September 10, 2009
Kleinfeld's Got the Past Futures Beat
I'm sure you saw this, because the NYT's been promoting it: Remembering a Future That Many Feared by N. R. Kleinfeld. The idea is to look back to September 12, 2001, and recall the widely-shared fears and assumptions of the moment:
New York would become a fortress city, choked by apprehension and resignation, forever patrolled by soldiers and submarines. Another attack was coming. And soon.
If a crippled downtown Manhattan were to have any chance of regeneration, ground zero had to be rebuilt quickly, a bricks and mortar nose-thumbing to terror.
First: What did we think would happen? Then: What actually happened? The reporter's job is straightforward. Interview the past. Report the present.
This setup is so good it made me gasp—really—as I started in on the first few grafs and realized what Kleinfeld was up to. Talk about context. We can't improve our decision-making, our foresight, if we never go back to look at the decisions we made—the futures we feared—and compare them to reality.
This kind of story—maybe it's more "history light" than journalism, I don't know—ought to be standard practice. Let's look at the wailing and teeth-gnashing of just nine months ago, re: the economy. First: What did we think would happen? Then: What actually happened?
Our memories are so short. Our imaginations are so... adaptable. We don't notice them changing. This story totally represents a kind of Long Now thinking, if you ask me—in the sense that it says our vision of the future is something we can inspect, analyze, criticize, report. I mean, that headline says it all, and some copy editor should get a prize for it: "Remembering a Future." Exactly.
Anyway, this is all to say, big ups to N.R. Kleinfeld and the NYT. This was a great idea.
The Correspondent-Fixer Dialectic
George Packer on the death of Sultan Munadi: "It's Always the Fixer Who Dies."
September 8, 2009
The Atlantic Has a Good Month
I still have a soft spot for The Atlantic, the magazine that introduced me to, um, thinking. Certainly to the thrill of great journalism. It hasn't always been as interesting in recent years (James Fallows provides an epic ongoing exception) but wow, this latest issue is really good:
A paean to Al Jazeera, the only cable TV network in the world that actually offers "a visually stunning, deeply reported description of developments in dozens upon dozens of countries simultaneously."
Love this one: the myths that led media companies astray. Because, "[if] we take Netscape's public offering in 1995 as the birth of the Internet era, on average over the next 10 years the biggest media conglomerates achieved less than a third of the returns available from the S&P as a whole. But even more telling is that these companies, as a group, had also underperformed the S&P for much of the previous decade, before the Internet upended their industry. Indeed, one aspect of the media business has remained largely unchanged for a generation: the lousy performance of its leading companies."
And the cover story, a powerful piece by Andrew Sullivan, written as a letter to George W. Bush about torture and "absolute evil"—clear, descriptive, urgent.
September 3, 2009
I was on a panel with Politkovskaya and Piers Morgan back in 2005, in Stockholm. She made both of us—rightly—seem like complete lightweights. Pure gravity and courage.
August 13, 2009
The SHOCKING TRUTH About Health Care Reform!!!1
You have, no doubt, seen this site. I hear it was engineered in just a few days by a Republican web operative working round-the-clock with a team of Estonian PHP hackers.
August 6, 2009
CJR's Got Your Back
Now this is what meta-media is for: Dean Starkman provides a smart, sweeping analysis of Matt Taibbi's feisty muckraking. His verdict is nuanced and not easily blockquotable, but the bottom line is: Taibbi can't be dismissed.
Starkman doesn't let him off easy, though. This is by no means central to his analysis, but it's a fun line (and also good advice):
The weakness of the piece is where others might find strength, its polemical nature and its hyperbole. When you call Goldman a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money," you're in a sense offering a big fat disclaimer—this piece is not to be taken literally and perhaps not even seriously.
I actually didn't know about CJR's The Audit feature—of which this is a part—and I'm a new fan. This is really valuable work.
Rupert Murdoch Forgets He Ever Saw That Crazy Flash Movie
Five years ago, Rupert Murdoch sat down at his computer and spent a few minutes watching a movie made by two journalism students. When he rose, he proclaimed that "he and his fellow newspaper proprietors risked being relegated to the status of also-rans if they did not overhaul their internet strategies."
Then he bought MySpace and the WSJ. He also bought a locket with Matt and Robin's picture inside.
But now, instead of following the clear lesson of that movie - that is, merging these two properties to make WallSpace? MyStreetLiveJournal? - he just might out-grey-lady the Grey Lady by contending to become King Cash on Paywall Mountain.
August 5, 2009
They Are Safe
I'm so happy to be able to finally link to this. My god. I can't even tell you.
Current is wall-to-wall with Laura and Euna's work in commemoration, and (we don't usually do this) streaming it online, too. It affords you a glimpse of the courage that led them so close to North Korea in the first place.
You can also leave a message here if you like.
Welcome home, Laura and Euna!
August 3, 2009
It Really Is Snark Week
... but that doesn't mean Christopher Shea isn't right:
I'm as big a Julia Child fan as the next person... But how many pieces about Child's cultural significance can media outlets run before it starts to look as though reporters and editors have a financial stake in the forthcoming Nora Ephron movie about her?
The Stupidity of Serendipity
Having just two weeks ago posted a link to what I think is a reasonably intelligent take on the importance of serendipitous discoveries in old and new media, Damon Darlin's not-quite-an-essay in the NYT is by comparison offensively stupid.
Let's just juxtapose these two excerpts:
It gives us a measure of the owner’s quirky tastes and, more often than not, we find a singer, a musician or a documentary we’d never known before.
But that isn’t serendipity. It’s really group-think. Everything we need to know comes filtered and vetted. We are discovering what everyone else is learning, and usually from people we have selected because they share our tastes.
I'm just going to assume that Damon Darlin walks into other people's houses at random, without filtering or vetting them first. I'm also going to assume that he goes through their medicine cabinets and ingests whatever drugs he finds there without filtering or vetting them. Because otherwise this makes NO SENSE.
Top 40 Radio, books read by random people on the subway - say what you will about the merits of these as engines of serendipity, but at least there's a prima facie case to be made for them as a fundamentally different kind of content delivery than the way most folks experience the web. But browsing your friends' bookshelves and sorting through their Twitter recommendations are prima facie the same thing. You're encountering the shared culture of a small set of associates selected because they have other things in common. Again, this is true unless you're just knocking on doors.
At least make a case for it. Say something about how our CDs reveal more about us than our Twitter or Blog recommendations, because they show what we like and HAVE liked rather than what we admit that we like right now. Say that email forwards are actually a much more ritualized and inherently conservative form than they're cracked up to be.
The ultimate irony of this is that you could annotate this post and identify every single cliché in it, most of them already published in the NYT itself. So the other, alternate solution is that it's a kind of weird performance-art piece, a limply parodic performance of the reject-the-web-in-favor-of-false-nostalgia-for-serendipity tropes that have been circling for years.
Unless it's forthcoming, I'm going to assume that the guy breaks into people's houses and huffs their pills before checking out their CD and magazine racks.
(*I know, I'm a weekend late on the stupefied outrage about this. But I'm also just offended as a writing teacher. If an eighteen-year-old submitted this to me, with this paucity of argument, it would be lucky to squeak by with a B.)
July 27, 2009
The Nichepaper Manifesto
How is Umair Haque so good at this?
But I have never seen them so seamlessly and stylishly combined. Part of it is simply the language: Haque has a gift for punchy parallel structure. Just scan down his list of bold directives—"Knowledge, not news," "Provocation, not perfection"—and tell me you don't want a nichepaper, like, now.
I'm kinda into his neologism "commentage," too.
Anyway, if you are even 1% interested in this stuff, go give him a glance.
July 18, 2009
When Poptimism Meets Pessimism
One of my favorite "pop music meets pop culture" writers is Tom Ewing, who writes the "Poptimist" column for Pitchfork. Ewing's posts have a way of generally filtering into the cultural conversation without him necessarily getting a lot of direct credit - for example, he beat Paul Constant to the punch back in May by writing an essay on Twitter in 140-character paragraphs.
Ewing's newest column smartly juxtaposes the decline of the relevance of the Top 40 (particularly in the UK) with a certain strand of newspaper pessimism. I particularly like his definition of pop music as "a fragmented cross-section of popular culture squeezed into a tiny space, and the act of squeezing-- when things were working-- filled that space with energy and fizz."
Well worth reading the whole thing - here's a relevant sample:
Far more people worry about the decline of newspapers than the decline of the British pop charts, but their plight is comparable. Both packaged worlds of content into small things and let the different elements fight for attention. Both also enjoyed audiences who had to consume a whole to get at the parts they liked. Okay, a newspaper reader could skip over the sections they didn't care about more easily than a radio listener could, but still a good headline might turn that half-second flicker of disinterest into attention. And in that half-second chance lived serendipity and argument.
For serendipity to happen you have to be able to give people what they don't want-- or don't think they want-- as well as what they do.
Maybe that's a utopian conception of the newspaper as well as the Top 40 -- but it seems like all we do is trade in utopian conceptions. Let's kick this one around for a while.
July 16, 2009
ProPublica in Perspective
I've been semi-following ProPublica, and I'm an unabashed Amanda Michel fan, so I found this review of the organization's work-to-date helpful. Bonus: It's written by Bill Rappley, Mediaite's 85-year-old columnist. Talk about context.
July 15, 2009
Behind the New York Review of Ideas
But a question lingers: What is this thing?
Turns out it's the project of a class at NYU's graduate school of journalism. I was curious to know more, so I did a quick email interview with Derrick Koo—an NYU grad student as well as the site's designer and developer. Here goes:
So, you mentioned that the site was the project of a class at NYU's graduate school of journalism. Which class? And did the project set out to create a website, or did that format coalesce somewhere along the way?
The class was Robert Boynton's Journalism of Ideas, so that partially answers the second question. The aim of the course was for each student to create a small body of ideas-based, magazine-style work and to compile the publishable pieces into a blog or website at the conclusion of the class. So the idea for a website was there from the beginning; but how far we took the project was left entirely up to the students.
The title—"New York Review of Ideas"—seemed to really resonate, instantly, with a lot of people. I read some comments along the lines of: "Wow. I want to read every single thing on this site. Right now." Could you talk a little bit about the thinking behind the title, the tone, and—most importantly—story selection?
The title was Professor Boynton's idea, and seemed like a natural fit for the type of ideas-based reporting we were doing. Almost all the stories we wrote began with questions of personal interest. Professor Boynton put it something like this: explore an idea you're interested in but most people would know next to nothing about, then find the people who are best qualified to explain it or embody it in a meaningful way. I think this approach allowed us to explore a really wide variety of issues, while forcing us all to adhere to a very specific purpose. As for the tone, we owe a great debt to the late magazine Lingua Franca—the ideas in some of the stories reach an almost academic depth, but they're meant to be as universally interesting as possible. I'm glad to see that readers like this choice.
For the nerds: what tools are you using to run this site? What's the CMS? Any crucial plugins?
It's really simple, actually—the whole site is built in WordPress, which I thought would be the quickest and easiest platform to publish with. The basic concept revolves around multiple category-specific loops for the simple reason that I didn't want to design just another reverse-chronological blog. Very early on, I decided that basing the design around the categories (profiles, reviews, Q&As, etc.) was a good way to keep the site focused on the ideas rather than on the "latest story," since it was never meant to be a news-oriented project. No special plugins were used aside from a "print friendly" function (added on request).
I'm always interested in the way that journalism students' vision of the kind of work they want to do matches up—or doesn't—with the way journalism really works in the world today. Were your fellow students generally excited about the prospect of publishing an idea-rich website? Lukewarm? Unmoved?
It's tough to parse out the feelings of 15 very different students, some of whom I know better than others. But most of us probably chose to take the course because of its focus on ideas-based journalism. It promised to immerse us in a much different type of research and writing than what we'd find in your average news-writing course, or even your average post-grad first job. So I'd venture to say most of us were pretty excited about working on the site—everyone pitched in to write, edit and produce it. This was the kind of work we wanted to do—and if it doesn't match up to professional opportunities, well... people want to read it, right? So maybe the way journalism really works right now isn't how it should work.
This was a one-time, stand-alone project. So, you're telling me I will never get anything new on that RSS feed I subscribed to? Seriously, nothing?
It was conceived as a one-time project, since we had no idea what kind of response we'd receive or where we'd all be after the semester ended. But just because we don't plan to update monthly doesn't mean your RSS feed will go completely unused—especially since the feedback we've received so far has been so positive.
I can't promise anything, but I bet there are a lot of current and future students who would be interested in contributing ideas-based stories in semesters to come. I, for one, am definitely open to maintaining it beyond the original scope. I really do hope it turns into something ongoing.
File under: Interviews, Journalism, Media Galaxy
July 6, 2009
The Geography of New Media
If you hang around in the NYC media bubble long enough, you develop the social depression of a collapsing industry. The west coast is full of a giddy frisson about the inevitable demise of big media, while the midwest is skeptical of everything that gets force-fed to them from the coasts. NYC, which has essentially zero awareness of any of this, continues to constantly be shocked! when a TMZ or Pitchfork or The Onion comes along from the hinterlands with a massively successful enterprise.
The reasons for this amounts to a lack of vision. Even smart people, vampirically bound to the past, seem completely blind to developing new formats. The standard for online innovation right now is "launch another blog," which no one seems to recognize is about as depressing as launching another newspaper.
Sign One that Mediaite will be smarter than HuffPo: this Jeffrey Feldman column that turns Nico Pitney vs. Dana Milbank into Marshall McLuhan vs. Thomas Jefferson. Me likey, Jeffrey. Me likey a lot.
June 18, 2009
Thomas Baekdal has a nice schematic history of news and information from 1800 to 2020. I like his 1900-1960 entry:
By the year 1900, the newspapers and magazine had revolutionized how we communicated. Now we could get news from places we have never been. We could communicate our ideas to people we had never seen. And we could sell our products to people far away.
You still had to go out to talk other people, but you could stay on top of things, without leaving the city. It was amazing. It was the first real revolution of information. The world was opening up to everyone.
During the next 60 years the newspapers dominated our lives. If you wanted to get the latest news, or tell people about your product, you would turn to the newspapers. It seemed like newspapers would surely be the dominant source of information for all time to come.
Except that during the 1920s a new information source started to attract people's attention - the Radio. Suddenly you could listen to another person's voice 100 of miles away. But most importantly, you could get the latest information LIVE. It was another tremendous evolution is the history of information. By 1960's the two dominant sources of information was LIVE news from the Radio and the more detailed news via newspapers and magazines.
It was really great times, although some meant that "The way for newspapers to meet the competition of radio is simply to get out better papers", an argument that we would hear repeatedly for the next 50 years.
The stuff about 2020 seems very familiar.
Via Lone Gunman.
June 17, 2009
Media = Freedom?
Pete Wehner has a post at the Commentary blog comparing Iran in 2009 to the Soviet Union of the 1980's which, of course, is completely ridiculous. I visited Russia back in the day and I've now visited Iran twice. There is no comparison. The Soviet Union was the most repressive place I've ever been; its residents lived in constant terror. I'll never forget my first translator in Moscow telling me that his parents had trained him never to smile in public--it could easily be misinterpreted and then he'd be off to the Gulag. There was no internet in those days, no cellphones, no facebook or twitter.
Iran, by contrast, is breezy with freedom. It is certainly freer now, despite Ahmadinejad, than it was when I first visited in 2001. There are satellites dishes all over the place, which bring accurate news via BBC Persia and the Voice of America. The place is awash in western music, movies and books. The Supreme Leader has a website; ayatollahs are blogging. You can get the New York Times and CNN online. (I was interested to find, however, that most blogs except those, like this one, that are associated with a mainstream media outlet, are filtered by the government.) There is, in fact, marginally more freedom of expression in Iran than in some notable U.S. allies, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia--although the danger of imprisonment always exists if a journalist or politician takes it a step too far for the Supreme Leader's watchdogs.
I wonder, though -- to what extent can media consumption, or even production, be a proxy for (or index of) material freedom? I mean, the reformists in Iran are actually fighting FOR a loosening of some of the more oppressive restrictions. In particular, women almost certainly had more day-to-day freedoms (apart from media consumption) under the USSR then they do in present-day Iran.
I appreciate Klein's point here, and trust me -- I don't in any way underestimate the power of the free circulation of information as constitutive of some degree of liberty. I just worry when people who deal in information - especially journalists - confuse the freedom of information with freedom as such. (Klein's B-story about the two states, which explains the likelihood of getting imprisoned for arbitrary reasons or dissent - is way more relevant.)
File under: Journalism, Snarkpolitik, Society/Culture, Worldsnark
June 16, 2009
To Shame Them For the Rest Of Their Lives
And curse the men's cowardice with the light of their courage.
File under: Journalism, Snarkpolitik, Worldsnark
What Is The Revolution?
This is beyond words. A demonstrator is protecting a man sent to attack him. There are photos of the wounded and dead, but there are more pictures like this as well.
When you no longer need to kill your enemy, then the revolution becomes possible.
File under: Journalism, Snarkpolitik, Worldsnark
June 13, 2009
The Boss Sure Can Write
Wow. Bill Keller's memo from Tehran can be read almost as a direct rebuke to the Daily Show segment on the NYT. (Which, by the way, I didn't think was very funny. The mean-spirited field segments have always been my least favorite part of that show.)
Kinda like: "How's this for yesterday's news?"
Something else to notice: Bill Keller can write like a dream.
On the streets around Fatemi Square, near the headquarters of the leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, riot police officers dressed in Robocop gear roared down the sidewalks on motorcycles to disperse and intimidate the clots of pedestrians who gathered to share rumors and dismay.
"Another four years of dictatorship," a voter muttered, and "this is a coup d'etat." Several others agreed. Some women wept openly. Some talked of "mutiny." Others were more cynical.
"It was just a movie," said Hussein Gharibi, a 54-year-old juice vendor, scoffing at those who got their hopes up. "They were all just players in a movie."
Crisp, imagistic ("dressed in Robocop gear"), revealing. Pretty amazing when the top (editorial) executive is also one of the best writers.
June 5, 2009
Time to Write a Few Prob-Eds
Julian Sanchez, "The Perils of Pop Philosophy":
The function of the ordinary pop-science/social science/philosophy piece is to give the reader a sort of thumbnail-sketch of the findings or results of a particular sphere of study, while op-eds and radio talkers make the thumbnail case for a policy position. The latter are routinely criticised for their shrill content, but the really toxic message of contemporary opinion writing and radio is the meta-message, the implicit message contained in the form, more than any particular substantive claim. In an ordinary op-ed, the formal message is that 800 or 1000 words is adequate to establish the correct position on any question of interest...
What might be more helpful, at least in some instances, is an article that spends the same amount of space setting up the problem, and getting across exactly why it’s so difficult for brilliant and highly educated people to agree on an answer—especially when many people outside the field tend to have an opinion one way or another, and believe that they’re justified in holding it with some confidence. Not just a clash between two confident but opposed views—we get plenty of that all the time, and it’s part of the problem—but an examination (assuming good faith) of what’s keeping these smart jousters from reaching consensus. Not “the case for policy A” vs “the case for policy B” but “the epistemic problems that make it hard to choose between A and B,” as though (I know, it’s crazy) the search for truth were more than a punch-up between mutually exclusive, preestablished conclusions. The message is not (to coin a phrase) “we report, you decide” but “we report on why you’re not actually competent to decide, unless you’re prepared to devote a hell of a lot more time, energy, and thought to it.”
Sanchez adds that "these would, of course, tend to be incredibly frustrating articles, and given that journalism’s already on the skids, perhaps this isn’t the time to be proposing that publications deliberately frustrate their audiences." Maybe. But referencing Sanchez's earlier essay on the problem of one-way hashes, articles that clearly map out a problem and give you the vocabulary and background you need to understand it definitely serve a purpose; sometimes readers are shopping for opinions, but equally often they're rummaging for language itself - definitions, analogies, anecdotes. Maybe this could be a way to solve our problem of the arcane economist?
Also, do you know who's really good at doing this already? Doctors. Medical advertising and some reporting often peddle newfangled and overhyped solutions, but I think doctors and medical researchers are actually very good at "state-of-the-field" reporting.
