The debate about unbiased news isn't a debate at all
Both-sidesism doesn't really get it right either.
We are back after a hiatus. Thanks for all your support, especially to our friends at Armory Square Ventures! Sree’s newsletter is produced with Zach Peterson (@zachprague), with a tech tip from Robert S. Anthony (@newyorkbob). Cartoon by Paresh Nath.
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THE NEWS BUSINESS IS JUST THAT, A BUSINESS. CNN exists to make money just like every other for-profit news company out there. It’s simply down to luck that it’s survived as something of a straight news platform for as long as it has, but that’s all changing now under new management.
Most notably, CNN’s leadership canceled Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” show. The show itself was more than 30 years old, and Stelter’s iteration of it was the best of its run. Stelter’s media criticism and analysis was smart, well-researched, and typically fair. “Fair,” in this case lies in the eye of the beholder, as he had become a boogeyman of the bleating right-wing media machine. But, “fair” does not always mean “nice,” and that is a big part of what we’re losing in mainstream journalism.
The textbook definition of “bias” is important: “Inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.” The weakness of this definition is obvious to anyone who has watched more than an hour of cable news clips in the last decade — it’s very important to note who is considering someone or something to be biased.
The former president directly incited a riot in order to disrupt a settled election that he handily lost. Saying he did that is not “being critical,” it’s saying what happened. 58% of Americans, including a quarter of Republicans, think the MAGA movement “is threatening America’s democratic foundations.” That’s about as much of a consensus as one can get in 2022.
Veteran journalist John Harwood — and now-former CNN correspondent — got it exactly right in this spot, and he appears to have lost his job because if it.
When CNN executives say they want the news to be more “centrist,” that means that we will be seeing more people on CNN equivocating MAGA Trump supporters with some sort of mainstream political school of thought, and then treating the GOP like a normal mainstream party.
Much like fact-checking, lending the “view from the other side” isn’t really about the facts at all — it’s about credibility, and the erosion of it.
Isn’t it curious to see the folks who repeatedly reminded us that the facts don’t care about your feelings having their feelings hurt by the facts? It also portends an even-more dangerous path ahead for news. The things they paint as “attacks by the liberal media” are usually not attacks at all, but there’s a market for that sort of centrism or balance, and too many of us have bought into it.
The carving up and rearranging of CNN’s on-air lineup and tone is the next stage in the decline of television news — in many ways, the network was the last man standing in the space it occupied. For the near-term, it looks like we’re set be both-sided to death ahead of midterm elections that could put dozens of insurrectionists in power at all levels of government.
The fact is that it’s a money game, and there’s not a lot of shareholder value in presenting straight, unflinching news.
A word from Armory Square Ventures
Happy Fall to Sree's readers and to the devout Digimentors team.
Welcome back to the office, however you choose to work. Here we have some news. Late last July, we launched a groundbreaking prize to recognize literature from Asia produced in translation. The Armory Square Prize for South Asian Literature in Translation aims to cultivate a new generation of literary translators working with South Asian languages. It is an effort to remedy the disparities in literary translation worldwide by supporting compelling storytellers from the Indian Subcontinent.
The new prize will be open to translators of literature written by a South Asian author in a language other than English. Any book-length work of narrative prose, fiction, or nonfiction, by a South Asian author (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives or the diaspora) will be eligible.
The jury for the prize brings together award-winning specialists in South Asian and non-South Asian literary translation. It will first and foremost consider the quality of the translation, paying particular attention to the creative and artful solutions that the translator has used to address the translation challenges posed by the work. The jury will also consider the significance of the original work and its author, and the extent to which the language and author are underrepresented in English.
The deadline for applications is December 31, 2022. See our website for eligibility guidelines, FAQs and to learn how to apply.
- The ASV team
Tech Tip w/ @newyorkbob: Simple Tech Adds a Layer of Safety at Home
By Robert S. Anthony
Each week, veteran tech journalist Bob Anthony shares a tech tip you don’t want to miss. Follow him @newyorkbob.
Despite your best efforts, keeping your home safe from smoke, toxic fumes and airborne pests can be challenging. Fortunately, some simple, but effective tech devices unveiled at recent New York press events may provide some help.
Of course, smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms have been available for years, but the newest units allow users to monitor their homes remotely. A new unit from Kidde combines a smoke and CO alarm in one unit and then adds a new function: air-quality monitoring. Once connected to a home network via Wi-Fi, the Kidde Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Indoor Air Quality Monitor can send smartphone alerts via a free Kidde mobile app.
The unit’s air-quality monitor tracks relative humidity as well as air temperature and total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) like the airborne vapors emitted by drying paint and aerosol cans that can impact health. While smoke or CO detection will cause the Kidde unit to sound a loud alarm and send alerts, a bad air-quality reading is basically informational and will only generate an app alert.
The hard-wired unit must be manually connected to AC power but comes with a lithium-ion backup battery designed to last for its 10-year lifespan. If multiple connected Kidde HomeSafe devices are in the same home, all will sound if just one goes off.
Even when the air at home is clear, uninvited disease-carrying winged invaders can ruin a good day. The newly redesigned Zevo Flying Insect Trap recently proved itself effective in an unplanned test.
The unit’s technology is simple: Blue and ultraviolet light attracts flying insects inside, where they get stuck on a sticky disposable insert. A nice thing about the Zevo device, which plugs into any AC outlet, is that the outer shell is opaque. You can’t see the, er, tenants, until it’s time to replace the insert.
I got an unexpected chance to test the unit recently when some houseflies invaded my kitchen. After zapping those I saw with insecticide, I set up the Zevo unit nearby in case there were others I had missed.
I turned off all lights that night, leaving only the Zevo unit glowing. In the morning the proof was inside—three flies. After one more dark night the flies were gone. Success.
Flies may be just airborne irritations, but smoke and carbon monoxide are serious issues. Keep your smoke and CO alarms well-maintained and make sure the battery-powered ones actually work.