Media Politics

I Love a Good Dick Joke

Anybody who reads my stuff or follows me on Twitter is well aware: I love a good dick joke. And with a Congressman named Weiner having gotten himself embroiled in a sex scandal by showing off his wiener, well, even a cursory inspection of my online activity would suffice to say that I’m well above my normal quota for the week. Its a good thing.

Something I’ve learned over the years is a strength: I am funny. And based on my click-through rates here and on Twitter, it seems clear that other people agree. I’m seen as a funny person and a political person. An intelligent person, I hope.

So when stuff like this hits, I am in the somewhat unique position to be able to discuss the flavour of the day (ew…) without being stifled by an arbitrary sense of professionalism, FCC regulations, some boss breathing down my back, or even basic decorum. I can just be funny. Its one of those things that makes blogging a genuinely important part of an honest dialog, in my opinion.

But if I’m being funny, am I acting with any less decorum than the supposedly professional media industry? I really don’t think so. Hide behind your dedication to “The Story” all you like – hide behind your vaunted career all you like – but I would submit that juvenile dumpster-diving, masquerading as serious business for serious publications, is probably a lot more harmful to our collective consciousness than a few dick jokes. People laugh at me, but your work ends up in campaign commercials as though it meant something.

For example, lets be clear: if you’re engaged in a sexual conversation the contents of which are perfectly OK to share with the group without fear of offending someone’s delicate sensibilities? You, sir or madame, are doing it wrong.

There’s no reason to have ever thought that the contents of Anthony Weiner’s sexual tweets would have done anything other than offended a lot of people. In fact, they’re supposed to. Why are we so surprised? Lets hope our own conversations are not so pure as to pass that test. What boring-ass Quaker will be the first to offer up a transcript?

I am genuinely confused as to how this new information changes anything about “The Story.”

Yes, yes, yes. The gagging thing. Let me explain: ladies, you have no idea the sheer magnitude of our phallus in our own fantasies. Of course you would gag on it. How could you not? You also fail to appreciate our utterly irresistible sexual presence in our fantasies. Of course, you’re not doing anything you don’t really, really want to: that’s the fantasy! In fact, if we can get a few extra “really”s in there, so much the better.

And speaking of fantasies and masquerades, there is this article. Typically, the phrase “full disclosure” means, “I’m about to tell you something that might seem biased and less legitimate if you found out later about this other thing…” In the case of this article, it means, “You should be paying more attention to this article and giving it more credence because of what I’m about to tell you, while attempting to sound reasonable.” Ah! Le journalisme!

The author, upon “disclosing” that she’d dated Weiner for an unspecified length of time, engages in precisely the same dumpster diving every other journalist covering the story has. The only difference is: because she knows him, she’s allowed to pull the trigger no one else can, and call him a misogynist. That’s handy!

And already, we begin seeing the articles where journalists wring their hands and question how they could have gone so far astray. Because sadism without a little masochism is like coke without cigarettes. How could they – They! The bearers of truth and justice in the world! – How could they not fight against their baser instincts? Oh, the shame. Oh, the humiliation. Oh, the patent leather thong….

Well, I don’t claim to share any of the Congressman’s tastes or deny them either – I have my own and you have yours. What I will say is that the reason he did what he did is the same reason I write dick jokes and why you read them and why the journalists covering the story insist on digging up every petty detail: because he enjoyed it.

We love this stuff. Sex is good, sex goofy as all hell, and its worth talking about. Every topic is not a moral issue. Beware the person who thinks it is. If you do have to find some moral in the story, maybe its worth asking who should be more ashamed: the person who enjoys what they enjoy or the person so pent-up about their own habits that they have to make a serious business out of smearing someone else’s?

Besides: “Weiner.” #Amirite?

Media Politics Rochester Technology

The Twenty-Dollar Online News: Could it Be a Good Thing?

Noting that the New York Times( @nytimes ) has had a respectable start to its new paywall system, I wonder if the twenty dollar subscription fee ends up being a workable model for former print media companies in other markets. And by other markets, clearly, I mean Rochester.