This touches on an idea I've been kicking around for a while -- doing a Radio Lab-style podcast or report on current research in the humanities and social sciences. Basically you'd read a bunch of journals, newspapers, and blogs, interview people, and put together a 45-minute program. I would LOVE for a Jad Abumrad-esque figure to take a half an hour to explain what's important about, I don't know -- disability studies, or new digital archives, or theories of affect, or Giorgio Agamben.
Yes, I know a sociologist would come up with a completely different list of things to care about. But science, medicine, and technology are getting all the love, and we've got to start SOMEwhere. So think about it -- what kind of brainy cultural movements or ideas have you encountered kicking around lately that you might want to take for a quick foundation course?
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Journalism, Learnin', Radio
June 4, 2009
Luxuriating In Print
We slapped Dave Eggers around a little bit for his "nothing has changed" speech to the Authors' Guild, but his mass email for lovers of print is way more nuanced and inspiring in a constructive, non-cheerleaderish way:
Publishing has, for most of its life, been a place of small but somewhat profit margins, and the people involved in publishing were happy to be doing what they loved. It's only recently, when large conglomerates bought so many publishing companies and newspapers, that demands for certain margins squeezed some of the joy out of the business.
Pretty soon, on the McSweeney's website— www.mcsweeneys.net— we'll be showing some of our work on this upcoming issue, which will be in newspaper form. The hope is that we can demonstrate that if you rework the newspaper model a bit, it can not only survive, but actually thrive. We're convinced that the best way to ensure the future of journalism is to create a workable model where journalists are paid well for reporting here and abroad. And that starts with paying for the physical paper. And paying for the physical paper begins with creating a physical object that doesn't retreat, but instead luxuriates in the beauties of print. We believe that if you use the hell out of the medium, if you give investigative journalism space, if you give photojournalists space, if you give graphic artists and cartoonists space — if you really truly give readers an experience that can't be duplicated on the web — then they will spend $1 for a copy. And that $1 per copy, plus the revenue from some (but not all that many) ads, will keep the enterprise afloat.
As long as newspapers offer less each day— less news, less great writing, less graphic innovation, fewer photos— then they're giving readers few reasons to pay for the paper itself. With our prototype, we aim to make the physical object so beautiful and luxurious that it will seem a bargain at $1. The web obviously presents all kinds of advantages for breaking news, but the printed newspaper does and will always have a slew of advantages, too. It's our admittedly unorthodox opinion that the two can coexist, and in fact should coexist. But they need to do different things. To survive, the newspaper, and the physical book, needs to set itself apart from the web. Physical forms of the written word need to offer a clear and different experience. And if they do, we believe, they will survive. Again, this is a time to roar back and assert and celebrate the beauty of the printed page. Give people something to fight for, and they will fight for it. Give something to pay for, and they'll pay for it.
Eggers is basically now saying not that nothing has changed, but that EVERYTHING has to change. But it needs to change not because we've just progressed forward from print to digital, but that by first betting on the infinitely expanding profit potential of mass publishing and then paring the experience back to try to meet that bet, we've made a huge mistake.
So, in some sense, we need to go back to basics; but in another, we need to rethink our direction forward based on what's best for the people and the product, not the margins. We were pushing so hard for so long in one direction that we capsized the boat.
It's still a conservative vision, but it's a David Simon/Michael Moore kind of conservative -- i.e., a nostalgic but critical liberalism, in the tradition of John Ruskin. And that's a good mood to strike, if not for everybody -- not least because it's not at all intended to be a model for everybody.
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such, Design, Journalism, Media Galaxy, Object Culture, Snarkonomics
May 18, 2009
Somebody Pull a Craigslist on Craigslist
Earlier today, Kurt Andersen said:
Yesterday I told Craig Newmark that craigslist had effectively expropriated newspapers' classified-ad business and put it in escrow....
Right theme; wrong approach. Instead, how 'bout we do what Daniel Bachhuber suggests: out-compete Craigslist.
I don't agree with all of Daniel's points. But I do think that he's directionally correct. On today's web, Craigslist is feeling awfully creaky and old-school. There's an opportunity for disruption there.
May 12, 2009
The Most Inverted Pyramid of All
Heh heh. I like the NYT's new TimesWire feed because it grants you a glimpse of parallel incarnations of the same article. If you do any work whatsoever with web content, this little pair will be all too familiar:
The top headline and description, all grace and wit. The bottom headline and description... all blunt Google-juice.
File under: Journalism, Media Galaxy, Technosnark
April 27, 2009
Google: The World's Medical Journal
A good anecdotal lead. Carolina Solis is a medical student who did research on parasitic infections caused by contaminated well water in rural Nicaragua.
Like many researchers, she plans to submit her findings for publication in a medical journal. What she discovered could benefit not just Nicaraguan communities but those anywhere that face similar problems. When she submits her paper, though, she says the doctors she worked with back in San Juan del Sur will probably never get a chance to read it.
"They were telling me their problems accessing these [journals]. It can be difficult for them to keep up with all the changes in medicine."
Washington recently got involved. Squirreled away in the massive $410 billion spending package the president signed into law last month is an open access provision. It makes permanent a previous requirement that says the public should have access to taxpayer-funded research free of charge in an online archive called PubMed Central. Such funding comes largely from the National Institutes of Health, which doles out more than $29 billion in research grants per year. That money eventually turns into about 60,000 articles owned and published by various journals.
But Democrats are divided on the issue. In February, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., submitted a bill that would reverse open access. HR 801, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, would prohibit government agencies from automatically making that research free. Conyers argues such a policy would buck long-standing federal copyright law. Additionally, Conyers argues, journals use their subscription fees to fund peer review in which experts are solicited to weigh in on articles before they're published. Though peer reviewers aren't usually identified or paid, it still takes money to manage the process, which Conyers calls "critical."
And cultural/generational change:
The pay-to-play model doesn't jive with a generation of soon-to-be docs who "grew up Google," with information no farther than a search button away. It's a generation that never got lost in library stacks looking for an encyclopedia, or had to pay a penny for newspaper content. So it doesn't see why something as important as medical research should be locked behind the paywalls of private journals.
Copyright issues are nothing new to a generation that watched the recording industry deal its beloved original music sharing service, Napster, a painful death in 2001. Last October, it watched Google settle a class-action lawsuit brought on by book publishers upset over its Book Search engine, which makes entire texts searchable. And just last week, a Swedish court sentenced four founders of the the Pirate Bay Web site to a year in prison over making copyrighted files available for illegal file sharing. And now the long-familiar copyright war is spilling over into medicine.
There's even WikiDoc
And, the article doesn't mention this, but I'll contend there's a role for journalism to play. Here's a modest proposal: allow medical researchers to republish key findings of the research in newspapers, magazines, something with a different revenue structure, and then make it accessible to everyone. Not perfect, but a programmatic effort would do some good.
Speaking of which -- what are the new big ideas on the health/medicine beat? This is such a huge issue -- it feels like it should have its own section in the paper every day.
File under: Journalism, Science, Snarkpolicy, Worldsnark
April 5, 2009
In Praise of Phlegmatic Burghers
More good stuff on the journalism beat. Nicolas Lemann's "Paper Tigers" reviews new biographies of media moguls past and present, including a marvelous pivot between the flashy Hearst and Pulitzer to the double-breasted world of The Wall Street Journal's Barney Kilgore:
Kilgore and his colleagues did figure out how to publish a home-and office-delivered daily newspaper nationally, something that was far more difficult to accomplish in the nineteen-forties and fifties than people who have grown up with the Internet can imagine. The Journal's circulation, which was thirty-two thousand when Kilgore became its managing editor, in 1941, rose to just above a hundred and fifty thousand in 1950, eight hundred and twenty-five thousand in 1962, and almost a million when Kilgore died, of cancer, at the age of fifty-nine, in 1967.
When Kilgore started out at the Journal, reporters sometimes sold advertising, and Kilgore's own early work as a reporter entailed experimentation with forms carried over from the nineteenth century, such as articles written as letters to an imaginary friend. By the time the Journal had come to full maturity, it had helped establish the journalistic norms of reportorial nonpartisanship and of independence from advertiser pressure. As Tofel observes, it was less a standard newspaper than a news-and-business magazine published daily on newsprint, closer to Fortune and Business Week than to either Hearst's New York Journal or the Times, both of which were edited on the assumption that they would be their readers' sole source of news.
Still, Kilgore did much more than develop the manners and mores of modern élite journalism. The newspaper he built was full of idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, like the use of line drawings on the front page instead of photographs, the heavy use of peppy news briefs in lieu of stories, the not very funny daily cartoon cornily titled 'Pepper . . . and Salt,' the right-wing editorial page, and the goofy human-interest story in the middle of every day's front page. No less than Hearst's Journal and Pulitzer's World, the Wall Street Journal bore the stamp of Kilgore's personality, which turned out to be one that appealed to a large audience of phlegmatic businessmen like him.
I think Lemann actually goes too far in emphasizing the WSJ's blandness next to the rough-and-tumble world of the full yellows -- in the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, the ecology of financial news and the stock exchanges -- "a late-nineteenth-century version of a Bloomberg terminal -- a high-priced, custom-produced collection of timely data on the financial markets which was distributed to people who planned to trade on the information" -- was every bit as crazy, with people fighting each other over information (and misinformation) -- less Bloomberg than CNBC.
(I'm including this clip of Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler slightly because it begins with a crazy scene where Mabuse has used the newspapers to manipulate the stock market into a mighty short-sell, but mostly because I just love this movie.)
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Journalism, Movies
Star-Eyed Idealists Burning The House To The Ground
Last week, Jack Shafer called out the idea that newspapers are essential to enlightened democracy as a big bunch of self-deluded hooey:
Until the current newspaper crisis, you rarely heard politicians or activists bleating about how important newspapers were to self-government. They mostly bitched about what awful failures newspapers were at uncovering vital data. The only group that holds a consistently high opinion of newspapers is newspaper people. They're the ones who do the bragging about how newspapers enrich democracy by uncovering pollution, malfeasance in office, abuses of power, and unsafe consumer goods...
The insistence on coupling newspapering to democracy irritates me not just because it overstates the quality and urgency of most of the work done by newspapers but because it inflates the capacity of newspapers to make us better citizens, wiser voters, and more enlightened taxpayers. I love news on newsprint, believe me, I do. But I hate seeing newspapers reduced to a compulsory cheat sheet for democracy. All this lovey-dovey about how essential newspapers are to civic life and the political process makes me nostalgic for the days, not all that long ago, when everybody hated them.
Me, I think journalism is (among other things) good for democracy, and newspapers are a pretty good way to read things in print. So I took Shafer's rant as half a useful corrective and half an enjoyable self-contained bit of contrarian crankiness.
But then I read this striking juxtaposition in LISNews, and I thought -- hmm: maybe something less wholesome is going on with all this hymn-to-democracy talk:
At the end of last week, the New York Times Company threatened to close down the Boston Globe unless the employee unions agreed to $20 million in cuts. This comes on the heels of comments by NYT executive editor Bill Keller speaking to an audience at Stanford in which he stated "saving the New York Times now ranks with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause." (He clarifies his statement to relate it to the relative level of interest in the survival of the Times, not as a human rights intervention. This doesn't change the extraordinarily poor choice of comparative terms.)
See also Brian Tierney, publisher of the now-bankrupt Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, who made a whole lot of noise about the virtues of a locally-owned paper while taking on a ton of debt, extracting pound-of-flesh concessions from labor, and awarding himself raises and bonuses before it all kinda fell apart.
So to review:
- Sometimes when people are going on-and-on about how virtuous and essential their industry is, they're actually trying to Mickey-Finn you into letting them do whatever they want;
- A lot of people who really like the idea of good local journalism and even really like newsprint in their hands really don't like their local newspaper -- either because of what they read (or don't read) or because of what they know the paper is doing or has done, in many cases to people they know. We can't lose sight of that.
File under: Cities, Journalism, Snarkpolitik
March 30, 2009
So Much News With No Paper To Report It
Auugghh. Gavin at Wordwright links to more bittersweet news about my (and Robin's) hometown:
Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wanted Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team reached the Final Four, which will be held in Detroit.
All of this news would have landed on hundreds of thousands of Motor City doorsteps and driveways on Monday morning, in the form of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.
Would have, that is, except that Monday — of all days — was the long-planned first day of the newspapers’ new strategy for surviving the economic crisis by ending home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Instead, on those days, they are directing readers to their Web sites and offering a truncated print version at stores, newsstands and street boxes.
We're all going to have to get used to using "news about Detroit" rather than "news from Detroit" more often.
March 26, 2009
Paul Krugman Channels Woody Allen
Blogging for the NYT is a little like writing/directing your own movie:
Via Mark Thoma, Anatole Kaletsky writes:
Smith, Ricardo and Keynes produced no mathematical models.
Now, I have
Marshall McLuhanJohn Maynard Keynes right here. Let’s ask him:
Let Z be the aggregate supply price of the output from employing N men, the relationship between Z and N being written Z = φ(N), which can be called the aggregate supply function. Similarly, let D be the proceeds which entrepreneurs expect to receive from the employment of N men, the relationship between D and N being written D = f(N), which can be called the aggregate demand function...
March 24, 2009
The Real Industry Collapses
March 18, 2009
Democracy As An Information Technology
Sparta had a great army, lots of places had great olive oil, and plenty of city-states had plebiscite democracy. So why was life in Athens so great?
[Josiah] Ober's hypothesis is that Athens's participatory institutions essentially turned the city into a knowledge-generating and knowledge-aggregating machine, and also supported the effective deployment of useful knowledge over time. Athenian institutions and culture functioned so that the right useful knowledge made it to the right people at the right time, resulting in the production of consistently better-than-average decisions. Athenian institutions and culture also functioned to provide an effective balance between innovation, on the one hand, and, on the other, learning or routinization, which brings efficiency. To overcome the problem of dispersed and latent knowledge, the Athenians used "networking and teaming." To overcome alignment problems, they built up stores of common knowledge through extensive publicity mechanisms and an emphasis on "interpresence"--frequent and large public gatherings--and "intervisibility" in public spaces, the capacity of all members of an audience to see each other as well as the speaker; and these stores of common knowledge worked particularly well to sustain systems of reward and sanction able to motivate ordinary citizens. To minimize transaction costs in areas such as trade, they standardized rules and exchanged practices and widely disseminated knowledge about them. The Athenians invested more resources than did their competitors in ensuring that their laws did not contradict each other, and in archiving and widely publishing final versions.
One particular example that the reviewer Danielle Allen (aka The Smartest Classicist I Know) examines is a ship-building competition authorized by the citizens of Athens: not only did public competitions like these encourage innovation in building, but since they were publicly judged, they helped disseminate expert knowledge throughout the populace, as the people learned what made one ship better than another.
Allen also looks long at what lessons American democracy can learn from Athens; one big (if obvious) conclusion is that the polis is a lot more nimble than an empire or even a republic, but from the interconnected micropolitical structures of the polis, one might actually be able to sustain a the macropolitics of a democratic republic:
As Ober notes, the immediate usefulness of the Athenian model pertains not directly to nation-states that are vastly larger than the city-state of Athens, with its population of approximately 250,000, but to the wide variety of smaller scale organizations that make up the sub-units of any given nation-state. To unleash the full value of participatory democracy at the level of the nation-state, a citizenry would do best to focus on tapping participatory democracy at the local level and throughout the variety of organizational types that make up modern society. Then there would be the further question of how well each of these sub-units is connected to the rest. If participatory democratic practices on a smaller scale and in various contexts do indeed increase the knowledge resources of the citizenry of a nation-state as a whole, then the structures of representative government, too, should function better.
It's a very Athenian conclusion, that democracy is a function of knowledge (and vice versa), but I think it's a welcome one.
File under: Cities, Journalism, Recommended, Snarkpolitik
March 14, 2009
This Is Our Media Revolution. Who Will Be Our Manutius? What Our Octavo?
During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change -- take a book and shrink it -- was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word, as books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, expanding the market for all publishers, which heightened the value of literacy still further..
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn't apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can't predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.
And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won't break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren't in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.
There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie
Also see Shirky ventriloquize our own Matt Thompson: "Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead."
March 11, 2009
The Wrong Twenty-Nine-Year-Old
One of the ironies of this is that Douthat is really just David Brooks with a beard -- not necessarily a bad thing, but he's not very "young" at all. If anything, he's maybe too much the natural candidate; it's weird for the Times to make it out like they're reaching here (while at the same time denying that that's what they're doing).
As for the title of my post -- I'm being a little cheeky, because I'm also twenty-nine, but I don't think the Times should have hired me; if they were looking for a young conservative, I think they should have hired Douthat's Grand New Party co-author Reihan Salam, who is genuinely young and weird in addition to being talented and smart. I'll be happy to be wrong, but I predict that Douthat at the Times will try too hard to be gray and lame; Salam would have been offbeat and fun, like Maureen Dowd is allegedly supposed to be.
March 1, 2009
The New Media and the New Military
Whoa -- retired Marine officer Dave Dilegge and military blogger Andrew Exum (spurred by Thomas Ricks's new book The Gamble) look at the effect of the blogosphere on how the military shares information and tactics:
Ricks cited a discussion on Small Wars Journal once and also cited some things on PlatoonLeader.org but never considered the way in which the new media has revolutionized the lessons learned process in the U.S. military. [...] Instead of just feeding information to the Center for Army Lessons Learned and waiting for lessons to be disseminated, junior officers are now debating what works and what doesn't on closed internet fora -- such as PlatoonLeader and CompanyCommand -- and open fora, such as the discussion threads on Small Wars Journal. The effect of the new media on the junior officers fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was left curiously unexplored by Ricks, now a famous blogger himself.
It seems clear that blogging and internet forums disrupt lots of traditional thinking regarding the way information is generated and disseminated -- but it's a testament to how powerful it can change readers'/writers' expectations that that disruption can carry through to the military, the top-down bureaucracy if ever there was one.
In related news, the recent New Yorker article about the low-recoil automatic shotguns mounted on robots was awesome.
Just as at a certain point, the military decided it was a waste to have a professional soldier cook a meal or clean a latrine, we'll come to see it as a waste for a professional soldier NOT to provide decentralized information that can help adjust intelligence and tactics: all soldiers will be reporters. Soon all of our wars are going to be fought by robots, gamers, and bloggers. Our entire information circuitry will have to change.
File under: Journalism, Media Galaxy, Snarkpolitik, Video Games
February 27, 2009
Is It Time to Get Out of Journalism?
This chat, led by Joe Grimm over at Poynter.org, was actually super-fascinating. No startling revelations; no giant macro-theories. Instead, a real sense of individuals grappling with change and thinking about the future. (Really loving CoverItLive, by the way. Some day Snarkmarket is going to be all live chats and prezis.)
February 19, 2009
We're Those Two Guys
So many gems in Roger Ebert's remembrance of his relationship with Gene Siskel. Here's one:
He got his second job, as the movie critic of the CBS Chicago news, because the newscast was bring reformatted to resemble a newspaper city room. Van Gordon Sauter, the executive producer, recruited Gene on the theory, "Don't hire someone because they look good on TV; hire them because they cover a beat and are the masters of it." Gene speculated that was the reason for the success of our show: We didn't look great on TV, but we sounded as if we might know what we were talking about.
The rest you should find for yourself.
February 15, 2009
A Bowling Ball In A Lane Of Pins
I really like this Jonathan Abrams article on LeBron James. It's not about anything off-court. It's not about his relationships with his teammates, coaches, or management. It's not about a particular game or set of games. It's not even really about him, except in a refreshingly limited way.
Instead, it's a well-researched article featuring multiple interviews (mostly with James's opponents) about a single aspect of his game -- his unique and nearly unstoppable ability to drive to the basket.... Read more ....
February 8, 2009
Radio Lab How-To
I have to admit: I haven't been keeping up with Radio Lab. I am genuinely ashamed of this, because I feel like Radio Lab is probably the best and most inventive media being produced anywhere right now. It's just... the episodes... they're so long!
But I did just listen to this: Radio Lab at the Apple store, explaining how they make the show. Some neat demos and examples of audio before and after "the Radio Lab treatment."
The Radio Lab secret to storytelling is simple: Make it musical.
February 2, 2009
Cut the Crap, Guys
Howard Weaver brings it:
People who wish some billionaire would endow newsrooms so they don't have to change -- you know who you are -- have the musty smell of the mausoleum all about them. They move through twilight, walking stiffly toward a setting sun. They will find no pot of gold there.
