The truth about media bias and what you should consider when listening to criticism of media

I've noticed a lot of stuff lately, particularly on Facebook, but also people talking to each other in public, about media bias. Usually this is jibes aimed at "liberal" media, but it goes both ways — certainly you've seen postings about "Faux News Channel"?

Some of this comes from the politically correct "cry-bully" movement — a term I only recently just heard for the first time here — you know, the people who want you fired because you said something they don't agree with.

Here's a criticism I've heard a lot: Why did media cover the Paris attacks on Nov. 13 but not the Beirut attacks on Nov. 12?

Here's the answer: Uh, they did. From "the liberal" CNN to "the conservative" FOX, every major national outlet had the story on Nov. 12.

Why did you hear so much about Paris, then? Because nobody clicked on the Beirut stories, so they fell off the front page. And then 200 of your friends posted on Facebook about Paris but not Beirut.

You didn't hear about Beirut because Facebook and Twitter are your news sources.

Here's the truth about media bias: Outlets are biased toward what will make them money.

Any bias perceived in media is really a bias of the journalist, and, while there's a slight shift to the right going on, over the past 40 or so years since they've started doing the study, journalists in America are by and large far more liberal than the general population.

What does that mean? If you want more centrist (or right-leaning) journalists, get more centrists (or righties) to become journalists.

Here's something else about human nature we don't often think about, because we tend to see the words on the page (or the website, really), rather than the person behind them: People get defensive when challenged (if you're not sure what I'm talking about, watch Hillary Clinton talk about her damn email or Donald Trump talk about those New Jersey Muslims no one actually saw celebrate after 9/11). So, if you just go on the offensive to attack an article, the next one's going to be further biased.

Know what also isn't going to solve a bias problem? Criticism that is more yelling than constructive. Like this. Try applying methods like this instead.

In my experience (16 years professionally, from print to web and a couple of years studying the industry in grad school), here are five things you can do to improve your own news experience in a developing story (like Paris or the AME Church shooting in Charleston):

Wait. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, news media thought over 10,000 people had died in the World Trade Center alone. The final number ended up being under 3,000. [This is not to belittle the attacks; it's to explain that the information coming out first isn't based on anything. The information you get later is fact.]

Hold off. If you're not sure if you can trust something, you probably can't. The only thing most reporters have that you don't is a list of contacts in the police and government and university structure. Don't share information you think might be wrong — if enough people do share it, it becomes "truthiness" instead of truth.

Don't embarrass anybody. If you call a reporter who reported some bad information an idiot (or something worse), you're going to get defensive babbling in return. If you point a reporter to a different source or give useful information, you'll get a thank you. You can either be a trusted source of good information, or a bully. Take your pick.

Diversify. It doesn't matter what your political leaning is. If you seek only sources you're likely to agree with (confirmation bias), you're going to receive an increasingly small amount of information. As an extension of this, don't discount something just because you find a bias you disagree with. We don't have to agree on gun control for me to accurately report that Ronald Reagan was both an actor and a president.

Stay skeptical. Just because it's published doesn't mean it isn't a load of crap — especially since news organizations everywhere are dumping editors and fact-checkers. Again, just don't be a jerk if you find some incorrect information.

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a fun gratitude project

Normally, I'm not big on the Facebook birthday wall thing. I don't usually write on others' walls for their birthdays, and usually at the end of mine I just post a "thanks for all the well-wishes."

This year, I decided to say thank you to everyone who posted on my wall. Sixty-eight people wrote "happy birthday" on my wall, and I wrote some variation on "thank you" 68 times.

I don't know if Facebook makes that post public, but if they do, here it is.

Last time I took a typing test, I came in at 90 words per minute. "Thank you" 68 times is 136 words. You know how long 136 words takes to type at 90 words per minute? Under two minutes. It didn't take any time, and "thank you" means a lot.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your families, or your work, or your volunteering, but always remember to say thank you :)

Bringing conversation back into our lives

Aristotle was...pretty good at conversing.
Aristotle was...pretty good at conversing.

One of my favorite things about Freemasonry is what many organizations (including churches and the like) call "fellowship." In modern-day English, we call it "hanging out." When we're not in a formal meeting (or sitting formally at prayer, for instance), we're still gathered with like-minded folk, eating, drinking and, most of all, talking.

