February 13, 2005
Will Collier E-Mails With a Question
And I ask one back: Is the point to have a dialogue with the MSM or cause its destruction? Please advise.
Will Collier from VodkaPundit e-mails:
Jay, a serious question. When a former Philadelphia Inquirer managing editor and current managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review’s website refers to presumably-conservative critics of Eason Jordan as “salivating morons” constituting a “lynch mob” of “Liliputians,” doesn’t that suggest that the “hate” between conservatives and the MSM at the very least runs both ways?
—Will Collier (see his reply to Lovelady.)
If your point is “this is not a one-sided transaction,” yes. Runs both ways, but not in a tit for tat manner. Steve was definitely saying: I have contempt for… He would tell you that, I think.
Here’s another read. Lovelady was acting like bloggers do— but also letter writers to Romenesko. He e-mailed his reaction, which was one part emotion, one part attitude, and one part argument.
Did he follow it up by engaging in dialogue at your blog? (He did, with the same “attitude” but not only that.) Did he cause reaction, get people to talk back? (It’s good blogging.)
Then we might consider his volley, “salivating morons…” a kind of conversation starter. It’s more amusing that way, too.
Mr. Lovelady you can reply to some more at your place. Let me ask you something, serious question, Will: Is the point to have a dialogue with the MSM or cause its destruction?
UPDATE, Feb. 16: Here is Collier’s reply. “MSM, Heal Thyself.”
What I’m interested in is not destruction, but rather disclosure, transparency, reform. You can boil all of the above down to one term that ought to be the watchword for everybody in all of journalism’s myriad forms: honesty. I don’t mind a biased press (more on this later), but I do mind a dishonest press.
Dishonesty, by commission and omission, was at the heart of both the Dan Rather and Eason Jordan blowups.
: Notes, reactions and links.
Letter to Romenesko:
2/12/2005 4:22:18 PM
From DEREK ROSE: Okay, I’m sitting here in an Internet cafe in Nelson, New Zealand, rather stunned at what the blogosphere has wrought. First Dan Rather, now the news chief of CNN? Whether or not we agree with what happened, mainstream reporters need to start paying a lot more attention to blogs. NOW.
How to save blogs from ourselves. Steve Safran at Lost Remote. My favorite line: “Embrace your biases. But let the other guy embrace his, too.”
Cori Dauber, Blogosphere as Lynchmob: “The ground is ripe for this case, unlike the Rather one, to be successfully characterized as an Internet lynch mob, a partisan, ideologically driven effort to target a legitimate journalist for no reason other than that he disagreed with conservative bloggers and said things they didn’t want to hear, or worked for a network they didn’t like.”
Watch Jeff Jarvis call out the New York Times for its story today about Eason Jordan and bloggers. It is a must read.
New World Man:
I wasn’t going to—and won’t—spend too much time on the Eason Jordan stuff, because other sites (like this one and this one and this one) have so ably covered the whole affair, but Jay Rosen’s question to Will Collier and Will’s invitation to discuss on our own got me to thinking. Rosen asks, “Is the point to have a dialogue with the MSM or cause its destruction?” I hope Will rejects the premise.
Blogger Michael Duff in the comments: “I think, for all their complaining about the media, bloggers actually want the MSM (and the people in it) to be better than we are. And we’re disappointed when it seems to ‘sink to our level.’… We’re paying journalists to be professionals, and we feel cheated when they let us down. We want our MSM to be above things like bias and gossip, or to make damn sure they’re clearly labeled when it decides to dive in.”
Blogger Van der Leun in the comment thread:
Add to that the inescapable envy that must be felt by the “pros” as they note the vast number of online writers with solid skill sets who are also unconstrained by the “needs” and “policies” and “stylebooks” and all the other junk that media companies throw up around themselves to distinguish one apple from the next apple in the bin. Plus there’s the freedom of telling it like you see it without worrying how this might affect promotion within or without the organization. On the one hand, yes, they do it for free, but on the other they are free to do it as they please. That’s gotta grind like grit on the molars.
Posted by Jay Rosen at February 13, 2005 7:09 PM
" Let me ask you something, serious question, Will: Is the point to have a dialogue with the MSM or cause its destruction?"
The point could also be to merge with or supplant.
Of course, people could be getting upset because what used to a a single closed network of affiliations, social connections, professional associations, and a lot of nudge, nudge, wink, wink, now finds itself confronted with a much more open network of looser affiliations, socialnetwork connections, associations that find a prating about professionalism without accountability noxious, and a lot of email, email, link link.
Another, perhaps deeper, source of unease among journalists collecting a check from a media company is the simultaneous revelation and discovery that there are a great many people who collect no check from a media company that are simply much better writers, editors, and checkers.
It was once the case that to assume the mantle of "writer" you had to get a job writing "for" something. Now all you need is a modem and a motive. And while I'll grant you that this change means there is a lot of very bad writing swirling about, that gets filtered out pretty quickly. What is astonishing to me is that, regardless of what subject you care to name, I can quickly discover a substantial number of people with a great deal of expertise in that area who are also quite good at expressing themselves. And don't even get me started on the generalists....