Yet the digitalistas who suggest those newsrooms can be readily duplicated or replaced act like willful children, unmindful that substance, craft and capacity matter in the real world, that no group of 10,000 monkeys has ever written Shakespeare, that 98 of the 100 most important pieces of public service journalism last year flowed from professionals in the newsrooms they recklessly disregard.
This is a fool's game. It's time for grown-ups to intervene, to end the debate and move beyond the empty calories of nostalgia and the masturbatory fantasies of a theory-based future. A long-deceased, much missed colleague often referred to people with mature judgment and a steady hand by saying, "She knows where babies come from." Those are the folks we need on the case now.
Really, what else is there to say? Howard's style here reminds me of Ezra Pound at his caustic, humanistic best. And yes, that's a compliment.
January 26, 2009
Where's My Virtual Baghdad?
This is fun: I was a guest on the IFC Media Project mini-series. The episode I was in (about the future of news, natch) aired back in December, but sadly, no one cared about the series enough to pirate it.
But, I just got a DVD from Honest Engine, the production company behind the show, so here's a clip:
The vision is a bit facile, I know -- what makes the elf-and-orc games successful isn't their 3D-ness, really, but their intricately engineered systems of rewards. Even so, I will simultaneously a) admit that I don't really know how this kind of news product would work, and b) maintain that I really, really want it.
But hey, how about that color and background treatment? I am talking to you from inside an orb of pure thought!
January 25, 2009
The Places We Live
Striking photo project showing slums around the world. I know you probably feel like you have seen a "striking photo project showing slums around the world" before, but honestly, this one is better. Sharper, more human.
Argh, I wish I could deeplink -- trust me, you gotta skip intro, click on one of the cities, then click on one of the "household" icons. They lead to wonderful little 360-degree panoramas, each with wonderfully-translated narration. It's completely engrossing.
I totally just spent all my recommendation points on M. T. Anderson, I know... but this is really great, too.
January 20, 2009
A Day Too Big for Narrative
Ha! Alessandra Stanley does my work for me: This was a day best captured by image, not narrative, she says.
All the way from LIFE's breakthrough use of rich, stand-alone photography to TIME's avalanche of online galleries and (of course) the Big Picture, there's a rich tradition here. And the best of 'em aren't linear sequences that tell a story from start to finish; they're collections of contrasting moments that, together, deliver a gestalt.
Photo galleries have been one of my favorite ways to track the entire election, and I think there's truth to what Stanley says about today:
Anchors, compelled to say something, reached for trite metaphors and hyperbolic expressions of wonder ("Our secular version of a miracle," according to one CNN commentator) that didn't begin to match the reality unfolding live behind them. The best narration was wordless.
I'll extend that critique to printed commentary, as well. The flurry of op-eds over the weekend, all packed with world-historical language trying to Put It All In Perspective, fell flat. Just give me the image.
Not even Obama's speech -- which I liked -- could match the raw image of him, uh, delivering it. William Gavin, a former speechwriter for Nixon, said this over at the NYT (emphasis mine):
But the setting -- the first African-American standing there in the bright winter sunshine as our new president -- had an eloquence all its own. I think we will remember this occasion more for the man who gave it than for the words he said. He could have stood there for 20 minutes of silence and still communicated great things about America.
I claim the image for the Team Database. Your move, narrative.
File under: Journalism, Media Galaxy, Society/Culture
January 15, 2009
This is, honestly, what I love most about Current: social news on one end, duPont-winning international reporting on the other. You don't have to choose.
December 21, 2008
Portraits of Autoworkers
Terrific gallery from TIME. My impression: Wonderfully normal people working in the belly of a giant machine -- almost Matrix-like in some of these shots! -- that is slowly grinding to a halt around them.
December 11, 2008
My Awareness Modes
I started to post this on Newsless, but I think it might be more Snark-appropriate.
I'm trying to articulate some of the values and expectations I bring to my media consumption. I wonder whether my tendencies are typical, or how I might benefit from cultivating different values and expectations.
When I visit most local news sites, I have this sense that the editors of the site are trying to foster a sort of "ambient awareness." That is, there's not really an organizing purpose behind the information they provide. I suspect they don't typically expect me to do anything with this information, but they just thought I should be aware of it, or that I might find it interesting.
Although I care about Minneapolis, I don't really have a strong desire to be ambiently aware about it. Having very shallow information on a vast range of Minneapolis-related topics actually makes me a little crazy. I'm not sure if this makes me a bad citizen or an idiosyncratic news consumer or what. But it's a filter I find myself employing when I read a local news site.
There are many domains in which I value ambient awareness. I think that's what I get out of my New Yorker subscription, for example — not particularly deep knowledge on any given subject, but a sort of conversational familiarity with a well-curated variety of current affairs. I like to think of myself as ambiently aware of what's happening in things like video games and Web development and gay culture and Minneapolis arts.
But in the domain of local news, I seem to value information that makes me "functionally aware" — that might actually affect my behavior or circumstances. So I'd pass over a headline like "City likely to OK $5.3M for Target Center green roof", but "Paperless boarding passes coming to MSP" interests me.
Besides local news, I seek functional awareness in a few more specific contexts, such as Web design and health and nutrition. I read publications on those topics that keep me informed of products or practices or developments that might affect me.
And then there are a select few topics on which I'm looking for what I might call "expert awareness." Online journalism, for example. And at this level, communities, not publications, are my highest priority.
I think my tendencies might be unique in several regards, but I wonder how many folks are like me. Is there a generational thrust to this sort of thing? And if everyone were like me, how would we draw attention to boring-but-important stories?
December 10, 2008
I love the word "sportswriter." No need for a hyphen (like "letter-writer"), or dressing up the word "write" by writing as "graph" instead ("biographer," "pornographer") or the suffix "-er" with "-ist" or "-ian." "Sportswriter" keeps close company with "screenwriter," "typewriter," and "underwriter," and a wall separates it from "playwright" and "author."
But at the same time, nobody writes with more authority than a sportswriter -- if you don't act like you're pope of the game, nobody takes you seriously -- in part because every serious fan has their own equally infallible proclamations to make about the game, the value of players, coaches' decisions.
And the syntax makes it seem as though "sports" is what's written, not the thing written about; a parallel universe brought into being by the talk about the game, the recording of statistics, and the narratives of players, seasons, teams, the sport itself.
Sportswriters were the first writers I was aware of who actually got paid for writing down what they thought. In particular, it was Mitch Albom -- who before becoming a schmalzy best-selling novelist was a funny, knowledgable columnist whose super-cool photo in the Free Press fascinated me as a kid.
I am a paperwriter, a bookwriter, a blogwriter, a poemwriter. But secretly, I wish I could do all of these things the way a good sportswriter does them; following my object of affection around the country, hashing out opinions and arguments through daily viva voce argument -- in print, on the web, on the radio, on TV.
What if our attachment to all of culture was like our attachment to sports -- democratic, celebrating knowledge, unwavering in its fidelity? There are plenty of things that are deeply unhealthy about our sports-obsessed culture (cf. Burress, Plaxico, et. al.) -- but I still feel like the ideal of sportswriting is as salutary as it is unshakable.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Journalism, Society/Culture, Sports
November 29, 2008
The Explanatory Power of Images
The Big Picture's new post is about Mumbai. I have to say: I understand it better having looked at these. More and more I'm starting to think the future of journalism is more images, more images, more images. Not just images -- never just images -- but honestly, I've read a lot of articles about Mumbai over the last three days and words are just not capable of communicating some parts of this story -- of any story.
However, fair warning: I did not click the black boxes. You're on your own with those.
November 19, 2008
Listening for Tension
[Gross] avoids the common pitfall of highbrow public broadcasting-style interviewers: giving in to the temptation to show off how much she knows and how smart she is in the set-up to the questions.
What she does instead, and what she shows brilliantly in this interview [with William Ayers], is: she listens, and she thinks. In my experience, 99% of the difference between a good interviewer (or a good panel moderator) and a bad one lies in what that person is doing while the interviewee talks. If the interviewer is mainly using that time to move down to the next item on the question list, the result will be terrible. But if the interviewer is listening, then he or she is in position to pick up leads ("Now, that's an intriguing idea, tell us more about..."), to look for interesting tensions ("You used to say X, but now it sounds like..."), to sum up and give shape to what the subject has said ("It sounds as if you're suggesting..."). And, having paid the interviewee the respect of actually listening to the comments, the interviewer is also positioned to ask truly tough questions without having to bluster or insult.
If you have this standard in mind -- is the interviewer really listening? and thinking? -- you will be shocked to see how rarely broadcast and on-stage figures do very much of either. But listen to this session by Gross to see how the thing should be done.
Gross's Fresh Air interview with Ayers is here.
September 19, 2008
Note 1: Robin very subtly outed me early last week, but I needed a little while to get my groove on before announcing myself: I'm augmenting my blogging here with a blog about journalism, which will contain the insights and discoveries I encounter while doing a year-long research fellowship at the new Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. I'll probably cross-post this over there, but I needed some of the brilliance of the Snarkmarket hive mind to help shape my thoughts on what follows. You'll find a little background for this post here.
Note 2: What follows is an attempt to thread several very obvious lines of reasoning together into something possibly slightly novel. Not at all assured of success, so consider this a preemptive apology.
I've often heard expressed a lamentation for the disappearance of a news commons. When we all no longer look to oracular information sources like Walter Cronkite and the New York Times, the thinking goes, we stand in danger of retreating into our narrow ideological corners. Under this model, the front pages of a daily general-interest newspaper form the foundation for civic dialogue.
In an intriguing paper, Indiana University professor Mark Deuze reminds us that this notion of a news commons was not presented hand-in-hand with the idea of democracy. Until recently, newspapers were constrained into having one front page for everybody. Over time, we've come to view this constraint as a feature, not a bug.
Under the news commons model, we aim for our citizens to come to the voting booth (or the city council meeting or the church supper) armed with the same information from a few reliable sources. So democracy means weighing our common set of facts against our diverse values, and reaching a conclusion respected by all. Cf. David Mindich, so you don't think I'm beating at straw men:
"One of the most powerful things about journalism itself is that it can communicate to a large audience and then we can have discussions about facts and where the facts bring us; but if we no longer are paying attention, then the facts don’t have the same weight. In the absence of fact opinion becomes more powerful. It’s not only the journalists themselves; it’s the culture apart from the news that has abandoned political discourse based on commonly agreed upon facts."... Read more ....
August 25, 2008
Matt Bai Talks Up The Argument
August 12, 2008
What the news media often neglect in their coverage of the candidates is attention to their underlying governing philosophies. I think these provide a much more accurate guide to their behavior in office than their tendency to make shifts on small-bore, particular issues.
For all the media hullabaloo around "flip-flopping" in the Bush/Kerry election, we would have had a much keener idea of President Bush's flavor of governance had the media focused our attention on the core philosophies animating his team of advisers. Bush's reliance on and deference to those advisers, their belief in the unitary executive, their dogged insistence on loyalty über alles, their neoconservative interventionism -- all of these things could have been foreseen from what we knew in the run-up to the 2000 election. And it's those facts that would have given us a much, much clearer picture of how the Bush administration would administer its departments, how it would respond to events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, a housing bust, etc.
Just take a look at one of Bush's most-cited statements since 2001, presaged in this January 2000 profile of Karl Rove by Frank Bruni: "'Anybody who gets in the way of his ambitions for the governor gets run off,' said Tom Pauken, a former chairman of the Republican Party in Texas. 'And if you're not with Karl 100 percent, you're an enemy.'"
I want to hear much, much less about flip-flops. Off-shore drilling, for all the ink given to it in the past two weeks, is an infinitesimal mote in the array of decisions and compromises #44 will have to navigate. Don't tell me what minor issues a candidate has shifted positions on, tell me what core philosophies the candidate has been consistent about, what common threads of thought weave through his speeches, his actions, and the minds of his advisers. That will give me a much clearer sense of how he'll govern.
July 25, 2008
The Survival of Investigative Journalism
July 7, 2008
What do we look like?
Electorally, like this.
Linguistically, like this. (It's not red vs. blue America, folks. It's pop vs. soda America. [Coke is another country.])
(Got the religion link from the just-relaunched Interactive Narratives. Aaand there goes the evening.)
Update: I pointed to the wrong version of the religion link! Click it again -- it's even crazier now.
June 19, 2008
The State of Investigative Journalism
This strikes me as a well-informed interview with Charles Lewis, "the godfather of non-profit investigative journalism," on efforts to support the form. My favorite nugget, and the one highlighted on other sites that link to this interview, is that Lewis is modeling his new endeavor on the Children's Television Workshop:
"I use the name 'Workshop' because I was always fascinated with the Children’s Television Workshop, which of course incubated Big Bird and 'Sesame Street' and other programming," he said. "I’d like to spawn new models and new entities and make it a friendly atmosphere for entrepreneurialsm — for non-profits, for-profits and hybrids of both. That’s an unusual dimension to this."
June 17, 2008
1. The flooding in the Midwest has been nuts.
2. No better way to experience its nuts-ness than Boston.com's The Big Picture. Just look at those photos! Wow.
June 15, 2008
The Music of News
In one of the many Tim Russert reminiscences circulating this weekend, Isaac Chotiner mentioned the grandiose theme music of Meet the Press, which has always been one of my favorite parts of the show. Naturally, this sent me spiraling deep into the Googleverse, where I was delighted to discover a GeoCities (!) site entitled "Network news music," containing the full themes of network news shows as they evolved over the years.
On the page for NBC, you'll find two versions of the theme for Meet the Press -- movement IV of a symphony entitled "The Mission," which NBC News commissioned from John Williams; the movement is called "The Pulse of Events." Movement I of "The Mission" opens the NBC Nightly News, and the third movement opened the Today Show for several years. Having grown up listening to many of these themes, it's a revelation to hear the motifs that reverberate through all of them when you play them in sequence.
It's finds like these that remind me how much I love the Web.
See also: this analysis of network news music from Slate.
June 13, 2008
Beyond the Law
For more than six years, the United States has held hundreds of men at Guantanamo — "the worst of the worst," in the words of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But the truth was different. McClatchy tracked down 66 men released from Guantanamo in the most systematic survey to date of prisoners held there. Many had no connection to terrorism, but their experience turned them against America.This sounds like it builds on the work done in the masterful This American Life segment "Habeas Schmabeus," which won a 2006 Peabody Award. (And also brought me close to tears. This American Life has done an incredible job of portraying the tragedy of wrongful imprisonment. The episode "Perfect Evidence" just wrecked me.)
June 11, 2008
For all the television news coverage, Americans have the slimmest sense of what the war actually feels and looks like—crumbling deserts, blasted buildings, angry crowds, random firefights. The image of Iraq is flickering and formless. Each year of the war seems like the last, and the patrols and meetings with Iraqis that soldiers conduct every day don’t make for good television ratings. With the exception of Falluja, there have been no memorable battles. The mundane character of counterinsurgency, the fact that journalists have become targets, and the media’s sheer lack of imagination have combined to make this most covered of modern wars one of the least vivid. Iraq is more remote in our consciousness than Vietnam ever was. It has been strangely difficult for Americans even to picture the place. I’ve been asked more times than I can remember, “What does it look like over there?” If you think of World War II or Vietnam, a dozen photographs immediately come to mind. But Iraq has not been a photographer’s war. What are its iconic images? Digital snapshots by military policemen in Abu Ghraib, footage of beheadings posted by jihadis on the Web. There was no shortage of superb photographers taking extraordinary risks in Iraq, and perhaps time will sort from their work a handful of images that will define this war in the same way that, for example, Robert Capa’s photographs of Omaha Beach and Nick Ut’s of children fleeing napalm defined earlier ones. But almost five years into this war, there is only blank space where America’s picture of Iraq should be.
June 7, 2008
Newspaper Eulogy: A Footnote
So to sum up the session, five people from Newspaperland spent an hour in somewhat gross adulation of The Newspaper. They each began their remarks with an earnest tale of how they became swept up in the newspaper biz, and concluded by bemoaning the misfortunes that have befallen their beloved industry. And then, goaded on by the moderator, each panelist discoursed at length on such thrilling topics as "Why everyone should give money to a newspaper" and "Why reporters should get paid more."
When we finally got to the question-and-answer part of the session, I asked, "What do we mean when we talk about 'saving The Newspaper'?" A newspaper is actually a collection of rather disparate things, I pointed out. And I inferred from the panelists' remarks that some of The Newspaper's contents seem more urgent candidates for salvation than others.... Read more ....
NCMR '08: Newspapers, not dead yet?
NCMR '08: New media, new models session
June 6, 2008
NCMR '08: Free speech session
April 30, 2008
Under Orders, Under Fire
Forgot where it was linked, but some blogger recently referred to a famous 1996 essay on the media by James Fallows that I had never read. The essay begins with a description of a public television broadcast called "Under Orders, Under Fire":
Most of the panelists were former soldiers talking about the ethical dilemmas of their work. The moderator was Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School, who moved from panelist to panelist asking increasingly difficult questions in the law school's famous Socratic style.Fascinating, right? Read the rest of the essay, but I got you one better. Turns out the episode (and the series it was a part of) is entirely available online.
During the first half of the show Ogletree made the soldiers squirm about ethical tangles on the battlefield. The man getting the roughest treatment was Frederick Downs, a writer who as a young Army lieutenant in Vietnam had lost his left arm in a mine explosion. ...
Then Ogletree turned to the two most famous members of the evening's panel, better known even than Westmoreland. These were two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings, of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace, of 60 Minutes and CBS.
Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading Jennings and his news crew got permission from the North Kosanese to enter their country and film behind the lines. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, he replied. Any reporter would—and in real wars reporters from his network often had.
But while Jennings and his crew were traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by U.S. and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly crossed the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst the Northern soldiers set up an ambush that would let them gun down the Americans and Southerners.
What would Jennings do? Would he tell his cameramen to "Roll tape!" as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to fire?
April 16, 2008
Somebody, Please Make Some News Tonight
For somebody who works in journalism, I really strongly dislike the American press sometimes. It boils over into out-and-out gall during Presidential elections, when news is scarce, and reporters start slavering after the musings of pundits like starved dogs. We find ourselves incapable of sustaining any significant focus on issues, or even stylistic distinctions between candidates that have real implications on how they will lead. Instead, we seed these manufactured clouds of perceptions and expectations over and over, hoping against hope to produce a storm. And if we should happen upon a gaffe or a gotcha moment, we actually praise the gods and we feast.
Bittergate, day six.... Read more ....
February 22, 2008
Yo! I'm at the Computational Journalism conference at Georgia Tech. So far it is awesome.
I'm going to attempt to liveblog with a new tool I just learned about here -- it's past the jump.
Today: Andrew Haeg from MPR's Public Insight Journalism program is blowing my mind. The work they do isn't massive in scale, but it's exactly right: They're building a database of citizen expertise over time, and they can query it in lots of interesting ways. It's a complete reinvention of sourcing. It's not only electronic, either: They often bridge the gap and bring members of their database together in the physical world.
Something else: Just heard a great analogy: Wally Dean from the Committee of Concerned Journalists recounts the introduction of Doppler radar in local news stations. It was a grafting of (then very new) technology into newsrooms that was hugely successful. What's the next Doppler radar? What's the next bit of technology we can use inventively in the context of news? (Especially, perhaps, local news?)... Read more ....
February 14, 2008
Rex continues his recent run of awesome, kinda-sorta-long-form original content: Here's a nuanced interview with Adrian Holovaty about EveryBlock. (Matt, note the mention of machine-readable metadata for "news blobs"! EPICBlock, yo!)
February 9, 2008
The Forbidden Fantasy of Utter Upeaval
This WaPo story by Hank Stuever is terrific, and weird, and a good example of that ripped-from-its-context thing the web does so well: I started reading it and had no idea what was going on. You'll see what I mean.
Even when do you figure out what you're reading, it never quite becomes normal. The story is totally fractured, almost impressionist -- but to good effect. Steuver is a terrific writer, and his subject matter is sublime: American culture as it's experienced in places other than New York and San Francisco. His book Off Ramp is terrific, and its subtitle says it all: "Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere."
January 23, 2008
Adrian, Wilson and co. have launched Everyblock, a mashup of several information sources down to the block level for different cities (currently Chicago, New York and San Francisco). The site is very pretty, especially the maps, and as you would expect, there's fun data hidden beneath every click. But it's otherwise hard for me to evaluate how cool it is, since I don't live in any of the included cities. How about it, residents?
