How to avoid media spin

19th March 2012

I read a lot and I read widely. It's my job to distil, to maintain balance and strip out rhetoric and over time I've developed my own personal structure and approach to doing this.

Take China for example, which is a big slice of what I look at. Everything around China is contentious; there are a lot of opinions. So I try to filter out media noise and get to the source information.

I read papers from governmental organizations such as the US Department of Defense and non-governmental organizations such as the World Bankand the IMF.

The US-China relationship can drive markets. So I look at US Congress papers, which are balanced factually but also have a lot of spin added.

A paper from the US Department of Defense for example, which never underplays a threat, plays up a bellicose China in the headlines, but when you look deeper, you find that while China may have an aircraft carrier, they are not yet capable of landing planes on it.

So it's important to have your own intellectual framework that allows you to separate what the market is trying to force down your throat and what is genuinely important.

I'm well aware that much of the media pulls out a development, and seeks to interpret it by building an argument. The articles I read online are contributions to debates and can sometimes influence markets.  I need to read some to know whether I need to refute them.   For instance, prominent commentator Peter Tasker has written a number of pieces suggesting that China's growth was similar to that of Japan a generation or so earlier. So I wrote a paper pointing out the differences and where I disagree with his interpretation.

I don't have favorite websites. I search for subjects of interest wherever I can find them. So I recently looked at the Brookings Institute for a paper on the Renminbi, the Chinese currency. For information on Chinese consumer trends, society and literature I'll go to The China Beat.  For non-market oriented information I read McKinsey China.

I'm a fan of the printer. I find too many news sites are unfriendly to read on the computer, let alone smart-phones. I use my Blackberry to talk to people and for urgent emails. And I don't use social sites like Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter to read the news. I don't really know how they would add to my life or work.

I regularly scan the FT (print) and for non-Asian news I read the Independent (print) and the New York Times online. You need to see what the mainstream is thinking.

So my media diet is a mix of newspapers, news-wires, the odd blog and a large amount of primary source material to allow me to see through other people's interpretations. It gives me a good understanding of how everything sits together and reveals the reality of the news in a broader context.

Edmund Harriss curated the ‘Asia Pacific' category on The Financialist

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