The NYT enjoys huge a huge national audience as well as a history of being something of a status symbol paper. You cannot think of their audience as quite reliably local as would be the case here in Rochester with the Democrat and Chronicle( @dandc ). But for the sake of scale, if you think in terms of subscribers to population, they’ve got about eight percent of the city in three months time.

Its obviously much too early to tell whether the Times will be able to keep up with those numbers once readers get charged full price. But its not too early to think about what a paywalled news media might mean.

Personally, the volume of news I read – and the variety of sources – makes the prospect of paying twenty dollars for each impossible. I’d have to cut down my reading considerably. Which would at first blush seem cut down on my reason for blogging considerably.

But then there is something intriguing about the prospect of a city full of bloggers, Tumblr accounts, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages with only the D&C in common. Of a community where notoriety might come from being the first to spot a crucial detail missing from an article. It could be a very good thing for journalism in Rochester, the effect quite apart from the information doomsday that media consolidation normally brings to mind. My mind, anyway.

We shall see….

Economy Media Technology

#NYT Paywall, Three Weeks In: How’s it Doing?

The big news out in the tech world (apart from Amazon‘s entry into the tablet race and the Microsoft / Nokia deal) is that the New York Times’ paywall subscription service has garnered 100,000 subscribers in the first two months three weeks:

New York Times Sells 100,000+ Digital Subscriptions in First 3 Weeks.

That’s a pretty impressive start, though as the article notes, the introductory offer was for $.99 a month, whereas the actual subscription service is more like $15 to $35. That’s a big jump that may be hard to sustain come next month.

What will be required is for the New York Times to sell its readers on the necessity of their paywalled service, a feat which as I’ve noted in the past, the current model works directly against.


NYT’s New Paywall: Its About Value

I’ve never worked for a newspaper or any conventional news organization in my life. So I’m perfectly willing to accept that there may be considerations I’m not aware of in the New York Times’ decision to go paywall.

But this isn’t about journalism at all, its about marketing. As a web developer who has worked in a few large and small companies over the years, primarily working on those businesses’ marketing strategies, I do know more than a little something about marketing and sales. The first rule is: you have to sell value, not a product.

The iPad you bought nearly a year ago is now the discount model; the records I detested as a child are now worth a small fortune. Value changes over time and based on circumstance because there is no inherent value in anything. Value is a product of human interest.

The value of a news article as a single object has gone down dramatically over the last ten years. That’s in large part due to the fact that most news orgs give their stuff away for free online, but even if we were expected to pay for every article, the sheer volume of news available to us at any one time would also reduce the value. This is basic Supply and Demand economics like you learned in the sixth grade.

Another rule of marketing: value is about exclusivity. Tell me why I should buy something from you that I could go buy anywhere and you have yourself a sale. The trouble for the news biz is simple: nothing is exclusive anymore, or at least, very little. News orgs have always piggy-backed on one another’s articles, with a piece in the NYT sparking a local story in the D&C and so on. That’s not only good journalism, its good intellectualism across the board. But its not exclusive, and that’s what sells.

Which is why the idea of “20 free articles a month” is just so unthinkably silly: those articles already practically free in the minds of most Americans anyway. And if any twenty random articles count towards your tally, then no article has more value than the next. By definition, the paywall removes even the most modest veneer of value from the content the New York Times is putting out. It is self-defeating.

What the New York Times has to hope for is that they are able to produce twenty one or more articles per month that are simultaneously entirely exclusive and interesting enough to readers that they’re willing to pay a $20 premium for that twenty first article. Because otherwise, they’re just giving away twenty good articles.

The Times would be better-served by reorganizing their content structure. Consider a major article to be like a category, with many other articles filed under that category. Anybody and their brother can check out the main article – which is factual, in-depth and satisfying as its own thing. But to see the additional content, you have to pay the premium.

Commentary by famous people, infographics, archives, raw data. These are just a few things to which people do not have access – hey, we’re talking about the Grey Lady, here! Can you imagine what things they have to offer? – that many people would be more than willing to pay for. Even if loser bloggers like me yap about it, that’s not the same as actually reading the content.

Because of course, the two most important rules of marketing are these: you sell yourself, instead of the product and you sell the experience, not the item. New York Times has a tremendous level of trust, which is the primary vector of all sales: you sell yourself, not the product. And they have a reputation for hugely insightful reportage and wide coverage of topics: you sell the experience, not the item.

