SpinSpotter, a startup which aims to detect bias in articles, was one of the stars of Chris Shipley's Demo startup conference in San Diego. And it got New York Times writer Claire Cain Miller curious. Failing to find spin in the Times's own work, she turned to what she thought would be an obvious target: Valleywag. She failed in her quest.
Desperately wanting to find spin, I went to the Silicon Valley gossip site, Valleywag, which makes no qualms about writing stories with its own snarky spin. Yet calling PR people “the most annoying people in our inbox” did not raise any red flags on SpinSpotter. Writing that Rupert Murdoch is “not going to have any luck recruiting an outsider to fill the spot” of MySpace China chief executive wasn’t spin either.
What Miller deems "spin," we call "stating the obvious." But we're pleased as punch to have the paper of record declare, on the record, that Valleywag is spin-free. As a further test, perhaps it should run SpinSpotter on Miller's blog post. Or, better yet, SpinSpotter should test its own rhetoric. The startup has made much of the fact that one founder is conservative, another liberal. But both have a clear bias: They are technologists, prone to think that they know how the world works. Media is assembled just like code, SpinSpotter seems to say, and automated tests can reveal the bugs. That only works if you assume you're smarter than everyone else. We'll indulge in a biased stereotype: Sounds like most programmers we know.