Update: One surprise ... no RSS feeds? (Except this one.)
January 22, 2008
The Atlantic Rides Again
The Atlantic, favorite magazine of my middle youth, was kinda lame for a while there, but it's been getting good again -- a fact that had been bumming me out because, of course, I couldn't link to the subscriber-only stories.
So let us celebrate the magazine's resurgence and web-savvy with a couple of pointers:
- The new James Fallows piece on China is exactly what got me into the Atlantic in the first place: Themes of politics and economics, hugely abstract ideas, giant global actors and their dilemmas, etc. I love it that there's none of the usual attempt to concrete-ize and personalize here: No narrative intro with a factory worker in China, for instance. The only narrative in the piece involves the voyage of a U.S. dollar to China and back. I could not love it more.
- Caitlin Flanagan's piece about Katie Couric was the last one I read in this issue, and I almost didn't read it at all. Thank goodness my train was slow, because it was a revelation, in large part because it's as much about Caitlin Flanagan as it is about Katie Couric. Beautifully written, too: Flanagan is a great storyteller and has perfect "tone control," if you know what I mean.
January 10, 2008
Inside the Black Box
The best thing about it only being January 10 is that I can say, without reservation, that this is the best thing I've read all year: n+1's interview with a hedge fund manager. It includes a useful window into a little-known, but super-interesting, component of modern markets: quantitative trading driven by computer programs!
n+1: And so the computers themselves are making these trades?
HFM: You build the models and the computer does the trading. You actually do all the analysis. But it’s too many stocks for a human brain to handle, so it’s really just guys with a lot of physics and hardcore statistics backgrounds who come up with ideas about models that might lead to excess return and then they test them and then basically all these models get incorporated into a bigger system that trades stocks in an automated way.
n+1: So the computers are running the...
HFM: Yeah, the computer is sending out the orders and doing the trading.
n+1: It’s just a couple steps from that to the computers enslaving --
HFM: Yes, but I for one welcome our computer trading masters.
People actually call it "black box trading," because sometimes you don’t even know why the black box is doing what it's doing, because the whole idea is that if you could, you should be doing it yourself. But it's something that's done on such a big scale, a universe of several thousand stocks, that a human brain can’t do it in real time. The problem is that the DNA of a lot of these models is very, very similar, it's like an ecosystem with no biodiversity because most of the people who do stat-arb can trace their lineage, their intellectual lineage, back to four or five guys who really started the whole black box trading discipline in the '70s and '80s.
If you read on from that point in the article you'll learn about "ten-sigma events" -- if that doesn't sound like something from a dystopian anime series, I don't know what does.
There's also some really great discussion -- and explication -- of the whole sub-prime thing. It's long, but the conversational style makes it pretty digestible.
(Thanks to PoN for the link.)
January 8, 2008
Pundits: The Eyeball Monster
There's a giant eyeball monster in Super Paper Mario that tracks you in every direction as you move around a room and shoots laser beams at you. To defeat it, Mario has to flip into 3D mode and run around and around it until it tries to shoot, gets confused, and implodes.
Eyeball monster = media pundits. Mario = '08 Presidential candidates. It's fun to watch.
November 1, 2007
Bernanke and the Fed
Absolutely terrific piece of financial journalism by Greg Ip in the WSJ. He renders the Fed and its work as it truly is: super-interesting, super-important... and dramatic!
October 27, 2007
The Lost Columnist
So, this Washington Monthly piece is nowhere near as glib as its title makes it seem: Why Is Bob Herbert Boring?
In fact it turns out to be a sophisticated, sensitive exploration of the paradox of NYT columnist Bob Herbert (and, by extension: informative, well-meaning journalism in general): This is important stuff. It's largely correct. Why doesn't it... grab me?
It's a good reminder for journalists of all stripes, and maybe bloggers, too: You have to do more than just report and present. Truth and clarity, difficult as they are to achieve on their own, aren't enough.
Ya gotta have style, too.
October 24, 2007
Current citizen journalism covers the fires in Southern California.
October 22, 2007
His status was solidified after the 2004 election at a steakhouse dinner in Miami with Mr. Drudge, who for all his renown in politics is a somewhat spectral presence who rarely agrees to meet with political operatives or journalists and who did not respond to requests for an interview for this article.
"Spectral presence"! Somehow that just bowled me over.
And, somewhat more seriously, wow:
The Democrats have come to believe, Mr. Dyke said, what Republicans have always thought: “No single person is more relevant to shaping the media environment in a political campaign.”
This, from a webpage still rocking a 1994-era design. Pretty amazing.
October 19, 2007
We have talked about cities lots (!) here on Snarkmarket. Now two of my favorite Current colleagues, Darren Foster and Mariana van Zeller, are doing a pod about our planet's urban future. Chime in if you've got thoughts. Open-source TV production whaaat!
(P.S. I know I know, it's all Current links all of a sudden. I'll backfill with nerdy journal articles as soon as I have time to dig back into Bloglines, promise.)
September 30, 2007
You've got to give it a listen if you haven't already. Immediately, you'll hear a huge difference from the boring march of words that characterizes every other radio show, ever. On Radio Lab, the words and sonic interjections are fragmented, tiled, cross-cut, layered. There's just so much more to absorb; it lights your brain up. Radio Lab is DENSE.
This is how all explanatory media should feel. We're ready for it.
P.S. I don't want to focus entirely on the meta-method stuff, though, 'cause the ideas and the reporting are also sublime. This is a must-listen.
September 24, 2007
Enjoyed this NYT slideshow about Mumbai. Want to visit. Bad.
September 19, 2007
Look On My Works, Ye Mighty
If you weren't paying attention, Kottke's begun excavating the archival treats freed by the demise of TimesSelect.
August 25, 2007
The NYT's Chang W. Lee in China. Bump it up to full screen and just watch. What a brilliant piece of journalism.
August 22, 2007
A Database of Facts
Great power can flow from default reference link status; think Wikipedia, IMDB, etc. Can PolitiFact achieve default reference link status for political claims? Would be very cool if it did. Snarkmarket will assist with link love whenever possible.
As an aside: It's totally rad to see the St. Pete Times stepping up in a national way like this. More, more!
August 7, 2007
The Attention Deficit: The Need for Timeless Journalism
In Romenesko Letters today, Gordon Trowbridge makes a very good point about the coverage before the collapse of 35W: the press did see this one coming. Over the past several years, newspapers have published a number of prominent investigative stories on bridge/highway deficiencies. My own paper published a front-page story in 2001 headlined "A bridge too far gone? Repairs overdue on many spans." An excerpt:
Bridge work is getting increasingly expensive as a bubble of structures built after World War II are wearing out and requiring major renovation or replacement during the next 20 years. [The 35-W bridge was built in 1967.]... Read more ....
And some state highway officials warn that Minnesota isn't keeping up.
August 4, 2007
Favorite Voices, New Mediums
Hendrik Hertzberg has a blog and the first word, against all odds, is: "Bam."
August 3, 2007
Breaking News on Wikipedia
Someone pointed out today that Wikipedia has, very quietly, become an excellent synthesizer of big breaking news stories. For instance: the I-35 collapse.
July 30, 2007
With Great Power Comes...
James Fallows on two-tiered stock structure in media ownership:
The only justification for "Class B" shares giving special voting power to the Sulzberger family at the Times, the Graham family at the Post, and the Bancroft family at the Journal is the assumption that the families will weigh other factors in deciding how the news operation should be run.
That is: other potentially non-economic factors.
Of course, Class B shares aren't just an old-school thing. Guess which other company uses them to give super-votes -- and, potentially, the power to defy the market -- to founders and top executives?
July 16, 2007
Prisoner of Conscience
Snarkmarket favorite Rachel Leow reports on the politically-motivated imprisonment of a Malaysian blogger:
Nathaniel Tan, a prominent political blogger, activist and staff member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) was detained incommunicado and was not given any grounds for his arrest, according to Malaysiakini. He was detained by three plainclothed policemen at 4:30 p.m. on 13 July in his office at Phileo Damansara.
According to Malaysiakini, police seized Nat's laptop, CDs, personal computer, and oddly enough, his computer monitor.
Ng Eng Kiat, a colleague and part-time journalist who had been present at the time of arrest, said police had not given a clear reason for Nat's arrest. Even when asked directly, the policemen had assured them that it was not an arrest. They "hanya nak siasat sedikit" (just wanted to chat). Upon complying, however, Nat was, as Jeff Ooi dryly puts it, "spirited away" (that is to say, categorically not arrested).
Tan is still in custody. It's interesting to see an earlier version of the story on Rachel's blog -- in some ways I prefer it.
Because I cannot resist going meta on these things: I like Rachel's work on this a lot because it is citizen journalism in a deeper than usual sense -- not just snapshots from a scene, mutely presented, but a smart, independent analysis of an important story in a situation where the pro media, such as it is, just isn't cutting it.
See also (though less urgently): Off the Bus.
Incidentally: I am reminded of my days writing letters in MSU's chapter of Amnesty International. It's been a while since I checked in with Amnesty... I wonder if they are doing anything new or Web 2.0-y?
July 15, 2007
The Rule of Reason
Bill Moyers talks to Bruce Fein, a lawyer, and John Nichols, a journalist, about impeachment. Every time Moyers puts something on air it reminds me what "discourse" is actually supposed to look like.
If you didn't see it, the first episode of his new show, about the lead-up to the Iraq war, is gut-wrenching. It's all stuff you know and remember, of course, but it's still pretty terrible to see it all laid out so starkly.
June 19, 2007
The Assassin's Blog
Leila Fadel is McClatchy's bureau chief in Baghdad; her blog is riveting. I'd tuned out a lot of the news out of Iraq 'til I subscribed.
I almost want to put some tag on it, though, like NSFW, except somehow warning you how just utterly harrowing and beyond the pale it is:
Back at the office the reports started to come in. Five Sunni mosques attacked in Basra, three set on fire or bombed in Baghdad, three south of Baghdad. Muted compared to last years attacks. I sent everyone home before the three-day-curfew began, save two of our guys.
Sahar, one of our Iraqi reporters, called and told me about a woman in Adhamiya. Her husband, her protector, could not get home before the curfew started. As darkness fell upon Baghdad the cancer-ridden woman shook with fear, her three children around her, as mortars fell nearby. She would be alone tonight and two more nights.
I called downstairs for stress-relievers -- chocolate and coffee. One of my favorite hotel staffers brought them up from the cafeteria.
"What do you think about this?" I asked.
"Just drop two nuclear bombs on us and finish this," Dhia said wiping his hands together as if to wash his hands of Iraq.
"But we'd die," I replied.
"So what. I just want to finish from this," he said. With a sad laugh he walked away toting his metal tray.
Here's Fadel's intro to the blog.
June 7, 2007
Families and Their Food
The best part of TIME's website is the photo essays, hands-down. Here's a new one: portraits of families around the world, along with the food they eat. They're by Peter Menzel -- they're from his book -- and they're beautiful.
Via the excellent Eyeteeth.
P.S. For some reason I was particularly charmed by the Melander family of Bargteheide.
May 26, 2007
Gray Lady Gaming
All right. All right. I think I might finally have to break down and get TimesSelect. The NYT is running Flash games as editorials.
(Actually, I think it's a huge mistake to put these games -- especially the first few! -- behind the pay wall. They are viral material. So maybe capitulation would send the wrong signal?)
April 30, 2007
Talking Points TV
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is doing a videoblog. It's pretty lo-fi, but I like it, especially because I totally cannot keep up with TPM for the life of me -- just way too much detail -- and this provides a nice distillation. Worth a peek.
April 29, 2007
The Atlantic Rides Again
The Atlantic Monthly, along with Wired, was basically my introduction to the awesome interestingness of the world. So I am happy to see it making some smart new moves on the web:
April 18, 2007
Virginia Tech, and Taking Control of Your Representation
A Virginia Tech student named Jason Piatt just looks into his webcam and talks:
I guess the internet's a pretty powerful thing... I didn't realize how many people are really on Facebook and MySpace and all that, but all day long people have been sending me emails, messages, and everything... "I wanna do this interview, I wanna do this interview."
At first it was kinda exciting because I felt like people really care about what I have to say out there... I'm doing somebody some good, I'm making a difference. And then after a while I realized, like, no matter how many times I told the same story, that I just told you... people still wanted to hear it.
And I would tell 'em, I'd say, I don't have anything, you watch CNN right? You see these other things... that's all I got.
Fix an image of the standard cable news presentation in your mind -- helicopter shot, yammering voices, text crawl -- and then watch this. It's riveting.
Update: This is on Current TV now. Here's the broadcast version (a little tighter).
Related: This Ypulse post is fascinating. A Facebook group created as a memorial to one of the VA Tech victims leads with this warning:
**ATTENTION NEWS MEDIA**
NEWS MEDIA DO NOT have permission to use photographs, quotes, or any information from the site, AND you do not have permission to contact group members.
Wow. There's something important going on here.
February 24, 2007
The Wisdom... or Something... of Crowds
An interesting thing happened at Jim Romenesko's Starbucks Gossip site recently: Somebody slipped Romenesko what appeared to be an internal email from Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz. Romenesko posted it, with the caveat: I have no idea if this is real.
Soon after, its legitimacy was confirmed, and now it's been covered by the big guys. (It's actually a pretty interesting story -- Schultz is warning that Starbucks has lost its way.)
But before that happened, Starbucks Gossip readers were hashing out the likely legitimacy of the email on their own. If you read some of the long comment thread, you get an awfully good snapshot of web-ified group discussion today: smart; informed (most of the commenters are Starbucks baristas!); opinionated; and, er, often wrong.
No specific conclusions from me (maybe you have some?) but I just thought it was a data point interesting enough to share.
February 8, 2007
Jonathan Lethem has plagiarized together an entrancing paean to intellectual theft:
Artists, or their heirs, who fall into the trap of attacking the collagists and satirists and digital samplers of their work are attacking the next generation of creators for the crime of being influenced, for the crime of responding with the same mixture of intoxication, resentment, lust, and glee that characterizes all artistic successors. By doing so they make the world smaller, betraying what seems to me the primary motivation for participating in the world of culture in the first place: to make the world larger.You might not agree with all of it, but boy howdy, is it a rollicking great read. Definitely do not miss the footnotes:
The effort of preserving another's distinctive phrases as I worked on this essay was sometimes beyond my capacities; this form of plagiarism was oddly hard work.
February 7, 2007
Now Let's Turn to Someone Much Younger
Steve Outing asked me about the future of news for a column in Editor and Publisher. Here's what I said:
"I think 'news' just becomes a less distinct category. You don't sit down with a newspaper, or even a news website, or even a super wireless e-paper device, for 10 minutes in the morning to very formally 'get your news.' Rather, you get all sorts of news and information -- from the personal to the professional to the political -- throughout the day, in little bits and bursts, via many different media. With any luck, in 5-10 years the word 'news' will be sort of confusing: Don't you just mean 'life'?"
Honestly though, the idea that I'm most excited about...
Sloan elaborates: "A key point is that news will continue to be delivered on many media -- websites, blogs, TV, phones, pamphlet-y things, those little java jackets they have at coffee shops, whatever. It's not about everything going digital and never seeing a molecule of real matter again. But it IS about the death of the monolithic news experience."
...is the Starbucks News Service!
You think I'm kidding, but I'm not!
January 26, 2007
My Current colleague Mitch Koss has some amazing notes on Afghanistan up over on the Current blog.
P.S. An updated Current home page launched today -- it's dope.
January 9, 2007
Real Citizen Journalism
One depressing feature of the internet today is that there is exponentially more meta-commentary about the promise and potential of citizen journalism than there is actual, you know, citizen journalism. At least if you parse 'journalism' in any remotely traditional sense: fact-based, disinterested reporting.
One amazing exception is the Press Institute for Women in the Developing World. It's a small non-profit founded by Cristi Hegranes, who was a summer fellow at Poynter and a reporter at SF Weekly before jumping ship to start her own thing.
Her background shows: The Press Institute distinguishes itself from other citizen-journalism ventures in that it mixes an egalitarian, grassroots spirit with an unusual dedication to the core values of journalism. The starting point of her organization's work is training: The Press Institute takes citizens and makes them journalists.
You can see the result on PIWDW's site. A pilot program in Mexico is up and running, with citizen journalists there writing stories every month. (Check 'em out at the top of this page -- what a great group!)
A new program is slated to start in Nepal in March.
(Full disclosure: I am on PIWDW's Board of Directors. I am also president of the Cristi Hegranes Fan Club.)
January 4, 2007
The Question Is Posed
December 26, 2006
Boxing Day Surprise
December 25, 2006
The Intelligence Pyramid
I think of knowledge as a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid is data; the next layer of the pyramid is information; the next layer of the pyramid is intelligence; and the top of the pyramid is wisdom. I like to tell my clients that we’re in the business of giving them intelligence and wisdom, and if they want to collect data, or if they want to collect information and process it themselves, that’s their business.Of course, this pyramid is hardly Underhill's invention, but I like that he specializes. I'd swap "knowledge" with "intelligence," as I have. Totally an aesthetic thing, I just think "intelligence" is a word more suited to apply to the whole structure. Pure data can be characterized, in the CIA sense, as "intelligence," while "knowledge" is a trickier fit. I like this explanation of the four concepts.
I'd say journalism suffers from not articulating these concepts as decisively as Underhill does. When asked what we're "in the business of" giving to folks, most journalists would probably shrug and say, "Journalism." Which is absolutely not a separate plank on the intelligence pyramid, our overinflated egos notwithstanding. (Some would answer "stories," which I think is a less-than-artful way of dodging the question.) If you squint your eyes a little bit, you could might imagine journalism's version of this pyramid as Underhill's version, split into two halves -- the "objective" half (data and information), and the "subjective" half (knowledge and wisdom). Squint a little bit more, and you might even see how these concepts form your average newspaper -- data and information being the substance of the reporting and presenting process, and knowledge and wisdom being fodder for news analyses, commentaries and editorials.
But I've seen reporters recoil at the notion that the foundation for all their work is gathering data. And while most journalists seem to be content with providing mere "information" for a time, 90% of them seem to harbor secret ambitions to impart "wisdom." It would be worth saying, I think, that actually gathering data is a noble end in itself, as is providing information. It would also be worth giving more journalists access throughout their careers to the fields of knowledge- and wisdom-dispensing. (I.e. Rather more clear subjectivity added to the "objectivity" soup.)
File under: Journalism, Society/Culture
December 4, 2006
A Story, a Lost Pet, a Garage Sale, an Event
I kind of love the submission taxonomy presented on Pegasus News's neighborhood pages. Yo, that's what it's all about.
November 20, 2006
Kill Me Now
Michael Hirschorn leads his whither-newspapers story with EPIC. And this is, honestly, one of the best lines written about it, ever:
As a piece of pop futurism, EPIC 2014 is both brilliant and brilliantly self-subverting (at once inevitable and preposterous).
Oh yeah, by the way, IT'S IN THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
November 9, 2006
Frontline Does Kiva
You know I love Kiva; now there's a mini-doc about it posted on Frontline World. The piece has a great opening sequence, cross-cutting between a Ugandan with a peanut butter business and a San Franciscan with, um, a nice kitchen.
November 8, 2006
The Wit and Wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld
This is a pretty snarky photo essay for TIME! Familiar with the meme, of course, but have never seen it so well-executed.
Slide four sorta sums it all up, doesn't it?
October 11, 2006
Was Media Ever About Content?
An old colleague at Poynter used to hate it when people used the words "media" and "news" interchangeably. Not the same thing, he'd say. News means standards, values, a mission; media just means... eyeballs.
Who are the next media moguls and to whom do they have to sell their souls for the priviledge? The $165 billion question left unanswered by this deal is: What is media anymore? Can you just slap videos up on the Web and become a younger and more vibrant Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone?
And then Karp adds:
Does media have anything to do with content anymore, or is it all about aggregating people's attention by any means? Was media ever really about content?
I can't say I fully understand it, but I feel like this might be an interesting and illusion-piercing insight.
Lately, Al Gore likes to use the word "thrall" when talking about climate change. For example:
Our biggest challenge, our biggest foe, is thrall. The word sounds ancient, but it means anything that imprisons our thinking and prevents us from seeing the reality of our situation.
And I wonder if there aren't some ideas about media, content, and journalism that we are still in thrall to, and haven't realized it yet...