But the Times? Well, they’re trying to sell product. Good luck with that.


WSJ: How Did They Know That?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today about China’s announcement that it plans on controlling the inflation rate in that country and raise the standard of living. But they do so with curiously unsupported language:

Chinas Leaders Vow to Lift Livelihoods –

Looking to head off the kind of anger that is reshaping the Middle East, China’s leaders pledged to boost incomes for its less wealthy citizens and to tame inflation, goals accompanied by the mobilization of police to snuff out online appeals for antigovernment protests.

Protests and antigovernment websites are not anything new to China. Why does the Wall Street Journal think that what has happened in the Middle East should have any effect at all on their country?


To the Extent that Polls are Relevant….

… I’m trying to figure out exactly how to react to this headline, “Obama’s Approval Rating on Deficit Sinks to New Low.”

The headline isn’t wrong: President Obama’s approval rating on the budget deficit has fallen. On the other hand, nearly every other trend line goes up. The Gallup article in question says as much, as does another poll released today from Zogby. So, which is the story? Technically, I suppose, if all other metrics are trending up at a consistent rate, that’s not news: he’s been doing better since the SOTU. Not news, that is, if you think in terms of moment-to-moment politics.

But in terms of the overall two-year average, its the numbers that are improving that are the news: his approval ratings hit the skids almost immediately from taking office. That the general trend is in the opposite direction seems more relevant when you look at the whole picture.

I don’t really think poll numbers are relevant, except to the extent that they get used as cudgels in political fights. Unfortunately, everything these days is a political fight – right down to ICBM treaties with Russia – so the political damage of skewed headlines cannot be entirely discounted. But, they got my dumb ass to click on the link, so I suppose if the goal was CTR and not FYI, that’s game-set-match.


Is it Worth Sending Journalists on Location?

You cannot on the one hand insist that the problem with network journalism is a lack of empathy for or perspective on the events they are covering and then at the same time, insist that it’s a waste to send journalists on location to cover major events such as those taking place in Egypt. Do we expect out of our corporate media culture more humanism or more realism?

That’s the question posed by an LA Times article posted by @rachbarnhart today. The article makes the case that, major media stars being the security risk they are, it’s probably better to have them stay home and leave the local reporting to the local reporters.

There is no question that local reporters offer huge advantages when getting a story. Like, when in the middle of a volatile and potentially dangerous crowd of protesters, they’re not the one guy with an accent. They are also heavily invested in the story in a way that a reporter from half a world away simply cannot be. They know the players and the dynamics in a densely-complicated political and social crisis – they are all this complicated, anywhere you go – much better.

Its also unquestionable that sending the pretty, expensive people into the thronging crowds is, while unquestionably a thrill and a vanity for the pretty person, an insurance and legal nightmare that the company should surely have predicted. In fact, any apolitical thug milling about in the crowd out of boredom could make his mark in his neighborhood by taking out such a pretty prize. Neighborhoods in Egypt are, I am certain, not that different from those here.

But it strikes me that the real problem is how misused the anchors were in this situation. No one needs to see Anderson Cooper on top of a tank to get the point. But an interview with Cairo officials, Egyptian officials? Hell, Zahi Hawass even could contribute to a richer understanding of the situation. These are the things the flagship people should have been doing: doing flagship interviews. But instead, the insistence that all things must look and feel like they’re a three dimensional Twitter feed took over – not without a fair amount of ego, I am certain – and we’re left with fairly distracted coverage on the 6:30 news.

And yes, when all is said and done, PBS’s News Hour coverage – safely conducted from home – comes off much better. But that’s not to say they didn’t miss out on a lot, just that the Bigs missed even more.