As someone who works from home and communicates with my coworkers via an online chat if we need to (sometimes we just sit around independently and work for 45 minutes or so without saying anything), I don't have an opportunity to grab lunch with a coworker or chat with someone at the water cooler or coffee pot.

And, in fact, in turns out, even people who do work in offices together aren't talking to each other as much as they used to. Same with people who sit around the dinner table, staring at their phones instead of talking to each other.

Author Sherry Turkle has been writing about it for a while now. She has a new book called Reclaiming Conversation, which is about bringing conversation back into our lives.

It's an extension, really, of work she did for another book on being alone, even if we're connected. Here's her TED talk on it from 2012.

She talks more about the new book on the Art of Manliness podcast.

In the lessons of the second degree of Freemasonry, we learn about the seven liberal arts and sciences we should really study to become well-rounded humans. Of the seven, three really relate to conversation: logic, grammar and rhetoric.

I won't go into detail here, not because there's anything secret in the ritual, but because practicing the art of conversation is so much more important than sitting by yourself reading this. But if you want want to learn more, The Masonic Roundtable has great discussions on each:


Links of the week: Nov. 17, 2015

Happy Tuesday, y'all!

Well, I think this is going to be the final links post like this, in an effort to put better work into the weekly longer-form posts on Thursdays. We've been at this over a year now, between the newsletter and then moving to the blog, and we've shared somewhere along the lines of 400 links. If you ever want to head down a rabbit hole or two or three, go see some of the past posts.

Here are seven more to go explore:

» Nine videos of kayakers going over waterfalls
» Does alcohol really kill brain cells? How much of our brains do we really use? Debunking some widely accepted brain myths.
» These places look like paintings, but they're real.
» Amazing artwork, with coffee as the paint
» Find out which celebrities are haunting us
» The great Stephen Hawking did a Reddit AMA early this year. Read some of the top questions and answers from it.
» And finally, in light of the attacks in Libya and Paris last week, Bertrand Russell on love and hate, with a bonus look back at The Atlantic's piece on armchair outrage.

Stephen Hawking

Running diary, Nov. 16, 2015: A new week

Well, a week after I ran my first half marathon, I kept going. I took Sunday off, and Monday, I hopped on a treadmill for 10 minutes or so before hitting the weights, and then the rest of the week I hit it reasonably hard.

My lovely wife J signed us up for the Color Vibe to kick off 2016, and since she's not been training at all, I gave her an interval schedule that keeps her at distance for the seven weeks leading up. Her first week was a minute running, a minute walking, and the route is right about 3.5 miles.

Tuesday, I ran to the gym to lift and back (about 2.5 miles each way). Wednesday, I ran with her. Thursday, I ran four and change, and Friday was going to be a rest day but I was in a bad mood and decided to train with J again to get in some sweat and keep the endorphins flowing. Saturday, I went out for 11 miles.

I'll be back at it this week at least a few times; it's nice to be back in the gym, and 2.5 miles is a great warm-up before the workout and a nice way to keep everything warm after. My birthday is Friday, and I'll try to get a long one in that day and maybe give myself the weekend off.

Know what you’re good at, know what you’re bad at

Last week at our local 1 Million Cups event, we heard from Ted Dennard of Savannah Bee Co..

The company has been around for a while now, and has grown greatly thanks to Dennard being willing to step back and admit what he's not good at. This is him:

A photo posted by Savannah Bee (@savannahbeeco) on

Dennard told us he graduated college with a degree in religion and philosophy, and went on to become a beekeeper. "Is there any money in that?" people would ask him at networking events. "Now that you mention it, no!" he'd reply.

So he started bottling honey. And making labels. And putting labels on the bottles. And fulfilling orders. And then remembering to get his bees to the right place for the one week a year they could make honey from tupelo, or another place for the week a year they could make honey from sourwood or whatever else.

And then he bought a giant warehouse, and the bank gave him $150,000 to fix it up. He didn't realize that amount of money goes very quickly.

When the company started to grow, Dennard realized he couldn't do everything. So he went back to the stuff he knows well, and hired a CEO.

Savannah Bee now has five owned-and-operated retail stores and has products (honey, honeycomb, honey-based products like lip balm and lotion, and mead) distributed all over. The company recently landed a seasonal distribution deal with Target for this year, so look for products wherever you are.