(The dots mean I don't know what they are either, not that I do and am not telling you.)
October 4, 2006
Daily Show vs. Broadcast News?
Which has more substantive political coverage?
September 27, 2006
Law & Order: Special Ethics Unit
Oh man, this is hot: Joe Strupp profiles our Poynter peeps (Kelly McBride, Bob Steele, Kenny Irby and more) and dubs them the "Special Ethics Unit." Like Poynter itself, the whole thing unapologetically mixes the super-serious and the somewhat silly:
Steele's colleagues at Poynter understand that because ethical questions can pop up suddenly, often at inconvenient hours, they'll continue to be called on at odd times to provide help to journalists. Kelly McBride, for example, is realistic about the on-call nature of her job.
Many such tales abound, often involving her children in tow. "I remember standing in Target shopping for a birthday present with one of my daughter's friends and doing a consultation on the coverage surrounding [rape accusations against] Kobe Bryant," says the mother of three. "I was a little self-conscious."
So, so cool!
September 15, 2006
The newsletter very diligently ignores the conventional wisdom and consensus news judgment; its story choice is almost brazen in its divergence from the AP/NYT agenda.
Pretty great preamble to their mission statement, too:
News is personal. We think it always was.
Lately, though, that conviction has been lost in a sea of impersonal, politically correct news sources that have volume, but no point of view or larger context. We miss finding smart connections between front-page stories and the important -- but often neglected -- ones. Meanwhile, links to "1,339 related" articles on massive news sites don't activate your mind, but rather, overload it.
I think that last line is actually quite profound. Mega-scale algorithms are great for searching, but horrible for meaning.
September 11, 2006
The Art of Verification
This is, by a wide margin, the coolest use of EPIC I have yet seen: A professor at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Pennsylvania sets it up as the subject of an exercise in critical media consumption and information verification. Nice use of a wiki, too. Note the contribution of student sleuth Jennifer Jones midway down.
September 1, 2006
We've Been Liveblogged
August 29, 2006
Buy This Book
Okay I'm biased. I used to work at the Poynter Institute, where Roy Peter Clark hangs his hat, and I learned lots from him. Much of it was stuff that's now encoded in this book, actually. But even so, I am so glad to have it all in one place. Even better, the volume is a wonder to behold: simple, slim, elegant.
And, you know, I can tell just from the feel of it that this is the kind of book that will age like good leather shoes: One day it will be totally worn out and beaten up from overuse, but somehow handsomer for it.
Dude, I have a question though -- even when you're Roy Peter Clark, how do you score blurbs from Mark Bowden, Sister Helen Prejean, Eugene Patterson, Howell Raines, Tom French, and David Von Drehle?
Indeed, Von Drehle writes: "Roy is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of writing teachers..." Just for the record, if one of his Snarkmarket students is Anakin Skywalker (i.e. initially promising but ultimately a force for total evil) it is definitely Matt.
August 22, 2006
This Blogpost Automatically Generated in 0.03 Seconds
Thomson and Reuters run stories written by computers! COMPUTERS I say! Will Sullivan with the deets and the awesomely appropriate frame-grab.
August 9, 2006
I was just checking out Google Video's new ad system and happened to click on this video, a Charlie Rose episode featuring Thomas Friedman.
And it struck me: This man is going to run for political office.
Maybe not soon, but some day. Just listen to the way he talks! And come on, he's rich!
When it happens, just remember: Snarkmarket called it.
August 3, 2006
August 1, 2006
My New Favorite Blog
OMG! Muckraking Mom! Raison d'etre:
I think there’s a need for a website exclusively devoted to muckraking moms -- moms who discover the political machinery behind the politics of our every day lives and expose it. Eventually, I hope this site will grow to include the contributions of a veritable army of muckraking moms, and dads too.
July 27, 2006
Lesson 2: The Proper Use of Plasma Grenades
Sooo, yeah, this is probably my favorite paragraph in any news story so far this year:
Gaming-lessons.com says its youngest "Halo 2" instructor is 8-year-old New Yorker Victor De Leon III -- better known by his online gamer name, Lil Poison -- who has given several lessons a month since late last year, fitting the classes in after he has done his homework. His father, also named Victor, says his son has used some of the money he earns from lessons (hourly rate: $25) to buy a hamster, named Cortana after a character in the game.
July 17, 2006
Evolution, Not Revolution
I believe the argument that Matt's McClatchy colleague Howard Weaver makes in this post can be generalized beyond the news business:
But our change will be more lasting and better constructed if we apply the time-tested lessons of evolution and eschew the flashier but less productive posture of revolution. As we apply lessons learned from the changing climate to adapt our sturdy, battle-hardened structures, we'll end up with operations that meet changed conditions without abandoning valuable lessons from our past.
He talks about punctuated equilibrium -- the theory that evolution is not the gradual, continuous process we sometimes imagine, but actually a really fast survival response to a changed environment (e.g. meteor strike, Google).
Personally I am waiting for the equilibrium of American government to get punctuated. Viva la evolution!
P.S. Howard also links to Amazon in a way I haven't seen before; it's pretty cool and probably more useful than the normal book listing page.
June 22, 2006
Summer in St. Pete
Poynter Summer Fellowship in effect!
June 8, 2006
The Press' New Paradigm
Ask any veteran reporter or editor what journalism looks (looked?) like when it was at its best, and chances are you'll get the same answer: Watergate. Our finest hour. Cynical, tough-minded, cigar-chewing editors have teared up at the sight of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford knocking on door after door, never giving up.
Woodward and Bernstein changed the game of journalism. Exposing cover-ups became the highest calling of the press. Since the fall of Nixon, reporters have dreamed of putting their byline on the story that told you what they didn't want you to know.
But Watergate also changed America, in ways that journalism hasn't evolved to handle. In the three-and-a-half decades since Woodstein's stories first began appearing in The Washington Post, while journalists have been busy honing their ability to uncover hidden information, the world has become a place where the scarcity of info isn't the biggest problem. Its proliferation is. And by and large, journalism organizations don't have the skills or tools to sort through all the data.
Whether journalists know it or not, we've entered a new paradigm while we've been clinging to our old ideals. Like Watergate, this paradigm is founded on a national scandal. Unlike Watergate, historians will judge our performance during this scandal to be a failure, not a success.
Welcome to the age of Enron.... Read more ....
June 5, 2006
Ambush in Iraq
WaPo journalist Nelson Hernandez, traveling with a convoy of water trucks in Iraq, gets ambushed by insurgents -- and gets it on tape. It's scary, in part because it's so chaotic and confusing. Definitely not a movie, and definitely not a video game. (Via.)
May 24, 2006
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Roy Peter Clark quotes James Carey in a remembrance on poynter.org:
"Listen: You don't feel well, so you go to see the psychiatrist. And the doctor listens to your story. And, if he's a good doctor, he's listening for the parts of the story that are making you feel sick. His job is then to help you tell a new story about yourself, especially one that will make you well. Newspapers are the same way. Journalists are telling each other stories about themselves that are making them sick. So the remedy is to tell a new story about journalism that will help make journalism healthy again."
May 15, 2006
Facebook Was Before My Time, Too
Holovaty rocks Missouri's j-school commencement! As you know, I am a huge fan of both Adrian and commencement speeches, so this is pretty much an excellent way to start the week.
Nice shout-out to the PR-flacks-to-be in the audience, too.
May 12, 2006
Public Editor #2
May 4, 2006
News sites have been all abuzz about the agreement by soft-drink distributors to pull fizzy lifting drinks out of schools. The AP article about this draws a nice observation from Fine Young Journalist:
Four reporters worked on the story. Six people are quoted, all of whom are either happy observers or proud of themselves. ... A very significant change in behaviour is about to be imposed on students. Yet nobody appears to have talked to a kid, or anybody who works in a school. One of the four journalists could have located a student council president or student newspaper editor or somebody.
May 1, 2006
The Outlaw Ombud
I have big love for the fact that Dan Okrent's book is titled "Public Editor #1":
I didn’t mention this in the book, but when I had my troubles with [business reporter David Cay] Johnston, one of the senior editors said to me, “There are three things you must understand about Johnston: He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, he’s a unique talent, and he’s an asshole.” I’m convinced that at least two of those are correct.
April 28, 2006
- Oh my God! They killed Nnenna! Bastards!
- Chris Daughtry's performance of "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" on American Idol this week was incredible. It a) made me not hate that song, and b) made me push Chris to the top of my favorites list, even ahead of my beloved Paris.
- Check it: Journerdism.com, from '05 Poynter summer fellow Will Sullivan.
- So you wanna blog? LaFry breaks it down.
- Why didn't anyone tell me Newsvine CEO Mike Davidson's blog is really awesome?
April 26, 2006
Someone on the Scene
Quite unintentionally, Ted Koppel explains the logic of citizen journalism:
If something happens in [a foreign country], I heard a former network news president say other day, we can always jet someone in. That is a profoundly telling statement. Instead of investing in someone on the scene who is familiar with the political and cultural landscape, who can give us all a sense of what's going to happen, and who can provide us with a sense of context when it does, news is being re-defined as "that which has happened most recently" and which may pique the interest of a particular demographic group.
I'm talking CJ-of-the-far-future, of course. We're not there yet, not by a long shot.
April 22, 2006
"... Experts say speed dating's popularity continues to rise. After seeing that clip featuring the hottie in the halter-top, something else is rising, too, heh-heh, if you catch my driftthat's right: interest rates. Today the Federal Reserve recommended they be upped by half a percent."
April 21, 2006
I Think I Dig This
Philips Electronics bought the first page of Time and four other magazines (space usually reserved for ads) and will put the mags' table of contents there. Taking off the journalistic umbrage hat for a moment, purely as a reader, I would love this. And the whole Philips "Simplicity" campaign is kind of genius.
April 5, 2006
and Treasure Just Blood
There's just sooo much wiggle room in prose -- even smart, sharp prose. More than enough for you to fill in some blanks and imagine the characters as you want them to be. Images and sounds are different; there's still wiggle room, of course, but not nearly as much.
What's interesting, though, is that wiggle room isn't always a bad thing: I found myself connecting with the wounded soldiers a lot more in the written stories. The other-ness of their gruesome injuries and their accents in the Flash pieces only made them seem more distant.
Bride of RomenRSSko
If you've been following my efforts to scrape together an RSS feed for the Romenesko sidebar, you might have thought I'd have either given up, learned regular expressions, or convinced Robin it was every bit as cool as Charlie Rose. Since the Wotzwot RSS tool I'd been using to make the feed introduced a couple ridiculous measures to prevent folks from ever using it, I've been without my Romenesko link-loggy goodness.
April 2, 2006
Go Gray Lady Go
Scope the hott NYT.com redesign. Very clean, in no way trendy.
I'm curious to see what they do with the section currently used to promo the new design; it's a pretty excellent piece of screen real estate.
Not sold on NYT video yet. Though I did watch three "Vows" segments last weekend. Um.
I am not sure I fully understand the import of Times Topics but it bodes well. News building upon itself to construct an ever-more-useful framework, vs. flapping silently away into the ether every morning... I vote yes.
Also: The promise fulfilled!
March 27, 2006
Michael Pollan and the Modern Hunt
March 12, 2006
State of the News Media 2006
March 10, 2006
What Is Journalism?
A post on MicroPersuasion this morning reminded me of something I ran across a few months ago I thought was amusing and revealing. It's the definition of "journalism," from the 2000 American Heritage Dictionary:
1. The collecting, writing, editing, and presenting of news or news articles in newspapers and magazines and in radio and television broadcasts.
2. Material written for publication in a newspaper or magazine or for broadcast.
3. The style of writing characteristic of material in newspapers and magazines, consisting of direct presentation of facts or occurrences with little attempt at analysis or interpretation.
4. Newspapers and magazines.
5. An academic course training students in journalism.
6. Written material of current interest or wide popular appeal.
March 9, 2006
Bah. Don't believe Joe Strupp. The South Dakota Argus Leader's "brave" resurrection of the wikitorial isn't a wiki at all. It's a plain old blog that allows moderated comments.
March 2, 2006
Le Média Citoyen
AgoraVox is a French citizen journalism site. It at least has the appearance of being somewhat hoppin'. There's also a newer English version. Related: I'm still not as jazzed about Newsvine as I feel like I ought to be.
February 23, 2006
Look Out, Blogosphere
Columbine-area teen in custody after MySpace.com posting showing guns. Best headline ever. It condenses almost all the over-hyped media youth-bashing of the last five years into one succinct line. If only the copy editor had thrown in some stuff about video games and goths.
Seriously, though, this is getting ridiculous. I was on a local radio show this morning being interviewed about MySpace. (Some might call me a media whore. I prefer to think of it as being democratic in my approach to granting interviews.) I did my best to cut through the hype and talk about how slightly modified versions of this exact same narrative have been circulating through the press forever. Poisoned Halloween candy. Dungeons 'n' Dragon cults. Grand Theft Auto. I'm guessing the number of these stories has increased since the arrival of the Internet, but I'm not even sure. As far back as I can tell, the overriding media narrative about youth has been, "Your children are in grave danger. Panic."
Yes, your children are in grave and perpetual danger. Welcome to existence. Over time, we've exchanged sabre-toothed tigers for more sophisticated predators. And most of those are far more dangerous, far more sophisticated, and far less well-known than your standard neighborhood MySpace pedophile/stalker. Now you may panic.... Read more ....
File under: Journalism, Society/Culture
January 24, 2006
Motown Ghost Town
Friend of the Snark (and, oh yeah, Michigan Radio reporter) Dustin Dwyer goes exploring in the old, abandoned Motown Records building in Detroit and finds a vinyl record that's been sitting there for decades in the dark.
Anyway, this is what journalism is like in Michigan: plants closing, buildings being torn down. Contrast that, say, with Florida, where the big problems of the day are building enough schools to keep up with growing populations, or widening roads, or using smart planning to prevent everything from becoming one big suburb.
Everything there is growth, everything here is decline.
And yet, I'd much rather be covering these stories than those ones.
January 19, 2006
When Vox Populi Attacks
An angel dies every time this happens. The folks in news organizations who are already against the idea of strengthening the relationship between the editors in the newsroom and the ones outside it just feel vindicated by setbacks like this. In the news world, the Wikipedia Wars are actually only battles in a wider conflict. Many journalists still believe our only role can be telling folks what we think they need to hear. I, of course, come down on the side of those who believe all these hassles are worth it if it means a true dialogue with the "people formerly known as the audience."
As we get smarter about creating platforms for interactivity, incidents like those that burned the WaPo and the LA Times will happen less frequently. An intelligent approach to the Web doesn't involve either totally free, unmitigated chaos or rigid hierarchical control.
I remember being all bummed out when Lifehacker introduced comments by invitation only. The other day, my itch to comment on an LH thread was so strong that I actually -- gasp -- used the e-mail feedback link and sent in my comment the old "letter to the editor" way. Moments later, I received an e-mail from LH associate editor Adam Pash inviting me to sign up as a Lifehacker commenter. So the threshold is seriously low to be a commenter on Lifehacker, but I imagine it's the simplest possible thing for the editors to close the account of someone who's become a problem contributor. Call this approach Domesticated Chaos.
Of course, news sites probably can't vet every person who wants to contribute, and I don't think they'd need to. If only one registered users of WashingtonPost.com could comment, and if their comment histories were linked from their profiles -- as is the case on a blog like MetaFilter -- that would make contributors much more accountable for their words. And it would make it much easier for site administrators to ban the small minority of troublemakers who tend to ruin forums like these for the majority.
If WaPo editors want even more filters than that, they could institute a Kuro5hin-esque system of comment ratings. (Scoop is free, after all.) Since WaPo.com's editors are so concerned about the level of discourse in their forums, why are they using TypePad, of all things? Why not implement a system that's 1) free and 2) much better suited for sorting wheat from chaff?
The folks behind these sites are smart cookies, though. I imagine they'll hit on a solution soon, and open up comments again. I hope so.
Plus: More on trollery, by David Pogue.
December 8, 2005
Non-profit-ness often gets a bad rap for being wishy-washy and, like, not as serious and dynamic as for-profit-ness -- so I'm glad to see a former business reporter, banker, and lawyer talking it up.
November 30, 2005
Now That's a Beat
Lucy Morgan, possibly the most revered newspaper reporter in all of Florida, just retired. In commemoration, Poynter.org (holla!) has her original job description memo. Check it out even (especially?) if you're not super-interested in journalism -- it is both charming and shocking.
November 26, 2005
All Journalism, All the Time!
Sorry, one more j-related post: a blog entry by Google's recently-departed director of consumer marketing comparing Google to another former employer, the San Jose Mercury News. Interesting. As are many of the other posts on Doug Edwards' new blog. Checkitout.
November 22, 2005
Three Rants ... Continued
PART III: Rick is totally right.
(First, see parts I & II.)
When we get past Rick's sniping at the blogosphere and the broad practice of "citizen journalism," he begins to make some points I completely agree with:
Some of the pioneer online efforts at community journalism sites suffer a different problem. At the same San Antonio conference, when the topic of super-local sites came up, display pages from NorthwestVoice.com of Bakersfield, Calif., and MyMissourian.com were projected on a screen. Lead stories included "Another Pet Missing, Perhaps Stolen," plus "New 'Harry Potter' is Magnificent," and pictures from a local family's summer vacation.
Even as unperfected news forms, blogs and citizen journalism are exerting great influence.At a later meeting, publishers of the two sites were candid about what Clyde Bentley of MyMissourian.com called the banal quality of many submissions. But both sites, by policy, accept anything contributors think worth posting, since participation is a big part of the point.
Generally, whenever a news organization or longtime media professional announces a shiny new "citizen journalism" initiative, I've been underwhelmed by the result. It's like they give everyone in town a blog and aggregate 'em all under a folksy, feel-good banner and bam! "Community news."
Giving everyone a blog is awesome. Media orgs should absolutely do that. More voices speaking up means a better society, period.
Networking those blogs? Also a fantastic idea.
Lumping all the blogs together and proclaiming it news? Um.... Read more ....
November 21, 2005
Local Gal Makes Good
Aside from providing an incredibly well-informed perspective on Fresno's downtown development and arts-and-entertainment news, it occurred to me this weekend that Jarah is a fantastic editor. On the Fresno Famous blog, Sour Grapes, Jarah puled together bits and pieces of Fresno's mediasphere that matched my information needs better than any other editor in Fresno could. I think citizen editing hasn't been paid enough attention, but it's as vital a function as citizen reporting is. And it can happen on multiple levels, from the collective story judgment of a broad community (see Digg and Tech Memeorandum) to super-savvy individuals like Jarah.
November 18, 2005
Three Rants on Rick
PART I: Rick, read more blogs.
Rick Edmonds, a buddy of mine and Robin's, takes the nascent "citizen journalism" movement to account in an article for Poynter Online. I'm rather disappointed. Where's Rick's typically razor-sharp, data-heavy commentary on the outlook of the journalism industry? This seems like Yet Another Meandering Rant Against Blogs. How could someone so smart produce something so wrongheaded?
I can't blame Rick at all. His rant reflects how other folks from Big Media -- including CitJ triumphalists -- have come to view participatory media. And it gives me the opportunity to launch my own rant(s). Sorry, Rick.... Read more ....
November 3, 2005
The Reality-Based Conservative
A fascinating New Yorker article last week profiled one of the many claimants to the title of forefather of modern conservatism, Peter Viereck. The article talks about how far conservatism has drifted from Viereck's ideals, and how some of his greatest fears about the movement have been realized. But the profile ends with an extraordinary passage from one of Viereck's lectures. It struck me as a wonderful summation of the value and mission of what many of us do, so I'll share it with you:
What causes the greatest crimes in history? The greatest bloodshed? The most murders? I would say two things: sincere love and a sincere devotion to liberty. ... If you kill out of love or for a perfect utopia, you never stop killing because human nature is always imperfect. Robespierre, rightly called "the incorruptible," was more sincere than Danton and always found somebody deviating just a little bit from true liberty. ...
I can think of nothing more gallant, even though again and again we fail, than attempting to get at the facts; attempting to tell things as they really are. For at least reality, though never fully attained, can be defined. Reality is that which, when you don't believe in it, doesn't go away.
November 2, 2005
Big Wood Table at 300kbps
NBC will stream the Nightly News online. Ho-hum.
