Jim Bray: Putting Spinspotter through the wringer
- October 29, 2008 7:50 AM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a daily business column from CBC radio.
By Jim Bray, writer of the Technofile.com website in Calgary
What does it say about people's perception of the news media that a company believes it may profit from a product that calls out the media on your behalf?
Yet here comes Spinspotter, a Seattle-based company with a similarly-named product in, so they claim, very beta form. Spinspotter is a plug in for Firefox 3 – and unfortunately that's the only browser it'll work with, though their website promises a version for Microsoft's Internet Explorer is coming. When this so-called Spinoculars" stumbles
upon a whopper, it highlights the text in question. Move your cursor over it and you can bring up an explanation of the spin Spinspotter supposes it spotted.
It picks up on weaselly statements like "some say", and for that alone should be used in every journalism school, assuming we don't just shut them down instead and be done with it. And Spinspotter works to a certain extent, though I might have been a lot tougher in my editorial decisions. But, hey, it's only a robot and not even a full product yet.
Spinspotter comes with a built in editorial board. Well, they don't sit in your browser, but such people as Jonah Goldberg and Brooke Allen are listed as advisors, so there's probably at least an attempt at balance here.
Right now, you can only run Spinspotter on five news sites: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Yahoo and the New York Times. Since my job is to put products through torture tests, I headed strait for the Times, fully expecting Spinspotter to turn the entire digital edition into a sea of red highlights. I mean, really.
I went straight to a purported news story about Sarah Palin's wardrobe, which I figured should give Spinspotter the ride of its life, and it came up with two lousy highlights. In the New York Times! Obviously this product isn't ready for market.
The first spin it spotted was the word "symbolic" in the accusation that "Palin's wardrobe joined the ranks of symbolic political excess Wednesday,",which to me was one word out of an entire sentence that's nothing but spin – let alone the entire premise of this as a "news" story. Heck, I wouldn't have run the story at all unless it included an equal amount of copy researching how much Joe Biden spent on his hair plugs. But I digress…
Of course, Spinspotter is guilty of its own hype, at least as far as marketing goes. Its website describes the product as being like X-ray vision for BS, wheras of course it's no panacea. But it's interesting, both as a product and as an observation of the state of our society.
I'm Jim Bray, from an Ivory Tower in Calgary.
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