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Don’t buy in to everything you read

中国日报网 2013-05-14 11:18


Reader question:

Please explain “buy in” and this sentence: Don’t always buy in to all that you read in the paper.

My comments:

Here, you’re advised not to believe everything you read in the newspaper – or on the Internet for that matter. Do not believe, that is, that what’s said in the newspaper is always true.

In other words, don’t subscribe to everything you read.

Subscribe to? Yeah, if you subscribe to something, you pay regularly for that service. For example, you subscribe to a newspaper by paying for it regularly – although increasingly fewer people do that, thanks to the Internet and no thanks to declining journalist qualities everywhere.

But first, buy in.

As a business term, “buy in” means “buy your way in”.

If you buy some shares of a company, for instance, they call that buying your way in. You pay your way into owning (shares of) that company. You’ve bought your way into ownership. If you’re member of the working class, i.e. you are an ordinary employee that gives you an opportunity to learn what it feels like to be an owner of a business.

That’s the good part. The rub is that you do have to pay to get your way in, and we all know how volatile the stock market can be. So do it at your own risk, or peril.

If you buy in to an idea, on the other hand, it means you believe that idea to be true and worthy. You often still have to pay in monetary terms. If you join a party or a church, for example, you usually have to pay for membership. But more importantly, you join because you believe in their tenets, ideals and principles. You think they’re right.

Well, being a non member of any party or religion, I have little else to say here. So let’s get back to newspapers, a subject I know a bit more about.

At any rate, when someone says something like “Don’t believe everything you see or hear in the news”, I know where they come from. Without going deep into analysis, I want to point out a simple fact, the fact that so much of what’s going on in this world today is determined by special interests.

Or particular interests, I shall say. All interests are special, you say, and quite rightfully so. But the term “special interests” refer to special interest groups that share the same political aim, groups that are actively pushing for changes in government policy in order to advance their own interests.

When America went to war with Iraq, for instance, it was pushed by oil firms and arms manufacturers. On the surface, they went there to rid Iraq of dictatorship and Weapons of Mass Destruction, but the hidden agenda of these special interests groups was to, among others, control its oil.

The Iraq war was a good case in point because eventually no WMDs were found. And so people who believed, or bought in to that idea felt cheated. They as a matter of fact allowed themselves to be fooled because they were gullible and unquestioning.

Other business interests are out there working their way into dominating public discourse all the time. That’s why it takes a questioning and discerning public to ensure healthy development for society at large – to ensure for instance that bad policies and agendas are defeated before they can do any real damage.

In short, do not always buy in to everything you read because, in the final analysis, it is you, a member of the general public, who will have to pay the price.

Alright, here are media examples of people buying in to something, an idea, a theory, philosophy, etc:

1. Richard Turner, director of marketing and fundraising at SolarAid, has worked in charity fundraising for more than 20 years and believes that admitting failure is the first stage to unlocking innovation. “We’ve started to realise that problems are a real opportunity to engage partners so rather than hide problems, our skill is defining them and sharing them – both internally and with the world.”

The charity recently had a problem where a cyclist fundraiser needed to auction a famous photographer’s prints but needed a storage area first, “so we put the problem out on Facebook and within 24 hours we had someone who not only could store them, but could sort out an exhibition and auction the prints,” Turner says.

Although SolarAid is a small charity with about 10 London staff and a turnover of about £2.5m, it has more than 15,000 followers on Facebook and this response is prompting the charity to develop a problem page on its website, covering issues from smaller specifics to large, logistical issues.

Trusting staff to express themselves freely can also spark innovation, says Turner: “We’re trying to encourage our staff to communicate freely so any member of staff can set up and run a blog or Twitter linking from our homepage – we don't dictate what they have to say. So instead of having a bottleneck of content [to be vetted by internal communications staff], staff are self-editing.”

However, buy-in from the top is crucial, he says, “because if management don’t buy in to that [problem] then they won’t necessarily accept the failure that goes with it”. To secure buy-in, Turner refers to big hairy audacious goals – or BHAGS – a concept better known in the commercial sector. SolarAid’s mission or BHAG is to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by the end of the decade and to keep on course, staff will constantly be reminded of that.

- Can innovation improve your organisation? Guardian.co.uk, September 11, 2012.

2. Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar has signed a one-year contract extension to keep him at Old Trafford until 2010.

The 38-year-old Dutchman joined United from Fulham for £5m in 2005 and has made 161 appearances.

“His temperament, professionalism and performance level have not changed one bit since he has been with us,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

“Obviously, it will be his last year. He’s been absolutely marvellous here.”