You know what I really want to download? Charlie Rose. That show gets people that just don't show up anywhere else on TV: Tonight, for instance, it's a U.N. Under-Secretary-General and Anne Rice. (Not at the same time.) Yesterday was a huge roundable about bird flu and Ray Kurzweil. That's good stuff!
But the thing is, I am never, ever in the mood to watch it at 11:00 at night. And more to the point, the interviews have a great shelf-life -- as evidenced by the fact that they dig them out of the archive to play on TV all the time. It would be so great to have random access to all the interviews anytime.
October 27, 2005
Your Daily Adspaper?
Am I reading this article correctly? Did WaPo editor Len Downie actually suggest that the biggest reason the Post's daily news coverage couldn't be cut by a third is that there wouldn't be enough stuff to put ads on? Read for yourself and get back to me.
The relevant sentence: "He (Downie) says (business editor Steven) Pearlstein 'hasn't really thought through carefully' the impact of a one-third reduction, which would leave less room for advertising."
October 26, 2005
If you're one of the subscribers to the RSS feed I scraped together with Wotzwot for Romenesko's sidebar, you might have noticed that the feed had stopped working properly. Here's an updated version; here's hoping it stays intact.
September 29, 2005
I can't believe I haven't run across this before. Six wonderful articles about how news organizations grossly mismanage information (a personal hobby horse). The series was linked from today's E&P interview with Mr. Holovaty.
September 4, 2005
Objectivity Gives Way to Outrage
As Jack Shafer noted in Slate, reporters -- especially broadcasters -- seem to have abandoned their fealty to the "objective" institutional voice when it comes to Katrina. From the visceral anger of FNC's Shep Smith and CNN's Anderson Cooper to the quiet candor of headlines on WashingtonPost.com, this catastrophe seems to have made journalists visibly mad, and it's showing through the coverage.
I haven't read or heard any complaints. It seems fitting that reporters should be outraged along with the rest of us at the bumbling of those in command. And it seems appropriate that journalists are batting away the lulling equivocations of politicians with the constant reminder that our people are dying unnecessarily and in droves.
What comes to mind again and again is Jehane Noujaim's documentary Control Room, a look at Al Jazeera's coverage of the war in Iraq. Before Control Room, I knew Al Jazeera only as an anti-American propaganda outlet. After Control Room, I wondered how Americans could regard Al Jazeera as any less objective or more jingoistic than our domestic news sources. U.S. news organizations shared the perspective that whether the war was generally "right" or "wrong," U.S. victories in Iraq were always "good." Control Room showed journalists at Al Jazeera questioning this lens, turning the issue back always to the point that overshadowed everything, the only point that seemed salient -- our (their?) people are dying unnecessarily and in droves.
So the folks at Al Jazeera aired the footage of children dying we were mostly spared here in the U.S. And while U.S. news outlets demurred, Al Jazeera baldly speculated about the role oil played in the invasion. From the American perspective, Al Jazeera's coverage felt out-of-balance. But to journalists for whom Iraq had been home, who grew up immersed in the country and its history, this frame is the only one that makes sense.
We know perfect objectivity is impossible. We also know there may be value in striving for it. What we don't remember is how much objective truth is determined by the broadness or narrowness of our frame. In a newsroom entirely contained within the Middle East, the death of a child at the hands of a soldier is only that -- a blameworthy, unmuddied wreck. Stretch your frame across the Atlantic, to a newsroom in Virginia, and that same death becomes a tragic but small part in a "victory," a march forward for democracy.
In a newsroom safe from the ravages of floods and fires, an anchor urges a shakened reporter, "Let's have some perspective." In a giant, too-small dome littered with the bodies of the dead and the waste of the living, the reporter shouts back, "This is perspective." And maybe they're both right.
Update: Howie Kurtz breaks it down.
September 3, 2005
The New AP Wire
Man, you know who's got the best coverage of the Katrina aftermath out there? Boing Boing! (Well, I mean, it's meta-coverage obviously -- they're pointing to other stories -- but the selection is impeccable.)
Not least of which is this pointer to Kanye West's off-the-prompter remarks during NBC's telethon. Amazing.
September 2, 2005
After the Flood
Read this piece in TNR by Adam B. Kushner: friend of the snark, New Orleans native and, as will become clear, extraordinarily talented writer.
August 29, 2005
The new editor is Wen Stephenson, who has been at Ideas for a while and, before that, was managing editor for Frontline's website. And before that he worked at The Atlantic. So basically best ever all around.
Come On In, the Water's Fine
Check out these photos of yesterday's evacuation and preparation for Hurricane Katrina and see if you can guess which one is my favorite.
August 24, 2005
David Bradley and The Atlantic
This NY Observer piece on David Bradley, the guy who owns The Atlantic, is fantastic. I really really like this guy.
August 23, 2005
Holding Colleges to a Higher Standard
I had kinda forgotten about The Washington Monthly and its spunky spirit -- their new college rankings are a reminder. Way cool.
August 19, 2005
EPIC and the Editorial Board
The Seattle P-I is starting a new project, the "Virtual Editorial Board," and Mark Trahant cites EPIC in his introduction.
August 17, 2005
Noted: Steve Coll, former managing editor of the WaPo, author of "Ghost Wars," co-reporter of those great e-Qaeda articles I linked to, and just generally one of those Nicholas Lemann-esque smart reporter guys, is now a staff writer at The New Yorker.
August 14, 2005
Absolute, absolute must-read: The Washington Post's special report on al-Qaeda's online organizing. The video features are interesting, but it's the text pieces by Steve Coll and Susan Glasser that are truly illuminating. Print these articles out and read them this week; it will seriously help you understand the world better.
Awesome interview with Ira Glass from CJR Daily. Also, awesome story from the L.A. Times about the "This American Life" television show (!). "Television is the medium of our time," he says. Wait, why does that sound so familiar?
August 11, 2005
Nisenholtz Is The Man
At the Times, Nisenholtz has ambitions to super-charge the Web site and take it beyond the realm of newspaper sites and into the top tier of news sites online. He told me he envisioned multimedia reports going from two to three reports per day to 30 or 40 reports daily, while also building out a new aggregation service that would take on Google News.
August 9, 2005
Mapping the News
Adrian Holovaty reports that the Lawrence Journal-World has just made it "stupidly simple" to add Google Maps to its news stories online. This is something that Friend Of Snarkmarket Larry Larsen has been stumping for for quite some time.
August 2, 2005
Newspapers and Programmers
Two Poynter.org posts of great interest today:
Top memo right now: The NYT is officially merging its print and online newsrooms.
Rad x 2.
July 28, 2005
The Fine Art of the Lead
It's been a while since I read a news article that really grabbed me. And I haven't even gotten halfway through this NYT story yet; all I know is the lead is a killer:
When they rewind the video of the fight in the cage, all the blood will spray back into Gervis Fool Bull's nose, all the screams will be sucked into the collective chest of the sweating crowd, and the fist will snap back toward the big truck driver from Iowa who threw it, a man with a mohawk haircut who grew up fighting his twin brother in the neighborhood junkyard.
Good lord! It's so well-written!
July 27, 2005
Slow News Day
I just posted a looooong item on morph advancing the argument that the Internet has not (just) sped the news cycle up, it's slowed it down considerably. I'd love to hear your thoughts, if any strike you. (Except for your comments on my use of the profoundly dubious phrase "hot breaking scoop.")
July 25, 2005
The Era of Slow News
It's common knowledge that since the advent of 24-hour news networks, the cycle of news has sped up considerably. With the rise of the Internet, it's gotten even faster. In this world of up-to-the-nanosecond news, we've learned, facts and context are thrown to the wind as our information train wreck speeds down the tracks.
Let's play devil's advocate.
My argument: The Internet is slowing the news cycle down. Way down. It's so slow, it's turning the clock backwards.... Read more ....
Is it just me, or was the news storm swirling around this weekend's bombing in Egypt a good bit more humble than the one around the London bombings? Since I was out Friday night, I didn't get the word until checking the papers Saturday morning. By that point, the news cycle was revolving around the fact that the terrorism-related death toll of the innocent in London had belatedly risen to 53.
I know terrorism-related deaths aren't quite as alien to Egypt as they are to Great Britain, but shouldn't news outlets strive for at least a pretense of parity in their coverage of each disaster?
I might also be completely wrong in my assessment of the relative play given to each story, but nothing in the Egypt coverage leads me to suspect the bombings there will still be getting front-page mentions in the national papers two-and-a-half weeks from now. Call me on this if it's not so.
To be fair: The editors may just be accused of going where the readers are. First and only Metafilter thread on Egypt bombings: 37 comments. First of at least a dozen threads on the July 7 London bombings: 712 comments. There are probably many more British MeFites than Egyptian ones, but dang.
July 19, 2005
Reporting the End of the World
July 12, 2005
RPC on the Record
Snarkmarket favorite Roy Peter Clark laid down the immortal Truth about journalism in a Washington Post chat today.
July 10, 2005
'The Dumpling Seller Approached the Foreigner'
Interesting NYT article on linguistic diversity in China. It uses the "I cannot refer to myself in the first person, even though this story hinges entirely on a first-person experience" convention, which you know I LOVE, but is still worth reading.
July 1, 2005
Workmanlike RSS feed for the Romenesko sidebar. Not pretty, but it gets the job done.
Update: This feed had stopped working properly after the Wotzwot RSS tool's hiatus. I've updated it to scrape the page properly again.
June 23, 2005
Now THIS is what I've been waiting for: distributed investigative journalism via wiki.
A group of volunteers has begun using collaborative wiki software to expedite the process of perusing thousands of pages of complex documents related to detainees held by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
I kinda wish they weren't all Daily Kos readers, but nonetheless, I love the idea. The actual wiki pages are here.
June 17, 2005
All right. I'm throwing down my official entry in the Name-the-Unofficial-Journalist sweepstakes. For those of you who have lives beyond journalism, interactive media enthusiasts like Dan Gillmor and JD Lasica have been in a bit of a muddle to find a term for the many, many folks who are now producing works of journalism, but are not employed by any media organizations. Various factions are calling this "grassroots journalism" (
Gillmor's fave*), "personal media" (Lasica's pick), "stand-alone journalism" (Chris Nolan's choice) and "citizen journalism" (Steve Outing's preference).
Why is it important? I guess because naming is a first step towards celebrating, acknowledging, and organizing. Names are important.
Pragmatically, if I'm not working for a news organization, I'm daunted from the task of reporting by the prospect of the question, "Who are you with?" or "Where is this going to go?" The very first thing I usually say to interviewees and potential sources is, "Hi, my name is Matt Thompson, I'm a reporter for FresnoBee.com." But I honestly feel as though it's the term "reporter," not the institution of The Fresno Bee, that lends me more of the cachet of officialdom.
I'd feel a bit sheepish if I were out telling my interviewees that I'm doing "citizen's journalism" for The Fresno Bee.
So, first off, if we're calling these folks journalists, it stands to reason they're doing some reporting. So can we give 'em the word "reporter"? It sounds better, more comfortable, and it's easier to toss off.
We could just stop there. After all, I'm pretty down with saying, "Hi, I'm Matt Thompson, I'm reporting for Snarkmarket.com." (Not that I ever do, but stay with me here.)
But I think there's value in creating a separate term distinct from traditional media reporting. The term should imply what all those above do: I acknowledge that my reporting carries a perspective; I'm not hiding behind a big institution, nor are the resources of such an institution standing behind me.
My nomination? Street reporter.
- Quick, casual, easy-to-say.
- Accurate, especially to describe folks like Jarah.
- Simple conjugating: "I'm doing citizen's journalism for ..." vs. "I'm street-reporting for ..."
- Implies performance of actual reporting, thereby distinguishing it from "blogger."
- Fun aural affinities with "beat reporter" and "street performer."
How's about it, sports fans? Any counter-offers? Open to suggestions, here.
P.S.: I understand that this may be just like that time Amy Gahran started a campaign to get everyone to call RSS feeds "web feeds." And no comment.
Correction: Dan Gillmor says his term of choice is actually "citizen journalism" as well.
June 13, 2005
'Members of the Class of September 11'
Why English majors "see developing the moral imagination as more important than securing economic self-justification," why conversations with mass murderers are often disappointing, why the readers of Snarkmarket are all doomed, and more, in my favorite graduation speech of 2005 so far, by Mark Danner.
June 12, 2005
LAT Steps Up
2. Wikitorials!! (Two bullet points up from the bottom.)
June 3, 2005
BBC on Steroids
Apparently people have been going nuts with the
BBC API BBC's RSS feeds. The BBC Backstage blog ("Use our stuff to build your stuff") is currently blowing my mind just a tad. Bayesian news filtering! BBC.icio.us! Extract names and places from stories! News maps galore!
All of it is hella beta, but also scrumptious. Why is the BBC so awesome?
May 27, 2005
The Citizen Editor
Ergo, there's a new position opening up in some newsrooms: the citizen editor. While their ranks are small now, they are certain to grow in number. Journalism graduates seeking work in the field in the years ahead well may choose traditional reporting and editing, or veer toward the newer and very different line of editing the work of citizen journalists. Traditional journalists seeking new challenges or a change in work routine will have another option.
May 25, 2005
Speaking of Comics ...
Apparently back in February The Guardian put up an 8-page Joe Sacco comic from Iraq. It's a 37-meg PDF download, to forewarn you, but it's a quick, interesting look at the war through a keen set of eyes. It's not as good as his Pulitzer-winning effort in Palestine or his reporting in Eastern Europe, mostly because he's embedded with the troops this time rather than speaking with civilians, but it's probably different from any other Iraq war coverage you've seen. (Via MadInkBeard.)
May 22, 2005
I've seen this Technology Review article everywhere, and I have only one comment:
It's called collaborative citizen journalism (CCJ) ...
Is it really? Because that's hella lame. (Note that exactly one person in the article uses the term "CCJ.")
Changing of the Guard
I've snarked out NYT public editor Daniel Okrent before for his seeming tendency to focus his lens on himself rather than the newspaper. I eventually came around to Robin's point of view. But for the most part, I always liked what he wrote, and I'll be sad to see him go. Good show, Mr. O.
May 21, 2005
Having heard many a stricken, Webphobic news editor decry the introduction of "choice" to media consumption -- "What about the delicious serendipity of discovering all the amazing articles we've carefully hand-selected for them?!" -- this Rafat Ali quote rings of Absolute Truth:
One thing which somehow everyone lamented yesterday: the end of serendipity, as choice in news sources and methods of consumption becomes an increasing reality. My reaction: what you people call serendipity, we call links. What you people call the homepage, we call Bloglines. What you call indepth-reporting, we call blogging a story to death.
May 16, 2005
Columnists at Cal
Things I learned at UC-Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall last Friday night:
- Thomas Friedmas has lost the ability to communicate in normal human language; now he speaks only in weirdly polished anecdotes and soundbites.
- Maureen Dowd is bangin'! Seriously man. I know she's like 50 or something but still.
- Dowd keeps up a casual correspondence with George H. W. Bush. He emails her with critiques of the Times. That's cute.
- Friedman had an off-the-record chat with George W. Bush about the war in Iraq. I'm not exactly sure when. His interviewer asked him: "And he wanted that to be off the record because...?" to which Friedman replied, disingenuously I think, "I have no idea!"
- Dowd on Saudi Arabia: "The Saudis are sort've a weird... bifurcated... sick society." That's the kinda pundit-class pronouncement I like!
- Dowd on Al Gore: "At least he was into modernity!"
- Friedman on Friedman: "Going to the Arab world with Tom Friedman is like going to the mall with Britney Spears." (Okay, he was quoting someone else, but still.)
- Friedman explaining some ridiculous thing from his book: "Plug and play! Compete, connect, and collaborate!" [with the polished ease of a man who's been on TV one... too... many... times]
Subscribe to Maureen Dowd?
Meh. Pretty much the only one I'll miss is Kristof. Krugs, occasionally. The NYT's announced a decision to charge for the op-ed page online, and bloggers are already saying their sayonaras. (This will be on Every Blog in the World in 5 ... 4 ... )
Update: Changed the link to a more complete story. The $50 annual fee (yowza!) will also allow subscribers access to the NYT archive.
May 14, 2005
Dang. I thought I'd be the first to point to Dan Gillmor's new project, Bayosphere, currently in beta or soft-launch or gestation or something else short of ta-da. But it looks like Tampa Bay stalwart Laura Fries (that's Fries like French) beat me to the punch. Why you always gotta be blog-blocking, Laura? Sheez.
Anyway, Dan Gillmor, formerly of Typepad, formerly formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, has begun to unwrap his first citizen's media venture that isn't necessarily tied to a book. As of this moment, there isn't much describing exactly what this new venture is about, besides citizen's media and the SF Bay Area, but worth noting and bookmarking, if you're interested in either of those two things.
May 8, 2005
Subsidies for Newspapers!
Michael Kinsley, sometimes I love you. And right now is one of those times:
Newspapers are essential to every American, and none more so than the fools and ingrates who have stopped buying them. It is up to us, as members of the last generation that experienced life before computer screens, to make sure that future generations of Americans will know what to do when it says "Continued on Page B37." In a recent survey of Americans younger than age 30, only 26 percent said "Look in Section B," and a pitiful 13 percent chose the correct answer, which is "Look FOR Section B. It's around here somewhere." As a service to humanity and because I like my job, here is a seven-point plan to save the newspaper industry.
April 30, 2005
Is It True, Mr. Spielberg, That ...
April 25, 2005
... And Another Thing
Having just fired off two ranty e-mails to Robin, I thought I'd just go ahead and take the rants public. My beef was these three reports/manifestos/speeches that have been setting the hearts of the likes of Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis all a-flutter.
If you haven't read them, they all make essentially the same point -- old-school journalism's in trouble. Shorter Merrill Brown: Young people don't read newspapers. Shorter Tim Porter: And it's the fault of backwards-thinking journalists. Shorter Rupert Murdoch: No, seriously. Young people like never read newspapers.
I'll take my rantings past the jump, so you can continue unassaulted, if you so prefer.... Read more ....
April 22, 2005
Open Source Democracy
Douglas Rushkoff, who's only the coolest ever, not only has a new book coming out (via), but also has a book available as a PDF online -- Open Source Democracy: How Online Communication Is Changing Offline Politics.
April 21, 2005
Do it, Pulitzer
One of my favorite Olde Worlde reporters, Anne Hull (c.f.), has been a Pulitzer finalist six times, but not yet a winner. Now, the Washington City Paper is calling on the Pulitzer board to give Anne one of their rare "Special Awards" for her continually outstanding work.
April 5, 2005
There's been a fair amount of hand-wringing since the start of the Age of Blogs about accuracy. How on earth do we trust anything we read on the Internet? Bloggers can say anything!
Just this year, there was a conference on blogging, journalism, and credibility.
Then there's been some hand-wringing over the fact that you have to use phrases like "steady downward trend" to describe the recent credibility ratings of newspapers.
I've got a proposal.
Imagine: you come across an article on the Web purporting to be journalism or contain elements of journalism. So you cruise on over to StraightenTheRecord.org (or whatever) and you search for the name of the text's author or publication. Up pops a screen listing all the corrections made on articles by that author or in that publication.
But you're a tad underwhelmed. You had caught an error of fact in the document you were reading that isn't listed on this page.
So you log in to the site and edit the record (it being some sort of a wiki), adding your correction to the stack.... Read more ....
April 4, 2005
The Annotated NYT
April 2, 2005
I Slap My Forehead
Even though we've been on intermittent papal death watch for the past five years, and his death today has the dubious honor of being possibly the least surprising passing in the history of human mortality, the NYT managed to bollocks his obit. Classic. [ PDF evidence ]
March 21, 2005
A new multimedia "citizen journalism" site called NowPublic is getting ready to launch. The site will allow readers to "assign" stories to reporters; sign up to be a reporter; file photographs, video and MP3s; and "build your own newsroom" and follow the news with "watchlists."
Well, that sounds sort've awesome, huh?
March 14, 2005
PEJ Writes Up EPIC
In December 2004, a mock documentary about the future of news began making make the rounds of the nation's journalists and Web professionals.
The video, produced by two aspiring newsmen fresh from college, envisioned a nightmare scenario - by the year 2014, technology would effectively destroy traditional journalism.
In 2008, Google, the search engine company, would merge with Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, and in 2010 the new "Googlezon" would create a system edited entirely by computers that would strip individual facts and sentences from all content sources to create stories tailored to the tastes of each person.
