What is a Blog? The Role of New Media and Objectivity

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For those of you who read our piece earlier this week called: Let Us Rephrase: Do You Want the Chinese Politburo Owning a US Steel Company, SteelMarketUpdate posted a rebuttal piece on their site, which we would encourage you to read. We feel, however, that they attacked our editorial independence given our announcement this morning regarding Nucor joining as sponsor. We will not comment now on what Peter Brebach has written; the purpose of this post is to set the record straight regarding MetalMiner’s editorial independence and explain our business model in greater detail.

Regular readers of MetalMiner will know that we have a long history of questioning and writing about Chinese international business practices. In fact, we have a long history of questioning a number of things including many US policies. Here are a series of links to both older and newer pieces as examples:

When it comes to public policy, we have long reported “our opinions, that is after all, what we believe a blog site is.

Peter Brebach, the author of the SteelMarketUpdate piece is an importer whose livelihood likely depends upon international trade. He’s on the board of the AIIS and therefore probably feels strongly about his positions on international trade issues. I for many years was also reliant upon international trade for my own livelihood. I was an aluminum importer/exporter. And over the years, my position on trade has become much more conservative based on what I have seen in my subsequent years as a management consultant and as an editor of this site. I truly believe that China operates on a very different trade agenda (set of rules if you will) than we do. Eventually, this will come to a head.

Given our strong position on China’s role in world metal markets, it is not surprising that we attract sponsors with similar viewpoints. Nucor may or may not share similar views on this subject. But our reiteration of our longstanding views on this subject this week – in response to the Wall Street Journal’s defense of the Chinese investment – was completely independent of our announcement of the new relationship with Nucor.

As part of its new sponsorship, Nucor will have the opportunity to voice its opinion on a number of matters important to it and to manufacturers in the United States. And we are sure that Nucor’s perspectives on these issues will undoubtedly spur many interesting discussions.

I’d like to share with you more about our business model – what we are and what we aren’t. As a new media/blog site, and not an “objective media site” (we never claimed to not have an opinion), we share a set of beliefs and values that have certainly impacted our writing. Since we are not subscription based, but instead an open free community to any and all, we have chosen to monetize our business differently than companies like SteelMarketUpdate. Each business model has its pros and cons.

So let’s talk about editorial independence. On issues of steel market forecasts, pricing, market directions and trends, we have said so publicly and will demonstrate via our actions that our sponsors have no influence on that content. In fact, we may move forward by further sub-dividing our content to create greater clarity for readers. But our thought pieces on various trade actions as an example, or lousy sourcing practices we see in the market or President Obama’s health care bill are things that can’t be presented “objectively”. It is a futile exercise to pretend one can be unbiased. The NY Times is hardly unbiased. The WSJ is not unbiased. As a blog, we write our opinions freely backed with data as we see fit and if someone disagrees they are free to comment and participate in the dialog. That is what we believe social media is all about.

And just as Peter presented his point of view, it’s fair game to say that we did as well. Are we regurgitating Nucor’s point of view? We think not. Our track record on matters relating to China has been well documented. We will let the MetalMiner court of opinion weigh in on that. If we’ve upset you, our readers, perhaps it’s because we’ve not been clear on how much we value editorial independence. We’ll continue to be more clear on this in the future. But most important, Nucor or not, we stand by our point of view.

–Lisa Reisman

Comments (5)

  1. Paul Adkins says:

    I did as you suggested, and read the piece in SMU.

    There are so many problem in that guy’s arguments, it’s hardly worth trying to go through them all. I will pick up on one however, which is closer to home for me.

    To compare Chinese FDI with that of Japan from a couple of decades ago is to completely miss the point, not to mention it shows a woeful understand of how the Chinese work.

    The Chinese government has a team of financial advisors and economists whose job it is to scour the world for FDI opportunities. they identify the target, do the math, then select the appropriate vehicle (Chinese company) to make the play. I know this because my friend’s wife is the head of the team. The team is a private one – they are employed by an investment company, who has the contract with the Chinese Government.

    Another team is scouring the world for Chinese who are excelling in their fields around the world, and enticing back to the motherland. Look at the number of university professors that the USA has lost in recent years.

    Any play by a Chinese company for foreign investment, especially one with direct ties to SASAC, is going to be part of a wider plan. Make no mistakes.

    I live here in Beijing. I know people from SASAC and NDRC and CASS. I know how the system works here. It’s my job.

    On the other hand, I also express a concern about having sponsors on blogs. Editorial independence, even for a blog, must not only be maintained, it must be seen to be maintained. While I accept your statement of freedom of bias, I do think it opens potential problems for yourself. While you may have no intention of allowing influence from stakeholders, it doesn’t stop a sponsor from thinking that he/she might somehow be able to exert some influence. That’s how the human psyche works.

    I also write a blog, but I carry no advertising, and have never sought any.

    1. admin says:

      Paul, I appreciate your thoughtful reply and insight into SASAC. I also appreciate your concerns about conflicts of interesting with sponsors and content. We will do the very best we can…LAR

  2. smhallman says:

    You’ve over-defended and you sound flustered.

    Most of the people who read this are 50+ years old, don’t trust anything that isn’t a rolodex, and think a blog sounds like something you would brush off your shoe.

    Just keep doing your job. You’re fine.

  3. Jason Busch says:

    Agreed with SMH. Just keep up what you’re doing. I’m more convinced there’s not old media and new. There’s good and there’s bad. And there is a reason why you guys have established yourselves so quickly in this industry. No doubt a few feathers will be ruffled along the way. But stay the course and write from the heart — and the head.

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