All this growth over the past ten to fifteen years because Dennard knew he was good at beekeeping and bad at business. Remember to take stock of where you are, and not only what you need to improve, but whom you need, as well.

Links of the week, Nov. 10, 2015

An eclectic bunch of stuff this week, so let's jump right in.

» Jump down the rabbit hole and learn something about Pascal's Triangle.
» I've posted something like this before, but have some adorable photo booth shots of dogs.
» See some of Man Ray's photos of 1920s pop culture icons.
» Check out this proof — and explanation — of Einstein's general theory of relativity.
» Four things I never noticed on a tape measure, and I bet you didn't either.
» Wow. Check out this great Steampunk-themed spot in Romania.
» Thinking about redesigning? Grab some ideas from these futuristic homes.


First half marathon diary: The race has been run!

Happy Monday!

Saturday was race day. Before then...

Oh boy. It's really real now. #rocknroll #savannah #halfmarathon #running

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on


It was fun, and that's about what I have to say about that. The video has a lot more in it. Some notes:

Time. I trained for 2:20 and came in at 2:21:12, in the top 4,000 of about 25,000 registered. So, right where I expected.

My friend Kelle, on the left there, ran 15 half marathons in 2015 to recover from an injured foot. More accurately, she got her boot off in February and finished her 15 by the first week in November, so basically eight months of running races. Photo by her hubs, Glenn.
My friend Kelle, on the left there, ran 15 half marathons in 2015 to recover from an injured foot. More accurately, she got her boot off in February and finished her 15 by the first week in November, so basically eight months of running races. Photo by her hubs, Glenn.
Weather. When I finished it was about 75 degrees with humidity hovering around 90%. It was hazy through most of the course. Apparently this was hotter than they expected — they wound up shutting this down early. In race PRSpeak, that's what they mean when they say they "diverted runners along the course." That is, they diverted them to the finish early. I really didn't think it was so bad out; I'd been training in 90-plus percent humidity all summer with another 20 or more degrees on the thermometer.

Water issues. The water stop at the halfway point (in the half) stalled me for a full 45 seconds. There were lots of cups out, but no water in them. By the time I got to the water station around 9.5 miles, they were out of water, and were handing out ice cubes. I wound up carrying a paper cup full of ice in one hand and a handful of loose cubes in the other hand for a good half mile. I guess if there's a next time, I'll carry my own water, much as I hate how that feels on my shoulder.

Overall experience. I had fun. For as challenging as the training was, and as challenging as it was running in a crowd the whole way, it was a fun race. I'm not sure I'd want to travel for a race unless I really knew what I was doing in the location. Maybe I'll make this one an every year or every other year event.


» A runner died during the half. He was 35. The family didn't want his name out there, and we don't know any of the circumstances surrounding his death. I saw three people in ambulances between miles 11 and 12 and another five runners down along the route, so I suppose it shouldn't be too much of a surprise we lost someone.

» UPDATE: A second runner died after getting home.

» You may have already seen this floating around Facebook, but one of Savannah-Chatham's finest helped a runner across the finish after he fell a couple hundred yards shy of the finish line. An EMT cycled behind them and helped him immediately after he made it across.

What's next for my running. While, like I said, I found running with the crowd difficult, I did enjoy the distance, so I'll keep a few long runs a month in my repertoire. I'll likely set a goal for 2016, like 1,000 miles, or something along those lines.

What's next for the running diary. It will go on hiatus until there's something new to say, so probably for the rest of the year — but it'll be back when I'm ready to log some miles again.

Sweaty Josh picture of the week (I'm the one in red crossing the finish line):


Get smarter: Go down the Pascal’s Triangle rabbit hole

It's been called the Staircase to Mount Meru and the Khayyam Triangle, but many people know it as Pascal's Triangle. It's an infinite triangle of numbers with ones on both risers, the positive integers at the next diagonal, and then it just goes crazy from there. There are formulas for developing a row or a diagonal. You can black out the odd numbers and make fractals. Watch the video above, read more about the triangle, and then check out the Sierpinski triangle, which is the equilateral triangle fractal you can make from Pascal's triangle.

Careful, you might need a nap afterward to process all of it.


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