Add to that the inescapable envy that must be felt by the "pros" as they note the vast number of online writers with solid skill sets who are also unconstrained by the "needs" and "policies" and "stylebooks" and all the other junk that media companies throw up around themselves to distinguish one apple from the next apple in the bin. Plus there's the freedom of telling it like you see it without worrying how this might affect promotion within or without the organization. On the one hand, yes, they do it for free, but on the other they are free to do it as they please. That's gotta grind like grit on the molars.
Put it all together and I don't think there's a drive to have a "dialogue" with MSM, because frankly dear Scarlett, most don't give a damn. I do think there's a yen to help MSM along to destruction but that's a fantasy ideology. MSM isn't going to any destruction that it isn't fashioning for itself. These little jabs may help it along a bit, but they aren't the determining factor.
What you've got is not some sort of battle to the death in a Hobbesian world, but simply a new species that is thriving in the online environment to an extent that MSM cannot possibly grasp, if for no other reason than that the people who still drive and direct the MSM from atop the corporations cannot, for the most part, type.
If you've ever seen the movie "The Forbin Project," you'll recall that it only got interesting when the rulers of the United States looked up and saw the message board above them begin to flash "THERE IS ANOTHER SYSTEM."
re: I am trying to get at the heart of why journalists-by virtue of their jouranlism degree- is accorded all mighty status in connection to all knowledge.
I'm not sure who you're suggesting is doing the according, but it is common for journalists to consider themselves "all mighty" in regard to what they cover because the epistemology and rhetoric of the profession (encountered first in j-schools) teaches them to think this way.
Here's something I wrote about how this works:
We may observe that journalism operates with an objectivist epistemology (i.e. objective idealism): What is real is located in the material world and human actions within that world. What can be known are empirically verifiable phenomena. We are connected to the world by our senses and certain faculties of the mind, which are capable of perceiving the world through the senses and then thinking about, and acting upon, these impressions.
Journalism's challenge in this epistemology is to perceive the world correctly and then represent perceptions correctly through language.
What we cannot perceive through our senses cannot be known (the subjective). For example, journalistic epistemology tells us we cannot know the minds of people without verifiable data collected by, or told to, an objective observer.
In journalism we arrive at truth through a method of induction by collecting data from our senses and reasoning from these data to generalizations about the world. Truth comes before language. Language is a sign system for transcribing truth as it is witnessed or experienced by the reporter and/or the source.
The objective process of reporting and editing fits this epistemology. Reporters observe events and other physical data and/or speak to those who have. The meaning of events (a concept slipping dangerously close to the subjective) is limited to a narrow range of contemporary issues and relationships.
Because it is empirically verifiable that humans disagree about events (our opinions), reporters collect data from "both sides" and present these data without comment, allowing readers to apply their own reasoning to discover the incorrect opinion versus the correct representation of events.
The rhetoric of the profession also fits this epistemology. Journalism students are taught, usually in a specific and uncritical way, that they are able to use the "objective process" of reporting to accurately gather facts and then truthfully and accurately represent complex and ambiguous situations in language in such a way that we may all understand them. This is obviously nonsense, but, then, many j-profs from what I can tell have as little training in the classical trivium as their students. The writing courses offered--even in my own program--do not prepare journalists to fully understand what language is, how it works, and how to use it skillfully and responsibly beyond simple matters of style and usage.
The noetic field (roughly the epistemology/rhetoric of a culture) is changing. The old rhetoric is falling into disfavor (the in-net, blogs, open-source, and civic journalism are helping this along). The old objectivist epistemology and its rhetoric and the attitudes they promote are becoming ever more problematic.
"Is the point to have a dialogue with the MSM or cause its destruction?"
Neither, really. This isn't about blogs or bloggers. The right analogy here is media as Microsoft vs. citizen-journalists-as-open source programmers. It's time to move journalism into the 21st century, specifically, to move beyond the 20c news story format. This entails:
1) replacing the one-way, top-down pushing of news onto a passive audience with iterative, two-way conversations between journalists and many thousands of intelligent, informed citizens;
2) opening up the news production process to include the input of thousands of experts and those with intimate local knowledge of events:
3) accompanying content with links disclosing info on the background, affiliations, biases, and angle of the author of each news article.
The common thread here is OPENNESS. Get rid of the phony pretension of superior judgment, objectivity, all the Eason Jordan as Global Defender of Truth bullshit.
Journalists are hardworking, intelligent people who write stuff. In most cases they have no special expertise in the subjects they write about, be they the predilections of Baghdad sunnis or MS Word fonts or actuarial tables and assumptions underlying social security or the decision-making process within Putin's or Kuchma's governments. With a web browser and some search technology anyone can gain access to experts on any and all of the above within a minute or two.
For ex., why would anyone seeking to grasp the issues surrounding social security waste time with the NY Times' greenhorn, who's not even an economist, when he or she can go directly to Berkeley economist (and former Clinton admin Treasury official) Brad DeLong's website? DeLong writes better, he's more entertaining, and he's a true expert. The media need to find a way to bring people like Brad, and the Iraqi bloggers, and academics and experts from a thousand different corners, into the conversation. And remember that it is via this two-way (actually, many-to-many) conversation that we iteratively, dialectically, proceed toward truth.
