Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Bias, Ethics, and Moving Forward

It has been 19 months now since the start of Lovely Bicycle, and 3 months since it has become a sponsored website. In October 2010, this site received 50,000 visits and I now rummage through about 40 emails per week from readers.

Functioning at this level is not something I intended initially, and it poses its own set of challenges. For some time now I have been trying to formulate a general statement addressing issues of objectivity, bias and ethics, so that it is clear to my readers where I stand. Nothing here should come as a surprise if you read this blog, but sometimes it helps to make things explicit.

As far as objectivity and bias go, my position is fairly straightforward: I am not objective. I am biased. I am not a journalist and Lovely Bicycle is not a "consumer reports" type of website. I have my views, my preferences, my favourites, and every single post you read here is influenced by that.

More specifically, some of my caveat emptors can be summarised as follows:
. I have a strong preference for classic bicycles and classic components
. I think that women-oriented bicycle design has been undervalued and I would like for that to change
. I prefer hand-made products of high quality over mass-produced ones
. I value craftsmanship, elegant design and attention to detail over monetary savings
. I value and actively try to promote small businesses over corporations and brand-name conglomerates
. I value and actively try to promote independent frame builders and craftspersons, especially those local to me
. I am open to collaborating with members of the industry in creating products and services that could benefit my readers
. The work I do for a living has slowly begun to overlap with the bicycle industry, and that is something I am interested in furthering
All of this certainly disqualifies me from being anything close to an "objective observer," and that is fine by me.

The important thing I wish to communicate, is that I am an active participant in the industry and not a passive receptacle of its marketing. I regularly receive product offers from various manufacturers that I decline, because I am not interested in presenting these products to my readers. That means that the products I do accept for review, I accept because I actively want to write about them. By the same token, my choice of sponsors is an active choice, guided by my own preferences. I have turned down sponsorship offers from a number of well known manufacturers whose products I do not wish to advertise.  I have also actively approached companies whom I would be proud to have as sponsors. I am an informed and willing collaborator in the industry on my own terms, not a na├»ve creature who will happily write about anything she receives for free.

My approach to ethics is not to attempt objectivity or to claim independence. Instead, I opt for disclosure: I try to be as honest as I can about my preferences, my biases, and my connections with those manufacturers or shops whose products I mention. It is then up to my readers to take that information into consideration. I believe that my readers are intelligent and are able to factor these things in.

All that being said, if you read this blog I think it is clear that sponsorship has not stood in the way of my ranting against the things I dislike, just like lack of sponsorship has not stood in the way of my praising the things I like. You don't have to trust me on that - simply examine my content.

Over the next several months, some exciting projects will hopefully unfold and I look forward to sharing the details when the time comes. As mentioned previously, I am involved in several collaborations with manufacturers, including Red Barn Studio and Bella Ciao. I have also been approached about writing a book some time ago, though I don't think that is going to work out. There is no shortage of "stuff" going on, but I am trying to choose carefully and not to move forward faster than I feel is good for me. I enjoy writing Lovely Bicycle in its current form. My main goal is simply to continue - with your kind support.

Thank you again for reading Lovely Bicycle... and moreover, thank you for tolerating such a long post without pictures!

36 comments:

  1. I actually love seeing the ads on the right. I would visit the sponsors' websites and blogs anyway, but now I have colorful reminders to see what's new there. :)

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  2. I respect and appreciate your honesty here. Keep in mind, however, that bias has become a huge part of modern journalism. Objectivity is very hard to find in today's media. The difference here is that your viewpoints seem less intrusive. Perhaps it is because you have little to gain, at least directly, from your readers' adoption of your opinions.

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  3. Little to gain! Thank God you haven't caught on to my plan for hand-built loop frames to take over the world while I relax on my sponsor-funded private yacht : )

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  4. Well said - like so much of what is said here. Good luck with that yacht!

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  5. Thank YOU for starting this blog, and continuing to write it! It has been a joy for me to read, and has provided me much information and inspiration. I'm excited for you that your work is able to overlap into something that you love so much. :)

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  6. Many of the ads fit right in with the style of your blog and actually add to it. But I think the blog stands on its own and even if the ads were for spandix-driven bicycle products it would still be a great blog. I say do whatever it takes to do things your way.