WikiLeaks and LimeWire: Stupid on top of Silly

As I discussed in my last post, there are any number of questions that naturally arise out of this whole “revelation” that obtained at least some of it’s leaked documents not directly from whistleblowers, but from Peer-to-Peer networks (P2P) like LimeWire and others. The new allegations originate from Triversa, a private company that has apparently been snooping P2P networks in search of just such “valuable” information. Its hard to know exactly where to start, but let’s begin with the evidence:

According to two different articles on the subject, including this most recent one, Triversa is hanging it’s hat on claims that “four Swedish computers had issued 413 searches for file formats among the 18 million or so nodes the company believes is on P2P networks.” There are a number of problems with this claim on it’s face. First, the numbers don’t really suggest anything all that organized. Four computers? Only 413 requests? If someone was really, seriously trying to find information on LimeWire, they could certainly be much more efficient than this. They would undoubtably use bots or even botnets – networks of host computers, all working together – to make millions of requests. Even four computers could make requests in the hundreds of thousands over just a few days.

But let’s say for argument’s sake that individuals searched out this information the old fashioned way: typing into a search bar and seeing the results. What evidence do they have that the individuals in question worked for WikiLeaks? Did the four different computers have different IP addresses? Similar? IP addresses identify computers on the Internet and those addresses that are in similar ranges, like house numbers on the same street, may indicate that the computers they identify might have some connection. Is this connection present in these cases, or no?

In a world filled with information technology and search engines, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that people aren’t that original. This is especially true on peer-to-peer networks, where by definition, users come together to share information of interest to all of them. Just because four computers all searched for the same thing does not mean it was a coordinated attempt by a single entity, even if it was the exact same search terms. Are these four computers the *only* computers making similar requests? Once things as enticing as plans to secret military bases hit the peer networks, it won’t be long before they’re everywhere. And by the way, that they’re all in Sweden is not terribly convincing, either. There are actually rather a lot of people in Sweden…. and none of them are Julian Assange.

But hold on: what’s this bit about 13 18 million computers the company believes are on P2P networks? We have a private company trawling the Internet, looking for what it perceives to be bad guys, now? Halliburton on the web? And only 13 18 million computers? Seriously? One study suggests 62 million homes in the US alone have Internet-connected computers. So, I’m not even entirely sure that the company is really as good as they would like to believe. ~ Editor’s note: whoops! That would be 18, not 13. Not that this changes much.

Finally, the claim that, “The PDF file, which Triversa claims it observed one of the aforementioned Swedish computers downloading, contained sensitive information and eventually wound up on Wikileaks’ website,” is – in the interest of kindness and discourse – not altogether convincing. I have a copy of Microsoft Office on my computer, an application Triversa almost certainly “observed” being downloaded on a file sharing network or two. But how does the existence of a file in two locations indicate any connection whatsoever? Anyone who knows the most basic things about digital files must surely see this as spurious.

It is very difficult to determine what amount of evidence has been revealed to the media. There are certainly a great many other details that could be – probably have been – left out. But taking the claims as published at face value, they certainly leave much to be desired.

Keep the Kid Away from the Computer

If the claims made by Triversa leave a bit more to the imagination than we would like, that is not to say that I doubt that top-secret government documents could make their way onto P2P networks – or BitTorrent sites like, for that matter. Information is slippery stuff to say the least, and really, no one seems to be disputing that such docs are available. But that such sensitive information is so easily obtained online represents, if true, a pretty big black eye for our security apparatus in this country that should probably not be ignored.

I tend to believe that secret documents are available online if only because my years of experience doing deskside support and telephone technical support prove that such mishaps are not only possible but drearily, predictably likely. Windows security gaps, user ignorance and just plain old carelessness rule the day in PC security. It only takes one engineer bringing his work home with him – where his kid installed Kazaa – to suddenly make all kinds of unfortunate information available on the Internet.

As I mentioned in the previous post, all kinds of security apparatus exist and are in very successful use across the Internet. Your online bank account, for example, is just about as safe as houses. Even your email account is, for the most part, reliably private and can be made even more private with very little effort. Similar security measures could have easily prevented, if not the dissemination of the data, then at least the successful reading of the data by people who weren’t supposed to read it. Most notably, Public Key Encryption is not just available to but an invention of our federal government.

PKE basically scrambles information in a file sufficiently that there is only one way to unscramble it, which is to have the Private Key that provides the necessary algorithms. If PKE had been applied to the secret files in question, they might still have been disseminated on the Internet, but as a useless scramble of characters that was of no use to anyone. No encryption could have been in place if the data was leaked out to the Internet at large – and at least in the case of the PDF mentioned above, it was.