Since joining United, Van der Sar has won the Premier League twice and the Champions League once.

His save from Nicolas Anelka’s penalty handed Ferguson’s men victory over Chelsea in Moscow last May.

The former Ajax and Juventus stopper retired from international duty with the Netherlands at the end of Euro 2008, although he returned on a one-off basis during October's World Cup qualifiers because of injuries.

Van der Sar’s rivals for the United goalkeeper's jersey, Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak, have so far failed to usurp him on a permanent basis.

“What he has done really well for us over the last couple of years is help to develop the younger goalkeepers,” said Ferguson.

“We are using Ben and Tomasz quite a bit now, which allows us to freshen Edwin up for the really important games.

“Edwin has bought in to that very well. He understands the situation completely. He is playing a great part in ensuring the big picture is there for us with Ben and Tomasz.”

- Van der Sar extends Man Utd deal, BBC.co.uk, December 12, 2008.

3. Anyone who feels cynical about the U.S. media has been having a good few weeks.

There have been the high profile goofs — by CNN, in its coverage of the Boston bombings, and by Howard Kurtz, the famous media “critic,” in a blog post about gay athlete Jason Collins. The Tribune Company faces a potential takeover by the, er, colorful Koch brothers.

And it all comes, with perfect timing, on the tenth anniversary of the exposure of Jayson Blair, the serial fabulist, at the New York Times.

It’s become a cliché these days to say you don’t trust the media. But you know what? You’re right not to do so.

The problems aren’t as bad as they appear. They are much, much worse.

And, as usual, almost everyone is focused on exactly the wrong things.

The problem isn’t that the occasional journalist makes a mistake on deadline. We’re human, folks. The problem isn’t big business, or corporate control. It isn’t even the Koch brothers. If you’re a liberal, you should probably want them to blow $600 million on a loss-making newspaper company.

Here are the real problems. And I don’t see any solutions.

1. Speed...

2. Money...

3. Access

In early 2007, when the subprime crisis first blew up, some executives at big mortgage lending companies were going around telling everyone that their companies were okay. But I reported at the time that several of these executives were also quietly dumping stock in their own companies as fast as they could. Six months later one of the companies had plunged into crisis and was sold off cheaply. The CEO was interviewed on TV about the industry. Not once — not once — did the big-name interviewer ask him about the way he had dumped his own stock.

There’s a reason the interviewer didn’t ask that question. It wasn’t her job. She wasn’t paid to break news. She was paid to get what the TV crowd calls “the big ‘get.’” In other words, she was paid to get access. Her job depends on getting the honchos to come on her show. And to get them to come on her show, she had to promise them — implicitly — an easy ride.

A few years ago a Wall Street tycoon was so incensed by a plan to eliminate one of his tax loopholes that he invoked the memory of the Holocaust by comparison. He is still welcome on TV channels. He is still invited to give speeches at lucrative media conferences. That’s because he still has money and power, and the media cannot give up their access to him.

No one who asks tough questions will ever get “access.” And an increasingly powerless media needs access. Work out what will happen.

4. Consensus

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world. Once upon a time you saw people like this in every newsroom in the country. They often had chaotic personal lives and they died early of cirrhosis or a heart attack. But they were tough, angry SOBs and they produced great stories.

Do you want to know what kind of people get promoted and succeed in the modern news organization? Social climbers. Networkers. People who are gregarious, who “buy in” to the dominant consensus, who go along to get along and don’t ask too many really awkward questions. They are flexible, well-organized, and happy with life.

And it shows.

This is why, just in the patch of financial and economic journalism, so many reporters are happy to report that U.S. corporations are in great financial shape, even though they also have surging debts, or that a “diversified portfolio” of stocks and bonds will protect you in all circumstances, even though this is not the case, or that defense budgets are being slashed, when they aren’t, or that the U.S. economy has massively outperformed rivals such as Japan, when on key metrics it hasn’t, or that companies must pay CEOs gazillions of dollars to secure the top “talent,” when they don’t need to do any such thing, and such pay is just plunder.

All of these things are “consensus” opinions, and conventional wisdom, which are repeated over and over again by various commentators and vested interests. Yet none of them are true.

If you want to be a glad-handing politician, be a glad-handing politician. If you want to be a reporter, then be angry, ask awkward questions, and absolutely hate it when everyone agrees with you.

5. Narratives....

- The news media is even worse than you think, By Brett Arends, MarketWatch.com, May 12, 2013.

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Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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