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  7. This is my favorite blog, because it is bias, but not hurtful. I like that you are developing opinons by riding, doing and using in your own context and then reporting on that experience.
    Your development as a cyclist, blogger and product reviewer has been good for many people, me included.
    I am happy to be a sponsor and wish to keep up the great work.

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  8. I read your blog everyday and have since I discovered it just a few months ago (then went back and read almost every post herein). Your writing is exquisite, and your delivery, dead on. I completely appreciate your openness to discussions and your thoroughly informed posts. Your work and commitment to this project definitely shines through. Thank you so much for starting this blog and making it so informative. And, congratulations on the new developments!

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  9. It is gratifying when readers think that my sponsors are relevant.

    One thing that made me decide to accept sponsors, was that various companies - most of whom I did not consider to be appropriate choices - had begun contacting me and offering to buy advertisement space on the website. At that point it was becoming clear that I needed to do something to financially support Lovely Bicycle, but I did not want to advertise the types of companies that were contacting me. So instead I made the decision on my own terms, which involved saying no to most of the offers I was getting but announcing my intent to those companies I did want to advertise. I think it worked out for the best.

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  10. I check in every day for the eye candy of your lovely bicycles. You should make no apology for the companies you choose to sponsor.

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  11. Your blog is my favorite bicycle blog. It's the words, pictures, aesthetics and integrity of the place. And I like your readers. Lively, kind, opinionated and civilized. You operate a niche of values that need a renaissance, and your readers resonate with that. It's a lovely 'home' with lively guests and as hostess, you are remarkable.
    In the spirit of disclosure, I do wish you would say what it is you do. I've been under the impression it's something that you'd rather keep separate and private(something I respect and value), but from your blog entry, I see I was in error.

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  12. I am bad at taking compliments, but thank you for them : )

    [Resisting the urge to counter with bashfully self-depricating remarks]

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  13. I visit your blog daily in the hopes you've posted. I love it and have no problems with the ads. That's all I have to say. Keep up the good work.

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  14. Velouria, well said, and I respect the choices you have made all on your own turf. Cannot express enough the gratitude i feel from reading your blogs (as well as LGRAB & Simply Bike) everyday and the knowledge I've attained about bikes. I feel confident when I walk into a a bike shop to discuss vintage bikes. I'm in the process of acquiring a vintage Raleigh Sport bike and have stopped in at a few LBS to discuss restoration options. They look at me with awe and surprise when I rattle off descriptions of parts and component options.
    Thanks again - SM

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  15. Hi Velouria,

    I just wanted to say thank you for
    writing my favourite blog of all time!

    John I

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  16. I find your blog inspiring. Certain of your posts have come along just as I have been feeling slightly out of step with the world with regard to my choices and my feelings, and have served to make me feel OK again. I think you are a great role model for young women. I would read anything you care to write about, not just on bicycles, simply because I would want to hear what you have to say. I feel lucky to have found this little corner of the blogosphere.

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  17. I stumbled to your site when I was looking at mixte bike frames on e-bay. Someone had a frame for sale in England and had a link to you. I so enjoy your writing, and the photogaphy is grand. You have sort of inspired me in building up some vintage bicycles. Thank you!

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  18. Velouria, I've been reading your blog for about 18 of those 19 months, and admire you for a) your writing style, b) your bikes :-) (maybe that should have been a) ), c) the integrity and honesty that clearly lies at the heart of your comments be they good or bad about bikes and their components. Yes, you are biased towards 'lovely' bicycles and thank heavens for that!
    I'm glad that your views on bicycles are leading to interesting projects involving them. I for one would love to see more companies producing quality, hand-made loop frame bicycles and I hope that's what one of your projects is about. Or components thereof (pun intended).
    Your choice of sponsors is pretty cool, too. Pas de spandex...another little bit of 'loveliness'

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  19. (imagines Velouria riding a loop-frame bicycle round and round the deck of a little steam yacht anchored off of Cape Cod)

    This site is rich and wonderful because of its' inherent biases.

