January 09, 2009

Judgment calls

Kill the ref!Accusations of bias run rampant throughout our particular brand of piping and drumming. The more focused on competition the piper or drummer is, the more it seems he/she thinks everyone has an agenda to promote, hidden or not.

Over the last few decades of putting together publications for pipers and drummers I have had a fair share of accusations of bias thrown at me: I’m a piper, so therefore I must not like drummers. I have played in a few bands; thus I must be promoting them. I play piobaireachd, so I’m suspected of disrespecting those who don’t. I live in North America, so therefore I must be anti-UK. I reside in Canada, therefore I’m anti-American. I live in Ontario, so some from other provinces assume they don’t get fair treatment. It’s all about Toronto . . . I have a bias against those not living in the west end of the city . . . I’m against shorter people . . .

And so it goes. I’ve dealt with the (usually anonymous) accusations by just continuing to do what my heart tells me is right, and creating the kinds of publications that I think people want to read. That’s all it ever was and ever will be. Readership keeps increasing, so I have to assume I’m doing something right.

By profession I work in public relations. I understand that, from relationships, people can do more good things. It follows that I generally approach people I know – those I’ve played in bands with, grown up with, competed against, received instruction from – to contribute articles, as long as I know them to be fair-minded and I respect their opinions and intelligence. It helps me when they express an interest in writing. Nonetheless I’m always delighted when people I don’t know contact me with an idea for an article they’d like to see or contribute, and over the years some of my favourite stuff has resulted from just such unplanned contact. (See Willie Donaldson.)

I try my hardest to be fair and objective when it comes to content on pipes|drums. I’m aware of accusations of bias, but I guarantee that I have no other agenda to promote than providing a publication that as many people as possible will enjoy. No one likes propaganda. There are times when I catch myself almost overcompensating, thinking I shouldn’t include articles that truly merit publication because a small minority of cynically competitive readers will suspect me of bias.

That was the dilemma I faced with the recent New Year’s Honours story. The overwhelming feedback from the panel was that the Spirit of Scotland – based on news value – should be named the Band of the Year, and that Roddy MacLeod – based on overall contributions to the scene – deserved to be Piper of the Year. Uh, oh, I thought. I’m in SoS, so what will people think if they’re named?

But, ultimately, I did the right thing and gave those that deserved the accolades – under the conditions of the system for determining the honours, whether that system is good or bad. In the meantime I tried to grow an extra layer of thick skin, but fully prepared to accept any fallout.

It’s the same predicament that a good judge finds him/herself in. The very worst judge is one who overcompensates and doesn’t award a prize to a deserving competitor for fear of being accused of bias. Our system is such that we truly respect only the opinions of people – judges, teachers, magazine editors, and association leaders – who have also done the business as competitors and performers, who understand the vagaries and challenges of competitive piping and drumming because they have experienced it. Those who talk a good tune have little credibility. Consequently our judges, teachers, editors will always be accused of bias by some, simply because their history as a player is known and there for cynical connections to be made.

Good judgment sometimes requires an element of self-editing, making sure that you do the truly right thing when you’re tempted to overcompensate and do wrong. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

On second thought . . . no, I don’t . . . but I will anyway.


  1. Geez, it’s amazing that you’ve stayed “in the game ” that long when you have all those Bias’ to others. LOL
    Happy New Year just the same.
    Hope you’re not on the panel this year, I live on the east coast and I’m shorter than you, doesn’t look good for me.

  2. Since I’m 6’6″ I’ll declare victory by default in any event Andrew judges this year! No need to attend let alone perform! Please notify me by email and I’ll arrange to pick up all the trophies.
    Andrew…I assume this applies to my band also?


  3. For my part I read the article and accepted the ‘judgements’ on their merit – in the full knowledge, Andrew, that you are indeed a member of SoS, well know Roddy MacLeod, etc. Sure everyone will have their opinions, but the credibility of this publication is such that, to me, I don’t even contemplate that bias might exist… but then, that’s my opinion of P|D! Keep up the great reporting and the development of this quality, authoritative publication. Happy New Year to one-and-all.