A year later, The New York Times would sue Googlezon for copyright infringement and lose before the Supreme Court.
In 2014 Googlezon would take its computer formula a step further. Anyone on the Web would contribute whatever they knew or believed into a universal grid - a bouillabaisse of citizen blog, political propaganda, corporate spin and journalism. People would be paid according to the popularity of their contributions. Each consumer would get a one-of-a-kind news product each day based on his or her personal data.
"At its best, edited for the savviest readers," the system is "a summary of the world - deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at its worst, and for too many, [it] is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational."
That same year, the New York Times would fold its tent and become "a print-only newsletter for the elite and the elderly."
"It didn't have to be this way," the video concludes.
And it probably won't be.
Ha! (Oh, and "bouillabaisse"? Best word ever.)
March 11, 2005
Illustrating the News
March 10, 2005
Who's a Journalist?
Slate editor Jacob Weisberg has a sweet little essay today granting press credentials to anybody who wants to be a journalist. I totally agree with Weisberg's sentiment, but I think he's asking the wrong question -- and I post this because I think a lot of "journalists" do.
"Who is a journalist?" strikes me as a fairly useless question, and not just since the arrival of the Internet. It seems to me we should be asking "what is journalism?"
Journalists derive the title exclusively from the function of journalism -- not how good they are at it, not what institution they represent, not what stories they cover -- but the bare fact of what they do. Judith Miller and Matt Cooper of Time can't claim any special place in American democracy from the word "journalist" appearing under their names on their business cards.
But the acts of gathering information, synthesizing, and disseminating that information publicly in an essentially verifiable report -- those acts, when done in tandem, can and should receive special protections, no matter the context in which they are performed.
It's journalism, not journalists, we should be struggling to protect. I think we sometimes lose that distinction (hat tip to Rebecca MacKinnon, who might agree with me). Whether bloggers constitute journalists is abstract and immaterial. What in newspapers and on blogs and on television constitutes journalism, now, that strikes me as a provocative question.
Despite 1) appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, and 2) being funny, this, I would argue, is not journalism. Haul Jon Carroll's pajama-wearing ass into court and make him testify. This, however, strikes me as journalism. Others might quibble. But at least we'd have a good conversation.
Weisberg notes that bloggers are trying to have it both ways in terms of the law -- the folks being sued by Apple want to be treated like journalists, while those in danger of being regulated by the FEC want to be considered something else. "A more consistent stance would be to assert that the First Amendment should apply equally to everyone who practices journalism," Weisberg says, "Whenever and wherever they do it, and that political advocacy online should be treated consistently with advocacy offline."
An even more consistent stance would be to assert that the First Amendment should apply equally to all acts of journalism, no matter the source.
March 5, 2005
'This is Pernicious in Every Way'
Dan Gillmor has a sharp summary of recent goings-on re: bloggers' legal status this morning.
This thing about regulating blogposts as political contributions is whack. And also indicative of the errant direction of our campaign finance law: Rather than try to keep all the money out, we should be trying to get more money in. Lots more.
If every American contributed a crisp twenty to the candidate of her choice (and linked to that candidate on her blog! woo!) the cash generated could totally compete with the few hundred million that corporations cough up. The logic of "keep the money out" is what leads us to stupid conclusions like blogposts-as-contributions. Again I say: whack.
March 2, 2005
Uh, Yeah: Bad Idea, Newsweek
For its current cover, Newsweek put Martha Stewart's head on a model's body a little too deftly. I blog this only because a) I saw this mag on the racks yesterday, b) I totally thought the photo was real, and c) I am not dumb.
February 27, 2005
Um, if Jeff Jarvis ends up being Dan Okrent's replacement as the public editor of The New York Times, I'd just like it on the record that you heard it here first.
February 23, 2005
Citizens With Cameras
Whoah! These are some seriously hot photos of tornadoes captured by Sacramento Bee readers! Props to sacbee.com for gathering them.
February 22, 2005
Advice for the NYT
Agreed on both counts. I want bagels.
February 15, 2005
No, C'mon, Tell Us What You Really Think of Iraq
Highlights from a WaPo.com chat with Newsweek's Rod Nordland. Dude is a snark kingpin.
January 26, 2005
Why Noids Love the Internet
Because I periodically like to find myself a host of excellent stuff to read in my spare time, here's something you microscope junkies might enjoy. What follows are Web reprints of 18 of the 23 stories published in The Best American Science Writing 2004. Tell me if there are any good ones.
- Jennifer Kahn - Stripped for Parts
- John Updike - Mars is as Bright as Venus
- Oliver Morton - Strange Nuggets (well, not exactly, but close enough)
- Keay Davidson - Mapping of Cosmos Backs Big Bang Theory
- Neil DeGrasse Tyson - Gravity in Reverse
- Dennis Overbye - One Cosmic Question, Too Many Answers
- Sherwin B. Nuland - How to Grow Old
- Ian Parker - Reading Minds
- Tom Siegfried - The Science of Strategy
- Kaja Perina - Cracking the Harvard X-Files
- Tom Bissell - A Comet's Tale: On the Science of Apocalypse
- Elizabeth Royte - Transsexual Frogs
- Susan Milius - Leashing the Rattlesnake
- Michael Benson - What Galileo Saw
- Barbara J. Becker - Celestial Spectroscopy: Making Reality Fit the Myth
- Kevin Patterson - The Patient Predator
- Michael Pollan - Cruising on the Ark of Taste
- William Langewiesche - Columbia's Last Flight
January 21, 2005
A Role Model's New Role
Stephen Buckley, one of the most impressive men I've ever met, is the new managing editor of the St. Petersburg Times.
It is because of Stephen and other newspaper vets like him -- smart, thoughtful, fair, and wise -- that, amidst all my talk of media revolution, I include this footnote:
*But props to the old-school standouts.
Because those virtues are just as crucial in the new world of media as they were in the old. We'll be screwed if careful, contemplative voices just get lost in the blooming buzz of the blogosphere.
It'd be cool if Buckley got down with blogs, though. Last year, I pitched him on a blog-based beat reporter and he was skeptical. C'mooon Stephen! It's legit!
November 16, 2004
An End to Objecto-droids
Let me get a few things out on the table before we start:
1. I wanted Kerry to win. Badly.
2. I am a journalist.
3. I have been a journalist for a month.
4. I couldn't tell anyone about #1 because of #2, and I don't know why because of #3.
Read on -- it's sharply composed.
He wraps up with a smart point that I think not enough people have been making re: journalism and bias: False objectivity is dehumanizing. And people don't like to talk to non-humans. They'd much rather have a normal conversation with a normal person with normal beliefs. So I think there's a real journalistic benefit to being straight with people -- and hey, if being straight means you can't do your job, then maybe you should get a new one. How 'bout that!
(Link via the hip, happenin' LauraFries.com.)
October 29, 2004
Don't Keep Us in Suspense Here
Usually when a magazine asks a rhetorical question on the cover, it doesn't immediately answer it in 160-point type on the first page of the corresponding article.
Very nice, National Geographic.
October 15, 2004
Speaking Truth to Pundits
STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.
STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk...
CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.
STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey. ...
STEWART: I watch your show every day. And it kills me.
CARLSON: I can tell you love it.
STEWART: It's so -- oh, it's so painful to watch. ...
CARLSON: Is this really Jon Stewart? What is this, anyway?
Seriously, go read this. It's amazing. You never see anybody actually get challenged in a real way on CNN. (Isn't that weird?) But here's an exception.
It goes on and on. Carlson and Begala try to duck him -- try to drag the show back into the realm of empty media fluffery -- but Stewart won't let them:
STEWART: Yes, it's someone who watches your show and cannot take it anymore.
STEWART: I just can't.
CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?
STEWART: If I think they are.
CARLSON: I wouldn't want to eat with you, man. That's horrible.
STEWART: I know. And you won't. But the thing I want to get to...
BEGALA: We did promise naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices.
CARLSON: Yes, we did. Let's get to those.
BEGALA: They're in this book, which is a very funny book.
STEWART: Why can't we just talk -- please, I beg of you guys, please.
CARLSON: I think you watch too much CROSSFIRE. We're going to take a quick break.
STEWART: No, no, no, please.
CARLSON: No, no, hold on. We've got commercials.
STEWART: Please. Please stop.
CARLSON: Next, Jon Stewart in the "Rapid Fire."
STEWART: Please stop.
CARLSON: Hopefully, he'll be here, we hope, we think.
October 11, 2004
'Shot At, Kidnapped, Blindfolded, Held At Knifepoint, Held At Gunpoint, Detained, Threatened, Beaten And Chased'
September 22, 2004
The Hypocritical Critic, &c.
Sorry, Jack Shafer. Your column today in Slate, calling for an end to White House background briefings, is not allowed. You gave up your right to complain about anonymous sources on Monday, Sept. 20, 2004, when you included this sentence in your column:
Sources inside the [New York] Times tell me that the paper's leadership worried that excavating and analyzing the WMD stories would damage the institution.
Harsh? Tough. No, after your months of railing against anonymous sources, you do not get the luxury of throwing a few willy-nilly into article that wasn't even about the New York Times, or WMD, or anything close. Sure, I agree with your main point, but when you totally undermine it, you live with the consequences.... Read more ....
September 18, 2004
The Columnist Did Lose His Marbles...
You heard it here first, folks.
David Brooks? Crazy.
July 7, 2004
Journalists Are So Weird
NBC News' Andrea Mitchell broke the news in the Official Media™ that John Kerry was picking John Edwards to be his veep. She reported the story a whole hour-and-a-half before John Kerry announced this news himself. What flaming hoops did she have to jump through to squeeze this story out a full 90 minutes before the rest of the world would know? The WaPo has the dish:
Mitchell said she stayed up all night -- "I went home to change and bathe, in the interest of being collegial" -- and started bugging her sources again at 5 a.m. After getting a second confirmation, Mitchell reported at 7 a.m. that Kerry's running mate was "very likely" to be Edwards. By 7:30, following a conversation with a third source, she was reporting it as fact.
"This was pulling teeth," she said. "This was one of the hardest I've ever had to get. Some people I've known for decades wouldn't talk to me."
I hope to God that I am never that reporter. Was the world served in any way by her act of sleepless devotion? By her unflagging pestering of age-old confidants? Did those 90 minutes of foreknowledge of John Kerry's Vice Presidential pick alleviate a single one of the world's problems??
And besides, she was scooped by the Unofficial Media like 12 hours earlier.
June 29, 2004
It's Us Weekly for Us Wonks
Okay, that's way overstating it, but that seems appropriate for a blog entry written in praise of a magazine that way overstates it.
Foreign Policy, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is by far the hippest policy mag on the rack. The Atlantic Monthly has more authority; The New Yorker is better-written; Foreign Affairs has, um, larger print. But FP has grafs like this:
American neoconservatives such as Robert Kagan look down upon feminine, Venus-like Europeans, gibing their narcissistic obsession with building a postmodern, bureaucratic paradise. The United States, by contrast, supposedly carries the mantle of masculine Mars, boldly imposing freedom in the world's nastiest neighborhoods. But by cleverly deploying both its hard power and its sensitive side, the European Union has become more effective -- and more attractive -- than the United States on the catwalk of diplomatic clout. Meet the real New Europe: the world's first metrosexual superpower.
(That's from "The Metrosexual Superpower" by Parag Khanna, which you'll have to register to read. It's free.)
FP has such a funny attitude. This is from their writer's guidelines:
Don’t send us any article or proposal that begins with “Since the end of the Cold War...” or “In the wake of September 11...” Really. Please don’t.
Notable on the website right now: an article on "Iraq's Excluded Women" (reg. req'd); the metrosexual Europe story; one of FP's great "Think Again" pieces (they're like these laser-guided anti-conventional-wisdom missiles) on Al Qaeda; and one of the mag's indispensable reviews of books in foreign languages (!), this one called "The Nokia Generation Hangs Up," about success and disillusionment in Finland. You gotta love that!
Feel free to ignore the cover story by Niall Ferguson, author of "Colossus." As a historian friend put it to me, "Wild claims are what make historians famous."
But then, it wouldn't be FP if the claim wasn't just a little bit wild.
June 25, 2004
"We're living in dark times," [Hersh] says, gently rubbing his gray-thatched temples.
He inhabits a reality we can barely glimpse, crosscut by the chatter of encrypted satellite signals. For national security officials, leaking to Hersh is "generally better than writing a memo to the president," remarks his friend and competitor, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus.
In recent months, The New Yorker editor David Remnick says, Hersh "seems to begin every phone call with the line, `It's worse than you think.'"
The secrets don't show on his face, but when Hersh lets down his guard even a little, the inner life of the inside man seems to leak into the air around him. He is haunted by the as-yet-unpublished photographs of Iraq prison abuses. "You haven't begun to see evil until you've seen some of these pictures that haven't come out," he says.
Link via Romenesko.
June 24, 2004
Room-Temperature Tang, Anyone?
On the heels of grim news out of Iraq, here's a revealing piece about nights without electricity in Baghdad by Peter Hong at the LA Times.
In the 110-degree daytime heat, there are no fans. No working refrigerators. No ice cubes.
The night provides little relief. In the pitch-black darkness of his garden, where he has taken refuge from the sauna-like air in the house, Qadr explains his disillusionment. "I'm concerned if you write what I tell you, it will sound like I support Saddam," Qadr says.
It is 10 o'clock. Qadr speaks slowly, just loud enough to be heard over the rolling background noise of automatic-rifle fire. A small flashlight, brought by his visitor, is propped on a table for light.
"After the Americans came, I believed President Bush. I thought things would be better in Iraq," he says. "But now, after almost a year and a half, there is no electricity, no water. There is more unemployment. My life is worse than it was before the war."
If I could give Peter Hong an award for writing this, I would. Wait, actually, no: First I would make him go back and re-write it in the first person instead of the fungly newspaper quasi-first-person. You know what I'm talking about: "On this night, the 15 members of the Qadr family have welcomed one of those reporters into their spacious two-story concrete-and-brick home." Gahhh.
Apparently if the word "me" touches newsprint it explodes.
It's a style that serves only to obfuscate. For instance, I suspect that in this passage --
Ammar Mohammed, a Baghdad native also visiting the house this night, says the Qadr brothers' fear of being mistakenly shot by U.S. troops is exaggerated.
-- Hong is actually introducing his translator or fixer. I think that's worth knowing.
So give that story a quick edit, Peter -- put yourself back in it -- and the Snarkmarket Story of the Week award* is yours!
*Don't get too excited; all you get is a line of bold text.
May 20, 2004
The Good Ol' Days
I posted this to the Young Journalists listserv, and thought I'd ask you savvy, snarky young consumers of media as well:
Scroll through any of the numerous rants about the state of journalism you can easily find online, and it'll likely be peppered with barbs about journalism "nowadays," how the news media is "no longer" worthy of (fill in the unworthy thing). Search Google for the phrase "our media has become," and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Which is, to get to the point, that critics of the media reflexively conjure this golden age of journalism. If it exists, I'd love to know more about it. The uber-example of fantastic journalism that I always hear about is Watergate -- the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Woodie and Bernie, etc. But were those isolated examples indicative of an entirely different age or attitude in journalism? Were they surrounded by similar shining cases of media-as-watchdog? And I can't imagine that when the WaPo ran the Watergate series, millions of fans of Nixon weren't decrying how evil, monomaniacal, liberal, sensationalistic, what-have-you, the media had become.
Is "nowadays" just a figure of speech?
I don't think it can be argued that recent years have seen huge corporate consolidation among our traditional media outlets, and that journalism has in many ways suffered as a result, but it strikes me that the burgeoning power of non-traditional, independent media is beginning to act as a tremendous counterweight to that consolidation. (I don't JUST mean blogs, either.) We've gotten to the point where our individual readers, who claim fealty to no company, have appointed themselves watchdogs of individual journalists, and these independent meta-journalists actually accrue sizeable audiences of their own, in some cases bigger than the audiences of many mid-sized dailies.
In other words, newspapers and local tv stations are experiencing increasing corporate consolidation, yes, but they're also making up a smaller and smaller part of our media landscape, especially among our generation.
To push the question even further, can anyone point to ANY PRESS, in any country, at any point in history that truly fulfilled the ideal of the media as servant of the people, ethical watchdog, beacon of goodness, etc.? What is the ideal we're striving for?
In Norway, I'm told (might be Sweden, might be the Netherlands), news companies demand far smaller profit margins from their products than our companies do here in America, and their papers are much more widely read. Correlation, not causation, of course, but is it that the media in Norway produces journalism that's singularly excellent in all the world?
There are pockets of stunning media brilliance and bravado all over the world, in much more dangerous and corrupt quarters than America, where daring individuals publish their works on secret presses and distribute them under fear of death. But one can't deny that there are numerous examples of powerful, courageous journalism in the pockets of America, too.
May 6, 2004
2004 National Mag Award Finalists
Because I'm back, and having been away for a while I felt the need to do a public service to the world of the Internet, and I love magazine journalism, here are all the links I could find to the articles nominated for a National Magazine Award. (Compiled before I realized Cursor did the exact same thing, only not for all the categories. D'oh!) No link means I couldn't find it online; if you can, tell me. Whenever possible, I've linked to any free version I could find online (even the ghetto ones), but if it's in brackets, you need a subscription to view it.
Finalists (winners marked with asterisk)
- How safe is your hospital?
- Decoding your hospital bills
- A tale of 3 hearts
- 100 ways to live forever
- Death by exercise
- Living on purpose
- Healthy breasts for life!
Time Out New York
- Your new apartment: from hunting to housewarming
- Thanksgiving starts here
- Veterinary care without the bite
- The $20 theory of the universe (PDF)
National Geographic Adventure
- Ultimate America
- The 25 (essential) books for the well-read explorer
- Columbia's last flight
- [Misdirected brokerage]
The New Yorker
- The David Kelly affair
- The killer elite
- The sum of two evils
- The secret collaborators (PDF)
- [Life behind enemy lines]
The Atlantic Monthly
- The dark art of interrogation
- Is your job next?
- The rise of India
The New Yorker
- Lunch with the chairman
- Selective intelligence
- The stovepipe
- The $87 billion money pit
- Pharmacy fakes
The Washington Monthly
- Malpractice makes perfect
COLUMNS AND COMMENTARY:
- Devolution's double standard
- Republicans behaving badly
- Machine politics
New York Magazine
- Live from Doha
- My big fat question
- Al Jazeera's edge
The New Yorker
- Down to earth
- Building nations
- Rush in rehab
- Here's a bet for Mr. Rumsfeld
- And he's head of intelligence?
- No way to make friends
- Fear and clothing in Atlanta
- My big fat sports wedding
- [Yule be amazed]
REVIEWS AND CRITICISM:
The Atlantic Monthly
- The wifely duty
- Housewife confidential
- Let's call the whole thing off
- [Increasingly berserk developments]
- [Back to the Terminator]
- [Mr. Uncongeniality]
- [Paint it black]
- [Vision of the sublime]
- The abstract impressionist
The New Yorker
- The thin envelope (supposedly, doesn't work for me)
- The devil's disciples (again, supposedly)
- After the revolution (you know the drill)
- Glacier head
- Playing for immortality
- Borrowed culture
The Atlantic Monthly
- Happy hour
- We have a pope!
- Yao's chick
- What is visible
- [The red bow]
- [Rest stop]
The New Yorker
- A rich man
- The final solution
- Letter from the last bastion
- The phrenologist's dream
- The smoothest way is full of stones
- [The only meaning of the oil-wet water]
PHOTO PORTFOLIO/PHOTO ESSAY:
- 21st century slaves
- Inhuman profit (sample)
- Tigers of the snow
- [Cuts above]
- A soldier's life
- Alice in wonderland
- The Kate Moss portfolio
May 5, 2004
Get Up Out Ya' Chair
Matt and I have discussed before the tremendous challenge that newspaper columnists face: They have to write something interesting and worthwhile, 800 words or so, twice a week. Most fail completely. And I mean, there's no shame in that (well, okay, there's a little shame); it's quite a task.
How then does Nicholas Kristof of the NYT write rad columns week after week?
Ah, yes. Reporting.
Kristof is in Iran this week.
By comparison, his page-mate William Safire is, er, imagining what Ariel Sharon is thinking. What? Is that even allowed?