And so we come to a fork in the logic of this article, which is really a fork in the logic of information technology at large: is the lesson here that information is inherently free and not to be obscured, or that better diligence would have prevented a security breach? The history of IT is littered with the corpses of failed security measures. Yet someone is always building the next better mouse trap. Julian Assange and Richard Stallman stand for their ideals of social justice in open defiance of the very idea of information security; billions of dollars are spent every year trying to keep water in a leaky sieve, from Microsoft Genuine Advantage to CIA efforts to bring Assange to “justice.”

Regardless of where you come down on the question of Internet security, national security, journalism, free software, copyright, whistleblowing, corporate security firms or peer to peer networks, it will be interesting to see where this latest ripple in the saga leads us. There seems no end to the various threads and topics we find ourselves weaving into this one story.


Straddling Journalism and Advocacy

The Deal with Palin | Talking Points Memo.

An interesting post from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, sort of laying out a justification of how often they post articles on Sarah Palin. But what it reveals more than anything else is the sort of twisted logic that accompanies the strange world that perhaps all of us bloggers inhabit, some more deeply than others. TPM straddles a variety of mediums and fulfills audience needs that do not always harmonize together.

Because of course, he’s a blogger. “Blogging” is a term which was at one time artificially loaded with meanings, but in the simplest sense, it really only means self-publication. The ability to take thoughts you might write on paper, type them into a web interface and publish them for the world to see is blogging. It might also refer to specific types of software you might use; it might also refer to a certain style of writing which I have often referred to as “stream of consciousness.” Blogging is often the process of discussing the events of the moment without necessarily painting a complete picture; that complete picture is contained within the blog as a whole rather than the post.

That someone is “blogging” does not by itself mean they are or are attempting to do anything approaching journalism. Some blogs are poetry. Others are deep discussions of web standards or programming techniques. But at this point, Josh is definitely a journalist. And he’s the editor of a web news publication. Many of us regularly get our news from TPM. Accuracy is important. As is context, a thing which news blogging generally ignores, post to post.

But here’s the thing: Josh Marshall is an advocate for his political point of view. I generally argue that the term “objective” is a horribly mis-used word in journalism, bordering on a myth. But in this case, there is not now and never was any real sense of impartiality, which is perhaps closer to the meaning of the word “objective” as applied to journalism. In fact, in terms of where he got his audience from and what at the core is his primary audience, the advocacy is much more important than the reporting.

So it kind of gets to the point where things become quite confused, as indeed this article suggests. When Josh says, for example, that “TPM has its news section and its opinion pieces, most of which are here in what we now call the editor’s blog,” it suggests an entirely false separation between the two. There is a huge amount of commentary and even humor in the news articles which would be entirely inappropriate in a conventional news room, and meanwhile the moment-by-moment breaking news generally finds its way onto the editor’s blog long before a formal piece is written. The middle section of the article not only veers off the original topic – why Sarah Palin is featured on the website so often – into a thumb-sucking introspection into the problem of Liberal messaging, but actually defies the logic of the entire article: that the decision making is based on readership and journalistic ethics.

I love TPM. And while I kinda think he’s a bit of a priss – some of that is also in this article – I like what Josh Marshall does and can even admit to the more-than-obvious inspiration I’ve taken from him over the years. But I’m glad not to try and put my two feet into three different buckets at one time like he is. This article is just embarrassing.


Let Tragedy Be Tragedy

I have studiously avoided any contact with television news at all over the course of the weekend, ever since the Friday shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords. I managed to Twitter something about it, but otherwise, I decided that this weekend might be a good one to sequester myself and my wife from the every-minute, every-second deluge of media coverage, social recrimination and political posturing that would surely follow.

Let us now trot out the relatives who have lost loved ones; those who knew the shooter; the anti-gun lobby; the pro-gun lobby; the mental health experts and the wounded mental health patients, defending themselves against attacks not meant for them. Let us trot out the defenders of all things politics; those inscrutable creatures, of whom the unholy alliance of Carville and Matlin is a sick parable of soulless, unblinking opportunism. And of course, let’s have the jaded “I told you so” attitudes of those who will not even honour the tragedy with the benefit of surprise.

It only just barely worked. You may have noticed.

