July 1, 2009

Wading Through the Morass

I can’t recall a time in our world’s history when the news media -- as a collective, commercial entity -- has been in straits more dire than it is today. Newspapers left and right are declaring bankruptcy; there are allegations of bias in print and on TV by the right and left; the blogosphere has gained prominence, making celebrities of some bloggers, villains of others; some Internet-only publications are now considered more "mainstream" than some of the remaining print media; and, of course, folks are Twittering and Tweeting all over the place. The dissemination and consumption of information is at an all-time high -- every day seems to bring some new method of distribution -- yet there is little, if any, consensus on which are the most reliable places to get the most factually accurate news.

The audio press is a microcosm of the larger media world, and the SoundStage! Network has been part of that microcosm since 1995. The subjects we discuss each month in our family of websites are not matters of life and death, and we don’t have at our disposal the deep resources of such traditional publications as Time and Newsweek. Nonetheless, the same issues that plague traditional and nontraditional news outlets are hounding the audio press as never before. Bias, dishonesty, incompetence, irrelevance -- all are represented in our industry. The worst part is that it’s up to you, the reader, to wade through it all.

To combat these problems, media companies should have certain checks in place. First and foremost is the gatekeeper -- the editor -- who should be knowledgeable, levelheaded, and able to filter content so that only accurate reporting is published. Good publications have multiple levels of editors, all of whom are skilled at keeping the writers’ messages intact while ensuring accuracy and clear language.

But when those responsibilities are abdicated, the results will be all over the map. Two examples:

"I have to say that the . . . loudspeaker system is the best that there is, the best that there ever was, and I suspect the best that there will ever be."

"The . . . are the flattest speakers yet designed from about 25Hz to beyond human hearing."

The above two quotations appeared in actual reviews published in an audio e-zine. I’d rather not link to those reviews in my article because, once you’ve clicked over to them, you’ll likely be too amused or too outraged to click back to this article. Truth can be stranger than fiction.

Where was the editorial oversight? One product was "the best that there ever was," the other "the flattest speakers yet designed." If such statements are jokes, I don’t get them. If, however, they’re serious attempts to inform readers about real products, then something has gone terribly awry. Even those who’ve never read a single audio review in their lives can see the lack of common sense in these statements -- to say nothing of the lack of accuracy.

Jeff Fritz in his listening room. Take note of the measuring microphone near the listening position.

Ultimately, however, such quotations speak for themselves. I won’t go into a long, self-aggrandizing dissertation here on the quality of our own writers, the editorial systems we’ve put in place to improve accuracy and provide editorial oversight, or the nature of the overall corporate culture of the SoundStage! Network. Nor will I claim that we’ve been perfect. What I will state, with absolute confidence, is that our publications are designed to provide accurate information, just as a properly engineered loudspeaker is designed to achieve a level of fidelity -- to the truth. The SoundStage! Network’s corporate structure and the commitment of its staff are firmly in place to ensure that you can count on what you read here.

In a time of dramatic upheaval in the world of media, and within the microcosm that is the audio press, we at the SoundStage! Network need to redouble our efforts to aspire to accurate reportage. I can’t say that we’ll be perfect, but we’ll sure try. I hope that the results meet your need for solid, dependably accurate information about the hobby we all share.

. . . Jeff Fritz


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