  4. Its all the stuff about the National League and the St. Louis Cardinals that bugs me….Seriously though, its amazing how well this site is run day in and day out. The even handed approach to each subject would make one believe there is a room of 12 to 20 “big shots” kicking in on every topic……(Is there?)

  5. I think your work here is very good, although I have raised concerns (both publicly and privately) with you in the past. The point is that no one’s feelings get hurt but that we all deal with issues like professionals. Which you do. Good advice I received a long time ago went something like: when someone criticizes you and you don’t agree, consider the source and consider the criticism to determine why the person made it. Sometimes you find the meaning behind the meaning and realize there are things you can do differently. Sometimes you simply validate your direction and continue on. But to discount it entirely is a mistake. Additionally, most paranoia in this idiom stems from judging. The Worlds meltdowns on judging panels over the years only further validates the paranoia. Much like international figure-skating, until the system is overhauled, you will always have folks crying foul. And if anyone is unclear about the failings of worlds judging panels, don’t bother asking, you’re too out of touch.

  6. I certainly defend your right to have an opinion – what kind ofd a world would it be if we couldn’t all voice our own thoughts. However, what I cannot defend is they way you put it over then immediately delete someone’s opinion which may differ from your own. On the matter of the New Years Honours, I simply put forward a couple of alternatives, while correcting your comments on a certain band’s break up. Within 1 hour, my comments were deleted, while having disparaged neither a band or an individual. Let’s strive for more evenhandedness in 2009. All the best.

  7. Hi John Thomson — I actually sent you a few messages explaining why your comment was deleted — because a portion of it was unfair and demeaning to a certain band. In hindsight, that part of the comment could have been edited and the rest allowed to stand. Unfortunately, the comment was deleted, and is now gone, so it can’t be restored. But, please do re-post the rest of it. As is stressed repeatedly, fair comments are welcomed, as are opinions that differ from mine or any writers. Over the years, I can recall fewer than 10 instances of comments being deleted. I think that speaks to the kind of fair-minded and intelligent people who contribute to the conversation. Cheers, A.

  8. Hello Andrew – “Someone has to do it” says it all. If it were not for your dedication, most of us would have little, if any, information about the goings on in the P/D world. In my opinion, you don’t need to explain or justify anything. Veterans of LIFE (let alone the P/D scene) know full well there are differing opinions. I respect yours even though I might not always agree. I’m just glad you are out there doing your thing! Thanks!

  9. Like any publication you make points from your point of view some we will agree with some we will disagree with. I don’t have a problem with SOS…and as you noted there was a panel making the choice. Having ocassionally, read some of the effluent on some of the so called piping blogs sadly there are are individuals do little to add to the online debates and I have no problem with sensible editing. Keep it up!

    ps who’s st louis cardinals

  10. Cheers, all. The blog of course is essentially a series of editorial opinion-pieces. It’s all based on personal experiences and viewpoints, serious and not — and welcoming other perspectives that will stand provided they’re fair. That said, I’m not averse to throwing written spaghetti on the wall to see if it will stick, even though I might not personally like pasta myself. Block that metaphor.

    Which leads me to the St. Louis Cardinals, the classiest and best franchise in the history of Major League Baseball. That there can be no doubt . . . in my mind. The Tigers have nice uniforms, though, but a gothic D won’t win a World Series.

  11. Who is the greatest Left Fielder to ever play for the Chicago Cubs?
    Answer Lou Brock!
    Just a little Cardinals humor Andrew!

    Andrew, the angst demonstrated in your column is understandable. But, in the final analysis, judges and commentators must have a thick skin. However truthful, your judgments and analyses are they will spark comment and controversy. That’s the nature of the game and you handle it quite well. The web has brought the previously provincial and parorchial world of piping and pipe bands to a world wide stage. US Chief Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes once said, “sunlight is the best disenfectant”. P|D brings a little sunlight to the piping world. Keep up the good work. A sense of humor is also valuable, as demonstrated in your You Tube link. Although the fact that you had the linik so readily available is a little sick!




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