So, lets address it: ever since the 2008 campaign, I have indeed been worried about the sort of mayhem that would be unleashed somewhere in the country as a result of the ever-increasing hate speech, race-baiting and paranoia-stoking that surrounded the McCain campaign. The speech and stoking includes both Sarah Palin’s kid-with-matches school of politicking and Senator McCain’s own prevaricating, opportunist dance with the craziest wing of his party. He is not and was not a better man for having simply retrieved the microphone from the one woman whom he could not have pretended not to have heard.

Is that white-hot rhetoric of two years ago responsible for the acts of this one kid from Arizona? Perhaps. But then what about the shooter’s history of mental illness? Apparently, he was scaring kids at his college before he started shooting. On balance, a history of mental illness leading directly to a shooting seems a more immediate cause than a two year-old campaign community or a year-old Palin poster with targets on it. Not to alienate those in my audience with history of mental illness: certainly, not everyone with problems is going to resort to violence.

And anyway: this is Arizona, where pictures of targets can hardly be a rare thing. The Congresswoman herself cites it as the home of the OK Corale with pride. They’ve managed to eliminate just about every ordinance regarding the carrying of weapons – including concealed weapons – throughout the state. So, maybe that’s the problem? Maybe guns are the pariah we’re looking for. Or concealed weapons at the very least. As a rather strong supporter of gun rights myself, I have to say that my own feelings are that responsible gun ownership does not generally extend to concealing them and walking around. Perhaps this is an opportunity to revisit the issue of gun control.

But I seem to be finding myself writing a very familiar post, now. Are we back on this, again? Guns. After the inconvenient and uncomfortable discussion of political discourse – we all hate it, but millions of dollars in media revenue is supported by it – after the uncomfortable discussion of mental illness, we settle on the issue which directly affects less than a quarter of us directly, guns.

I was blunt in my last post, some three years ago now, on the subject of how our grieving nation chooses to express itself. I will be more charitable here. Tragedy happens everywhere in the world and it happened here in America on Friday. Twelve people, not one, were shot; six are already dead. These are not the types of things we are meant to understand as rational human beings. When we attempt to explain what happened in political or social terms, what we’re really doing is screaming into that scariest of voids: the distance between us and the limits of our ability to understand what is in anyone else’s mind. Ever.

It may indeed have been the rhetoric: the open and violent imagery regularly egested by political operatives cannot be helpful. It may indeed have been prevented without legal access to so many guns: can’t shoot it if you don’t have it. It might have been prevented with better monitoring and treatment of mental illnesses or simply troubled youth. One thing can be said with absolute certainty: there will be more than ample time within our 24-hour, 365-day new cycle to discuss it at nauseating length on any other occasion but now.

For now, it would be best to do the honour to the victims and families of simply accepting the tragedy for the single horrible event that it is. Without judgment. Without weaving it into a narrative. Let tragedy be tragedy.


Olbermann, Kopel and Journalism: Complete the Thought

I’m certain I did not originally start this website for the purposes of being a commentator on the news media. I’m sure that’s not really my desire even now. Yet I keep coming back to the theme, despite myself, because the media increasing becomes the story.

So, I’m going to keep this one brief, but observe that, in the whole Keith Olbermann / now apparently Joe Scarborough / Ted Koppel dust-up over journalistic objectivity, it strikes me that Keith ultimately has made the most salient point. Or glanced it, anyway. He’s right when he says that Koppel’s bland form of journalism has indeed failed us. He’s right when he says that the rise of his own brand of – well, let’s just call it “journalism,” though I’m not at all sure that’s the right term for it – was inevitable in the wake of that failure. I don’t necessarily think that this is any kind of defense of Olbermann, however.

To me, the slavish insistence on “objectivity,” as in the insistence on not coming to conclusions based on the reporting done, is a cheat. Those of us who watch the news on television or read it online or in print do so because we want to read the news as reported by someone who has some sense of what it means. While the rest of us do our jobs, live with our families and enjoy our hobbies, we don’t often find time to sit down with Senators, Senate staffers, generals, or mayors to discuss the news of the day. We don’t even get the opportunity to sit in a row of uncomfortable chairs and watch said leaders bloviate or dodge questions. And we certainly don’t have the benefit of having done such things for the last several years.