Well, whatever. Kudos to Kristof for using the flexibility of the op-ed space not merely to pontificate, but also to post dispatches from the real world -- with a personal touch.
(And I'll point out, as I have before, that Kristof is traveling with Naka Nathaniel, an NYTimes.com photojournalist and web producer. So he scores points for that, too. Can you tell I basically want to be Nick Kristof?)
April 9, 2004
What Year Is It?
As I'm typing this, there's a big banner headline on NYTimes.com that says "Fighting Continues to Rage Across Iraq."
Interested, I clicked the link, and here's how the story begins:
KUWAIT CITY, April 7 -- American forces took control of a major presidential palace on the banks of the Tigris River in Baghdad early this morning in the strongest coalition thrust yet into the city. Explosions thundered and thick smoke covered portions of Baghdad as the Americans entered the city center in the early hours.
Now, at this point I was a little confused. I mean, dang, I knew it was a bad week in Iraq, but I didn't know it was this bad. Then I noticed the picture of Gen. Tommy Franks. Ah.
It was an Iraq story from April 7, 2003. Two thoughts:
- This is the linking error that every Web editor has nightmares of.
- It totally should not have taken me that long to realize it was news from a year ago!
Okay, looks like they fixed the link as I've been typing this. Back to the future! Which eerily resembles the past!
March 29, 2004
Thinly Veiled Accusation
Is there a reason that the Boston Herald's Election 2004 page lists only four candidates for the Presidential election -- George W. Bush, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nader? If you're going to include Dennis Kucinich, aren't you bound by some statute of journalism law to include Al Sharpton, still in the race with more delegates than Kucinich?
March 28, 2004
A Minor Rekindling
Over time, my affinity for Friedman waned; now I'm usually put off by his too-neat analogies.
But his column today really nails it -- and I am again, at least for a day, a Friedmaniac.
But whoah -- what's up with this?
I have this routine. I get up every morning around 6 a.m., fire up my computer, call up AOL's news page and then hold my breath to see what outrage has happened in the world overnight.
Tom Friedman gets his news from AOL??
March 25, 2004
Photojournalists Rule, Exhibit A
A slideshow from The New York Times: Absenteeism Among Doctors
March 24, 2004
Pure Skill, Exhibit A
I can imagine a writer doing those two columns clumsily, especially the look-I-rode-the-bus-and-met-authentic-people one. But Steve Lopez hits 'em just right.
This is because Steve Lopez rules.
(Thanks to LA Observed for the link!)
March 11, 2004
Thomas Friedman writes about the Indian software industry today, calling the confluence of factors that came together in the late '90s to pump up Indian IT a -- get ready for it -- "techno-cultural-economic perfect storm."
But India wasn't the only country that got caught up in it. In Bangladesh in 2001, the IT craze was in full swing: Bright yellow banners promised Visual Basic certification on every street corner. Young Bangladeshi men and women packed Java programming classes. A brand-new office building had just gone up, aiming to be Bangladesh's first real IT park.
Bangladesh had only a few outsourcing firms -- nothing compared to the industry in India, which was already huge -- but they were enthusiastic. And they do were doing business not only with the United States, but with Scandinavia and the rest of Asia, especially Malaysia, which was undergoing an IT craze of its own.
Since then, India's IT sector has continued to grow, obviously. I'm not sure if Bangladesh's has. I'd be curious to know if yellow banners still festoon the streets, or if the young people of Bangladesh have moved on to some other dream.
March 10, 2004
A D.C. Salon Opens Up
Salon is opening up a new bureau in Washington, D.C., under the direction of Sidney Blumenthal:
"The country wants and needs unintimidated news," says Blumenthal. "The Bush administration has put enormous political pressure on the press not to probe its radical policies and their consequences. Salon intends to be fearless." Under Blumenthal's leadership, Salon's new Washington bureau will produce a flow of revealing stories about the Bush administration and the election.
How are they planning to penetrate the famously secretive White House? I mean, come on, this is Salon. It's being run by the former press secretary of Bill Clinton. And they've clearly stated their intention to air President Bush's dirty laundry. Any "senior administration official" caught talking to them will be disembowled, lightly seasoned, and fed to Karl Rove for brunch.
Maybe they're hoping to find more people like this former Pentagonian.* Maybe Sidney Blumenthal will discover what Dana Milbank could not. At any rate, they must think they're going to get something. I'm interested.
Also -- dude. A new Salon bureau? But isn't Salon dead?
Maybe I'll fire off an e-mail to my buddy Sid and get to the bottom of it.... Read more ....
Mr. Cooper is a good anchor, and it’s because of his ear for tonal range. "To me, the important thing is to not cover the Grammys with the same sense of urgency" as the hard news, said Mr. Cooper. It’s the anchor pitfall -- like the famously mocked "poetry voice," there is anchor voice. While it may be as comforting as codeine cough syrup, eventually it becomes a sick stream of meaninglessness stridency, death made palatable over America’s Lean Cuisine dinners.
I think that is the first time I've seen "anchor voice" -- the worst! -- described in print. I gotta watch this show and see if Cooper actually doesn't use it.
March 7, 2004
Burning Down The New York Times
The strangest book review appears in The Washington Post for Jayson Blair's new book, Burning Down My Master's House. Maybe one-fourth of it actually reviews the book, half of it is nanny-nanny-boo-boo WaPo vs. NYT one-upsmanship, and another fourth is a pretty unenlightening psychoanalysis of Jayson Blair.
The review starts with a shot of bitter scorn at the NYT -- "Newspapers and television stations across the nation follow its lead," the author writes. "This state of affairs, in a nation that sees itself as the capital of free markets, is appalling, but it is the reality of the news business." Later in that paragraph, the author says, "We shouldn't dismiss [Blair's] allegations just because the people currently running The New York Times tell us to (as they recently did in a news article on their own pages)." Their own pages!!
The very next sentence pats the WaPo on the back for breaking the Jayson Blair story. And I mean, that clearly had to come at some point in this story, but it seems like a bit of a cheap shot right here. The rest of the review is spent making the case on the one hand for trusting Jayson Blair's words whenever he casts the NYT in the worst possible light, and on the other hand for not trusting Jayson Blair's words at all when it comes to his account of his feelings and motivations.
Maybe the weirdest part is that this book review has gotten probably the most play any review ever will on the WaPo website. I understand there's a rivalry here, but is it supposed to be this obvious?
March 5, 2004
It's Like Ranger Rick
My request: More cute animal pictures on the front page of NYTimes.com!
(There was some story to go with it, too.)
March 4, 2004
I'm a big fan of this story (part of a series) about shoddily-built homes in Orlando. I like it because the Orlando Sentinel and WESH-TV, with help from the University of Central Florida, have actually done a statistically significant study. It's news based on the aggregation of data, not anecdotes, which is rarer than it ought to be.
Also, this infographic of how a house gets built is pretty cool. Except, I gotta tell you, we don't build 'em like that in Michigan. Cement walls? What?
February 26, 2004
This Puts the "Ass" in "Associated Press"
"The ingenious album reconfigures the trippy Beatles rock to jibe with the Jay-Z's rough acapella raps."
I won't even comment on the fact that Jay-Z now apparently requires an article before his name. (Oh wait.) But I will say, for the record, that it's spelt "a cappella."
Don't be snarky. I know how "spelt" is spelt.
February 25, 2004
Covering the Cheat Beat
TODAY'S LUNCHTIME QUESTION: The Rocky Mountain Progressive Network has delivered a fidelity pledge to lawmakers supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment. To preserve the sanctity of marriage, the legislators must promise that they will not and have not cheated on their partners.
Say you're a newspaper managing editor of a paper with unlimited resources. The executive editor comes up to you and says she's got this idea for an investigation: How many senators are cheating on their spouses? A database of how much fidelity you can track down in the most hallowed chamber of Congress. You can use this information as you wish; perhaps cross-referencing it with those who've pledged to support the FMA, supposedly out of respect for the sanctity of marriage.
What do you say?
February 18, 2004
What Really Happened?
Yesterday, as San Francisco gay couples received marriage licenses from the city, Judge James Warren of the county Superior Court said something. That's about all the newspaper headlines about the story can agree on.
What actually happened, as far as I can tell: Judge Warren was responding to a request from an anti-gay-marriage group asking him to make San Francisco "cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to and/or solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples; to show cause before this court." He interpreted the semicolon in that sentence as an "or." So he told the city either to cease and desist, or to defend its actions on March 29. He also said that the anti-marriage group will probably win its stay when that hearing is held. In other words, the city's actions might eventually be determined to be illegal.
Depending on which headline you believe, the judge said the marriages were illegal, he said they were ok, he urged a halt on the marriages, he won't halt the marriages, etc.
I think The Washington Post hits closest to the truth with their headline, "Judges Postpone Action on Same-Sex Marriage." And I think SFGate.com carried the best story about the matter; theirs actually quoted the judge.
February 7, 2004
My Excitement Is Renewed
You know, I have to admit, for a while there I was waning on weblogs.
FeedDemon, a program that gathers blog items together en masse, sat dormant on my desktop.
My venerable links page (a.k.a. the tersest blog ever) was drying up.
But then I started to get excited about blogs again, and here's part of the reason why:
NKzone, a new blog about North Korea by journalist Rebecca MacKinnon. She is CNN's Tokyo bureau chief, currently doing a fellowship at Harvard. She actually has two blogs; this new one on North Korea, and another on web-based participatory journalism in general.
This is the coolest thing ever.
Now, of course I like this: I'm both a) deeply interested in North Korea, and b) obsessed with new ideas about journalism.
But come on. If you don't find the vision articulated by MacKinnon in this foundational post exciting, or at least intriguing, then there's no hope for you.
February 6, 2004
"To injure no man, but to bless all mankind."
Check out this interesting factoid:
The online edition records 4 million unique site visits per month, while the print edition, published five days a week, has about 70,000 subscribers.
Just 70,000 print subscribers! That's really surprising. I knew the CSM was a small paper, but I didn't think it was that small.
The Globe article says the church subsidizes the newspaper to the tune of about $20-million a year.
Here's a page explaining the paper's origin and purpose, from csmonitor.com.
And here's a rather compelling statement regarding "The Monitor Difference."
In related news, doesn't "Donovan Slack" sound like the name of a character from a Harry Potter book? What a great byline.
January 30, 2004
Pardon the self-promotion, but I just linked something up in Convergence Chaser that I think is crazy interesting.
The context is online journalism. The speaker is Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of New York Times Digital. And the really interesting part is this:
But imagine taking a world like Ultima Online -- designed for massive numbers of videogame players -- and apply it to the real world, where the players are reporting from all corners of the planet. This is a vibrant, interactive real-time view of the world. Users in this context can zoom into the ongoing storyline taking place in dozens or even hundreds of locations. In this context, there is not a simply John Burns reporter in Bahgdad. There is a kind of ongoing John Burns channel that brings with it a continuous record. [...]
I'll admit, I don't know exactly what this means. But I like the way it sounds, and I love the fact that it's coming from someone at the NYT. If it were, say, Howard Rheingold proposing a game-like news-o-sphere with "journalist channels" sprinkled around the globe, that would be one thing. But this is the top guy at one of the top online news companies in the world.
Now, Nisenholtz isn't a journalist. He's been an academic and an interactive advertising guy. So his vision could be met with scoffs and sighs by the people who actually do the reporting.
But I don't think it ought to be. As I explain in my Chaser post, I think the idea of journalism as a flow of information -- not as a discrete story, which is the "work product" that gets all the attention and acclaim in today's business -- is a strong one. (And I think that's what Nisenholtz is talking about.)
The popularity of blogs points us in that direction. One of the things (certainly not the only thing) that draws people to blogs is their frequency -- they're like electronic IV drips of information (or opinion, or weirdness) that are always going.
I think the world could use some better drips; just imagine, as Nisenholtz suggests, a "John Burns channel" out of Baghdad, with frequent notes and updates from the man himself.
Somehow I doubt John Burns would actually go for that. But I suspect a new generation of journalists might. Count me in.
January 28, 2004
Hey, if anyone wants to nominate anything I've written for a Pulitzer Prize, I'll totally return the favor. We've got three days left.
January 18, 2004
Ohhhh, That Liberal Media
This strikes me as a not-very-cricket lede for a news article:
The U.S. military death toll after 10 months of engagement in Iraq reached 500 on Saturday, roughly matching the number of U.S. military personnel who died in the first four years of the U.S. military engagement in Vietnam.
This strikes me as inappropriate for a couple reasons. I'll, of course, expound.
1) The WaPo never explains why they're making this seemingly random connection. I mean, why not mention the death toll from the Spanish-American War? Or why not "...roughly matching the size of The Price Is Right's studio audience" or something as seemingly arbitrary? Obviously, we know what the WaPo's insinuating (In less than a year, we've racked up the death toll of over four years in Vietnam!!! This war is at least four times worse!!), but they may as well come out and say it, and defend the connection they're trying to draw.
2) Even though they didn't say it say it, I think they can be attacked for saying it anyway. The wars in Iraq and Vietnam are similar in that they involved the U.S. sending soldiers to a foreign country, and the similarities pretty much end there. And the Post knows this:
Noting that many Americans polled before the war began said they anticipated about 1,000 combat deaths, Kull said, "There are no signs of the population going toward a Vietnam-style response, in which a large minority or even a majority says, 'pull out.' " That goal has steady support among 15 to 17 percent of the public. ...
The casualties remain far lower than those incurred during the 14-year U.S. engagement in Vietnam, when a total of 58,198 troops were killed, including 47,413 combat deaths and 10,785 nonhostile deaths.
So ... a lot of people expected at least this many deaths in the first place, and at any rate, it doesn't seem like 60,000 people are going to die anytime soon over in Iraq. If the Nasra Cong start getting all guerilla on our asses Tet-style, then we'll reassess this comparison. Meanwhile, WaPo, you can't have your quagmire and eat it too.
January 11, 2004
He's So Angry!
December 29, 2003
The Atlantic Lowers Its Standards
All right, 'fess up. Who stole Andy Rooney's meds and set him loose into The Atlantic Monthly newsroom?
December 16, 2003
Seven Days of Creation
Something about this Wired article totally grabbed me. Well, the headline and deck hed are pretty arresting in combo, but then the article itself did this spectacular job of drawing me into this little dark room with these two scientists, poking at eggs under a microscope. Somehow, the writer gets away with using science jargon without turning me off. I read all the way through. I learned a bit, too. Now I'm all interested in seeing how these experiments turn out.
December 15, 2003
'Farmers and their children waved from the ground'
Wow. The New York Times' John F. Burns is just awesome.
His story about the capture of Saddam Hussein is the best piece I've read on the subject so far, in part because he sets the scene so well. Check this out:
The single-story farmhouse made of concrete blocks is edged by a courtyard and encircled by a fence of tree branches and palm fronds. Branches on orange trees hung low with fruit. Chickens and a single cow were cooped up in the yard, and dates and sausage were strung outside, apparently to cure.
And these closing grafs are incredible:
Mr. Hussein's capture culminated a search over the last nine days that involved several raids in the Tikrit area. The target area was just over a mile long and a half mile wide. The farmhouse where Mr. Hussein was found is nestled along the reed banks of the Tigris River. As journalists flew in today by helicopter over the flatlands and banks, farmers and their children waved from the ground.
Military officials said two men at the farmhouse were also taken into custody, but they were not immediately identified.
The interior of the farmhouse was spare, with two beds. Possessions that the American military believed were Mr. Hussein's were strewn about, including Arabic poetry books, new sandals, shoes, socks and unopened boxer shorts and T-shirts.
Over the door to the hut were the words, in Arabic, "Praise be to God, the most Merciful."
November 19, 2003
I am a huge fan of the daily Nightline preview from ABCNews.com, and I think you'll understand why if you read today's message. Here it is:... Read more ....
Sure, sure, we journalists talk a good game about the importance of engaging stories and evocative pictures... but come on, people really just want more contests!
Nicholas Kristof is soliciting better names for last spring's war in Iraq. He writes: "I'll report the top five suggestions and give those writers Iraqi 250-dinar notes with Saddam's portrait."
Here's my entry: Saddam Entanglement. It's like quantum entanglement, get it? That's when two particles mysteriously affect one another even when separated by a huge distance (the 6,000 miles from Washington to Baghdad, say). Wikipedia says: "Einstein famously derided entanglement as 'spooky action at a distance.'"
Hmm, maybe I should have made Spooky Action at a Distance my backup entry...
Anyway, Saddam Entanglement is also apt because let's face it, quantum physics is almost -- almost -- as confusing as the situation in Iraq right now.
File under: Gleeful Miscellany, Journalism
November 18, 2003
The Ghost of Democracy Speaks
Jay Rosen is running the smartest and most provocative blog around these days. His most recent post confirms it.
It's an argument against political realism -- the calculation that says only a handful of swing districts matter in elections -- and the news industry's tacit agreement with it. Rosen writes:
It cannot be the case that 95 percent of the country must be ignored so that campaign rationality can prevail. (In fact, though every step in that system is rational, the final result is crazy.)
It cannot be the case that the "savvy" style of journalism, which accepts this system under the law of realism, is the only style possible or practical. (Indeed, I would bet that most journalists are sick of it by now.)
And he takes on realism again in a comment posted to another blog that cites his original item (follow that?):
Now about this: "You can't lead if you don't win... Bucking the system, even one dumber than spam, is a sure route to loss of leadership -- a form of political death. That's dumb!"
There is one outstanding example in American politics that confounds this wisdom, which I would place in the "realism" category. That example is Barry Goldwater. He bucked the system. He lost. But with his insurgent campaign began the rise of the conservative Right based in the South and West; and that party is now triumphant. Those he inspired have won big in the 40 years following his candidacy. Goldwater led. He just didn't head the government but in the longer term he won.
Political realism is a form of persuasion; and it does not have absolute validity.
I think this comment is connected, somehow, to an idea expressed in a recent e-mail from my favorite college professor:
No one doubts that the news is constructed, but few notice that it is constructed around a model of public action which makes D.C. the center of politics. ... Turner's great insight was to move the news to Atlanta, but in effect that has failed given that they feel they must cover what everyone else does.
So, here are the questions I'm asking myself now:
- If the national media choose not to follow the candidates' swing-state schematics, then where do they focus their resources? The most populous states? The most interesting? The, er, warmest?
- Is Washington, D.C. just inevitably the center of political gravity in this country? How do we find people who are going to be a big deal in a few years, but have no legislative or executive power now?
- Is it far-sighted or foolish to talk about political trends that unfold over decades instead of years? Does our public discourse truly need a longer time-scale, or is the future too unpredictable to even bother with?
November 17, 2003
Sheila Lennon blogs this from the Online News Association's 2003 conference:
I just asked Esther Dyson publicly, as an unaffiliated futurist, how she thinks news and information will enter our lives after the quantum leap, the watershed. She said she thinks Wall Street is poisonous, and that (wealthy) citizens will have to step up to insure news can still be gathered.
"News philanthropy?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "if necessary."
You could feel the ripple go through the room.
Maybe that's what Joan Kroc was thinking, too?
Attention, cable TV channels, especially those not yet launched: It's not enough to park a pleasant face in front of a camera and let it blab. The words matter.
I am spurred on to this statement by a recent New York Times article, which I shall now excerpt at ridiculous length.
November 14, 2003
This Is Not a Washington Post Article
Is it, do you think, that The Washington Post is attempting to eradicate its image as one of the austere Grey Ladies with this substanceless black hole of absence parading as a column, complete with a paragraph-long paean to Wesley Clark's nose? Are they trying to take the A out of "staid" and replace it with a big ol' U.P.?
Is it not a sign of the end times that this report appeared on a section front page?
November 5, 2003
An Aging Audience
Little did I realize what a dramatic distinction Gore & Co. are making by aiming a news channel at young people.
In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story about last night's Democratic debate on CNN, Caroline Wilbert notes that the median age of CNN's audience is... 61! Furthermore:
CNN is not the only cable network with gray hair. The median age of Fox News' viewers is 60. And MSNBC, despite launching with a slick techie style during the dot-com boom, isn't much different. The average age is 58.
Well, this completely freaks me out. It suddenly seems like the news channels are all operating in a parallel dimension. A dimension... where everyone is old.
Speaking of the Democratic debate: Anderson Cooper is clearly a synthetic newsdroid sent from the future to change the past. Whether it's for good or for ill remains to be seen.