The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Snark and bile and something worse

When people complain about the relentless snark and bile of the internet, I never get it. Maybe I’ve just feathered too comfortable a nest for myself in Reader, on Twitter, and here on the Sesame Street of Snarkmarket. Whatever the case, the complaint just never rings true. It never corresponds to my actual experience of the internet.

Tonight, it does.

I’m not going to write about this at length, but I do want to make two small contributions to the conversation (mostly snarky, mostly bilious) about my former colleague Jim Romenesko, my first employer the Poynter Institute, and my friend Julie Moos. (Here’s the post that kicked it off, just in case you’re not already inside this particular filter bubble. None of this will make any sense if you don’t know the backstory.)

First: I like Choire Sicha’s thinking and writing a lot, but man was it hard to read this post. To my eye, it goes beyond criticism: Choire’s post is cruel. And so much of the Twitter pile-on, from so many people I admire, has been similarly cruel. It’s been painful to watch. And so, finally: I get it.

Second: I think it’s fair to summarize the public response to Poynter’s assessment of Jim’s editing as: “Are you kidding me? Nobody cared about that anyway!” There’s also a twist of: “You guys at Poynter over-intellectualize everything.” This is, I guess, an easy response, but it’s also an unsettling one in an era when we (read: the people who read Romenesko) criticize so many other institutions precisely for being opaque and thoughtless.

Listen: there is value in thinking through problems in a structured way. I read Julie’s post—the articulation of a considered, collective decision by many people at Poynter—and yep… I totally disagree with the conclusion. But I admire the clarity and transparency of the reasoning, and I wish we had more institutions working and writing this way. When they do, we ought to argue with them in good faith. I mean jeez, I swear I’m not reaching for false equivalency here… but don’t you think “nobody cared about that anyway” is easy to abuse? Don’t you think it’s been abused before?

Okay, that’s it.

I am, of course, deeply biased by my debt to Poynter and my friendship with Julie and many others there. Poynter was the first place I worked after college, and it’s the place where Matt and I sat in a little computer lab and cobbled together EPIC 2014.

But even so, I’d like to think I’m arguing something general and reasonable here. Simply put, it’s this:

  • YES to public reasoning rooted in real values.
  • NO to cruelty. NEVER to cruelty.

If it was all floating in from far away, just another toxic cloud from Mordor, I wouldn’t bother writing anything. But it’s not. It’s coming from people who read this RSS feed.


Sharat Buddhavarapu says…

I hadn’t contributed till now, but I’d like to say my only criticism is Ms. Moos’s tone. It just feels very corporate. The honesty and transparency aren’t there because they are burdened by a institutional voice. So that may be what triggered the cruelty. Not that cruelty is ever ok. But that’s the only bias I see from you.

Other than that, there is some unnecessarily cruel shit flying through the air…

Gary Moos says…

Thank you  Robin for speaking out on behalf of civility. I only wish I could let Romenesko’s loyal readers know what I know. 
You will read her motives were about power, ego, or revenue, none of this is true.  It was all about clarity and transparency, 
Julie did not want to do this. She likes Jim, and she knew very well (more so than I can say publicly), the firestorm of bile her actions would bring. But she held true to her convictions and stood up for what she felt was right. 
Agree with her or disagree, but I’ll bet those who characterize her as anything  less than brave have never had to do anything in their professional life that was this difficult while knowing what they would have to endure.
Again, thank you, you are a true friend.

Bill Mitchell says…

Well said, Robin. And big thanks for the Nisanyan recommendation! (Pictures TK…)

To me the really interesting thing about your post is the revelation that you’d never encountered this kind of situation before.

I believe you, but it strains credulity. I have seen so many occasions where honest motives and decent actions were distorted, misrepresented and vilified. I’ve watched countless commentators revile the motives, intelligence and decency of newspaper colleagues. I’ve seen it done with casual thoughtlessness and with callous, mean spirited premeditation.

To my mind, it’s impossible to engage with the emergent networked world without recognizing the capacity —indeed, I fear, likelihood— of the hive mind to turn feral. It’s more than a potentiality. It’s a guaranteed eventuality.

I’m sorry this hurt you and the good people at Poynter whom I, also, respect. I am not, however, the least bit surprised.

I think in this case it was really just the proximity. Ugly conversations have been, in the past, easy to tune out or ignore; not this time.

This, Robin. Exactly this. I couldn’t possibly have said it better.

I have zero distance from all of this, of course. Poynter launched my career, Julie’s one of my mentors, and Jim’s been a significant inspiration. My respect for all of them remains pretty much undimmed.

But my respect for us – as a community of colleagues, as exemplars of what we hope journalism can aspire to, and as ostensibly thoughtful people who do what we do because we want to make our society better – that’s taken quite a body blow this weekend.

I hadn’t heard about any of this until getting back from NPR duties late last night. After catching up on the whole mess, I’ve slept a grand total of two hours, and now I have to give a presentation. But this has been shameful to watch. And for me, little of that shame attaches to the central characters in the drama.

Roy Peter Clark says…

Thanks Boy Wonder and MattMan for soulful commentary on these important issues. When I had to study the history of the Catholic Church in college, I was surprised at the source of innovation in doctrine. That source was heresy. Someone said or thought something that was felt to be a threat to orthodoxy. If it were possible to filter out the atrocities against heretics, we would be left with an institution trying to develop new arguments and theories about the nature of God and man.

You kids are too young to remember the Jimmie’s World scandal, but I believe it launched an unprecedented attention to news media ethics, standards, and practices. Compared to that, the Poynter recent business is a fire ant bite: incredibly annoying but not vicious. I believe that when the dust settles Poynter and other institutions will take a renewed look at the important issues surrounding the work of attribution, aggregation, and intellectual property. The ground is shifting, in many ways for the better. But the vilification you describe casts a dark shadow on all of that.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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