So when the people who actually have done the leg work and the drudge work of reporting the news fail to connect the dots for us – when they fail to complete the thought – we get cheated. When the people with the expertise in both journalism and their specifically-assigned politics choose to censor themselves because they want to be “objective,” the rest of us who are busy doing our own jobs get left in the lurch. No, we do not in fact need your opinion. But we are not so weak-minded that, if we hear the informed opinion of an experienced journalist, we won’t be able to handle it.

And into that chasm will inevitably flow editorials. Then talking heads. Then bloggers such as myself. Because conversation is how humans operate. Because people will always look outside themselves for guidance, inspiration and wisdom. Even to those whom, like myself, don’t really have any more to give them than they had in the first place.


Batting One Down: Leonard Pitts on Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism is not journalism. So pronounceth Leonard Pitts Jr. in an op-ed published today and dutifully republished on the D&N’s RocNow domain. Because as we all know well, nothing says “real journalism” like republishing a story without so much as brief editing.

Low-hanging fruit aside, what are Mr. Pitts’ points on the demerits of private, non-professional journalism? How do they stack up against the reality of citizen journalism? How do they stack up agains the reality of professional journalism?

Mr. Pitts chooses as the focus of his ire one James O’Keefe. Mr. O’Keefe is the privateer that blogger Andrew Breitbart arrogantly paraded as a member of his team right up till the moment he haughtily denied ever paying for his services. This is the guy who dressed in what his Midwestern television-fed virgin mind thought of as “pimp gear” and video taped conversations between himself, his remarkably unscathed “bitch” and members of ACORN at various locations. This is the guy who also bugged the phones of a Federal building, not realizing there might be some complications and the guy who just recently got busted trying to “seduce” a CNN anchor aboard his boat – because, you know, he’s that hot.

I think it’s fair to say that arguments are always much easier to win if you have a convenient straw man, and James O’Keefe certainly fills that role nicely. He is, of course, one single Boy Wonder of the Right, not necessarily representative in any way of the polyglot group of writers, fact-checkers, subject experts, ranters, ravers, wingnuts, historians and yes, people living in their parents basements that are represented by the term “citizen journalist.” But O’Keefe has committed a few high-profile crimes and is semi-recognizable from television, so I guess that’s all the investigation that is required.

Leonard Pitts’ chief complaints against O’Keefe’s concept of citizen journalism are that simply having the tools and the platform to do a job does not make you qualified to do it; that journalism is about endless fact-checking and laboring over context; that stories, visa vis the Valarie Jarrett story, do not get the necessary scrutiny they deserve; that of course, the O’Keefe stories seem now largely to be falsified and cleverly edited.

Holy shit, people. Do I even need to continue writing? Is it really this easy? No less than two reporters at the New York Times have been busted for fully-falsified stories. Other “reporters” have been regular contributors to White House press briefings that were flat-out stooges for the Bush Administration. The modern media – not simply television media, but across the board – is overrun with people like Harold Ford Jr. and Sarah Palin, with no journalism experience to speak of and running their own shows or columns. Mr Pitts, according to his own biography on his own website, was apparently writing for newspapers before he’d even earned his own degree. Opinion pieces which, while credit is certainly due for having won a Pulitzer, are not exactly Vietnam-era mud and blood reporting, are they?

But the worst of it is this: Mr. Pitts chooses to use Mr. O’Keefe as a straw man. O’Keefe, a man whose exploits you might never have heard about but for the fact that the mainstream media – so overworked with “obsessing over nit-picky questions of fairness and context,” and “hours on the phone nailing down the facts” – guilelessly and credulously reported on them without ever bothering to “nail down” anything. His muse for all things irresponsible was made possible entirely through the irresponsibility of those vaunted supposed professionals.

But as entire paragraphs of his op-ed reveal, this is really just another spoiled-brat attempt to down play something that I understand perfectly well has a lot of professional journalists worried. I think that worry is entirely misplaced: the whole economy is shrinking and journalism is shrinking right along with it, but that’s not because of DragonFlyEye.Net, I assure you. Still, elitism and snobbery are available to every industry, and this post is really no surprise, beyond simply being a disappointment as an intellectual pursuit.