    Corey K

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  20. I love this blog. It's among my favorites. Your point of view often works with mine. Not to say we would agree on everything- but I respect your opinion and bias on things. When you write a review I feel like it's one degree from me trying it.

    Anyway- I've been reading since near the beginning and will continue til you can't take it anymore or move on!

    and I like having the ads. They are sites I would go to anyway!

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  21. Lovely Bicycle is a lovely and singular voice. Appreciate your transparency on this issue and I hope you keep at it for a long, long time.

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  22. Your plan for worldwide dominance via the loop frame is a good one. But you must promise to blog frequently about your yacht, which will no doubt have a velodrome below decks.

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  23. Corey - On second thought, make that not a yacht but an enormous cruise ship, with a velodrome on deck... A modest velodrome, mind you, I am not greedy.

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  24. MT Cyclist - we cross-posted, you read my mind!

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  25. Just call me Svengali.
    For a while, I had thought about suggesting that you should write a book. I guess others have already planted that seed.
    Velouria, your posts are always insightful and sometimes opinionated, but you're much kinder than Bike Snob. Just keep posting. We'll keep reading.

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  26. Oh I think BikeSnob is a lot more good-natured than I am, his humour just gets misunderstood sometimes.

    I've published before, though not about bicycles, including a book when I was younger. They were not gratifying experiences - neither personally nor financially. I think the low-stress nature of the "blog" culture suits me better in many ways.

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  27. It is gratifying to know that you remain conscious of the potential ethical pitfalls of blogging. Always stay vigilant.

    And to MT--BikeSnob is hilarious. There is no humor that does not have a biting edge (that little incision is known as truth). To be funny is to risk that someone somewhere will take offense. To be "kind" at all times probably requires that one has no sense of humor or the absurd. I will take humor esp. his self-deprecating humor over pomposity any day.

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  28. For the record, the only way to describe my fondness for Bike Snob's humor is "Epic." Nonetheless, I sometimes worry that a picture of me, or perhaps one of my bikes or even one of my axes (Hey, I live in Montana, for cryin' out loud, and yes, I do chop wood) may end up on his blog as an example of societal doucheification.

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  29. MT cyclist - Oh how I would love to live in a place again where I actually needed an axe. Alas, for now, our extensive axe collection is in storage, along with our artisanal snow shovels.

    I think most of the time, when BikeSnob makes fun of someone it is positive attention for them even if what he writes is blatant mockery. I bet the axe man's sales went through the roof.

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  30. Ethics ethics everywhere!

    Just was reading LGRB...and there was a perfect example of the sort of transparency that all bloggers should adopt.

    Clearly stated: that the company that made the bag was a sponsor (1 pt for transparency), 2) that they offered her a free bag (another point), 3) that she declined the freebie thinking that is was only fair to pay herself if she was advocating $160 bike bags (20 points at least), 4) that she had used it for a year (5 points for usefulness of review). Now that is the way to be ethical. May all bloggers follow suit!

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  31. Yup, Let's Go Ride a Bike is one of my favourite bicycle blogs. They are honest and fair and great all around.

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  32. Dear Velouria,

    I was just rereading this blog entry and caught your mention about writing a book. Even though you mention it's not something that's on the forefront of your mind, I just wanted to say that I would be thrilled to have one of your books on my bookshelf/coffee table. I could only imagine the beautiful photographs you would include. That alone would be significant enough for me to purchase the book. So, please keep it in mind. I'm just over the border (NH) and always looking to support local artists.

    SM

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  33. This is the most sincere blog I´ve seen yet on any subject! And it looks good! It´s like it is my own blog, that I dont have to write myself!

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  34. Your blog represents a clear, single opinion in a fresh, honest voice filled with beautiful photography. What's not to love?

    I am pleased to read your feedback about products and I think you provide honest opinions about the products you've reviewed. With all the time and energy you put forth with this blog, it should have sponsors and I'm glad you do.

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  35. A masterstroke, but what has been lost?

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