If you flip through this magazine from time to time, then I am a part of the media from your perspective. I don’t feel like “the media,” but I can’t deny that it’s true; I am a part of the communication deluge that presses through every corner of your 21st-century life.
This past year has seen various cases in which the force of that deluge was applied irresponsibly. The incidents (involving media figures of much greater impact than me) have included an accusation built on forged documents, an uncorroborated story leading to riots overseas and rumors out of the hurricane zone repeated as facts.
The term “media bias” often comes up in discussions of these events. Personally, I’m sensitive to the political leanings of those who present the news to me. I often find their politics distasteful. However, in the incidents cited above, I do not see evidence of a conscious agenda so much as haste and conceit. There is the lazy presumption, on the part of those involved, that they already know the gist of a story before they set out—meaning they need not be troubled with checking their premises or learning anything new. The danger of this laziness, not the danger of partiality, is the main caution I take away from these events.
I have biases. I don’t know how much a political leaning can affect the way I write about manufacturing (though it can), but my biases go way beyond that. Some things intrigue me more than others; there are things I wish were true about the world; and I enjoy a salary and other commercial interests. All of this can’t help but affect my point of view.
Therefore, rather than persuading myself that I can ever be sufficiently objective about what I see and hear, I believe the better approach is to try to admit and accept that my perspective is skewed. One way to do this is to be vigilant for the inconvenient facts. When attempting to describe an idea, episode or event within the sphere I cover, I should work to look for the facts that don’t quite fit my streamlined picture. Instead of being dismissed as anomalies, these facts deserve to be presented. Sometimes, they even deserve the lead—revealing the most interesting part of the story.
My portion of the media is small. The topics I cover are practical rather than political, and there is no danger that a reputation will be ruined or a policy will be decided wrongly as a result of what I write. Yet the work is worth doing well. And doing it well—that is, writing accurately and fairly about successes and solutions in machining—involves being humble enough to recognize that a fact is just as likely to be valuable whether I was prepared to encounter it or not.