294 returns though it clearly indicates the fact that the news media accepts the notion that this is an industry-wide bailout.

Tomorrow I will take a look at how are human Spin Spotters edit the phases “bailout” and “auto-industry bailout”.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A game conservatives play called 'name that party"

UPDATED: The New York Times is either watching SpinSpotter or thinks exactly like our user, TMills. They have adopted the user's edits word-for-word. Either way: Kudos to the Times!


I don't know how many conservatives -like me- deeply enjoy the voice and intellect of the Times' writers but are still bothered by their sometimes really obvious slants on the news. Maybe you will let me know. This morning the New York Times is an interesting study in comparative disclosure tactics---when to disclose or not disclose a politician's party affiliation, a game conservatives call "name that party."

1. Here is the way the Times covered Senator Ted Stevens---a corruptocratic Republican:

"Updated A federal grand jury has indicted longtime Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, on charges of failing to disclose receiving gifts of services and construction work as part of a wide-ranging corruption inquiry involving public officials and corporations in his home state."

Here is how they covered Governor Rod Blagojevich: From SpinSpotter TMills emails:

If you want a fun look at some Rock Star Citizen-Editing, get Spinoculars installed and go see how TMills de-spun the Times.

In case you are curious:

Fox News and CNN played name that party, Yahoo! News (AP) and correctly identified the governor as a Democrat.