On the previous thread I did not attempt to summarise the Michael Barone article, or to characterise it. I merely asked to comment on one statement Barone made, and to comment on the concluding sentence of the article.
You first called my "summary" incompetent, then asked whether I would prefer "intellectually dishonest". (Neither, thank you.)
Then, having used these fairly insulting words about me you immediately said "But it is silly to argue about words this way." Gee, thanks.
I did not try to avoid the fact that Barone said that rightist blogs "hate" legacy media. You may not accept that - try a liuttle faith ? In fact if I had referred to it, I probably would have questioned it - yes, many rightist blogs attack legacy media, but is it hate, as Barone says ? I don't see Hugh Hewitt as "hating", nor Powerline, for example. Often highly critical, certainly. But usually in a forensic kind of way. Not the pure spleen one often sees on sites like Kos.
Re. your question on this thread - no-one is trying to destroy legacy media. The aim is to get the press and TV to be more balanced - or to state more clearly their political bias. To admit and correct mistakes. If anything, it is the legacy media that risks destroying itself. Look at CNN viewing figures, look at LA Times circulation figures.
And the CJR is trying to destroy any reputation for proper examination of the media if the Steve Loveday and Corey Pein articles are anything to go by. They read like undergrad articles, not serious journalism.
In the recent Jordan affair, most of the best "journalism" in terms of quickly gathering and reporting facts has been on the blogs - not in the press or on TV. Most of the legacy media has been seriously remiss - compared for example to your own good self.
Is the point to have a dialogue with the MSM or cause its destruction?
neither. the point is to control the MSM.
Jordan retracted his statement immediately upon having it challenged. That should have been the end of it. But it wasn't.
And the reason it wasn't is that the rightloons suspected that Jordan might actually have a poor opinion of the US military, and the way it is operating in Iraq. Jordan was targetted because the rightloons were afraid that American audiences would be exposed to facts and ideas that they don't like. They are afraid that statements by the US military will be treated with some skepticism, rather than as absolute facts delivered from Mt. Olympus. They are desperately afraid that American audiences might be exposed to the kind of information that the rest of the world receives, and that Americans might begin to percieve this administration in the same way that the rest of the world does.
The right wing is attempting to impose groupthink on America by making it impossible to offer certain opinions and ideas to the American public. Their message is clear and unambiguous --- you are risking you career and your reputation if you present ideas that we don't agree with. Today, the boundaries are questioning the US military, and pointing out how US policy in the Middle East practically guaranteed the development of fundamentalist Islam that used terrorism as a weapon. But the limits of acceptable ideas will continue to shrink, because the rightloons actually believe that "they hate us because of our freedoms" and want to make sure that everyone else thinks that way.
The reality is this --- we don't know if the US military is targetting journalists or not, although we do know that there is quite a bit of evidence which suggests that some have been/are being targetted. By focussing on an incorrect factual assertion made by Jordan (and immediately retracted), the right wing assures that further evidence of "targetting" is not reported in the American press.
Can anyone really imagine that if Jordan had said "The US military is abusing, torturing, and killing Iraqi prisoners" prior to the release of the Abu Ghraib photos that he would not have been sujected to the same Blogstormtroopers?
The problem is that it is far too easy for anyone who is exposed to the international media to believe that the US is targetting journalists. After all, the US shut down the last hospital in Fallujah, rather than have doctors there telling reporters about civilian casualties---how many people died in Fallujah during the assault on that city because there was no medical care available? How difficult is it to believe that if the US is going to murder people in Fallujah by bombing their city then denying them access to medical care when they become "collateral damage" in order to prevent certain news from getting out of that city, that the US military would not simply murder a journalist to achieve the same ends?
So anyway "cause destruction" or "have dialogue with"? Am I alone in thinking that the question is a bit of a "loaded question", a trap laid, prepared with condescension in mind. I think what we're supposed to say is: "Ooh, ooh Professor, I think I know the right answer! I want to have dialogue, because it is only through the dialectic of dialogue that we can pull together to reform our broken press contraption and once again it can function to allow our public institutions to work as they should for the betterment of all yadda yadda"
But, if we don't choose that answer we can always go with "No! no dialogue! Me want smash! Smash emesemm! Me hate perfessor! Him make brain hurt! Now me turn on Fox!" And the "salivating moron" charge, that little dollop of "attitude" on top of the twist of argument swizzled with the orange rinds of emotion, is now - aha! -proven.
Anyway, the answer, mister Professor Rosen - to your obviously insincerely, condescendingly asked non-question question, is neither. Dialogue is bullshit. Dialogue is Big Media people saying that bloggers are unprofessional, right-wing, stupid, haven't gone to J-School, probably live in red states and fuck their cousins etc. while bloggers say that Big Media cats are Northereastern, effete, commies, drive volvos, didn't embrace the Passion of the Christ as the greatest film ever in the history of mankind etc. etc. At the end of the day nothing has happened.
"Cause destruction"!? Either you're being daft or disengenuous. Obviously, something like the "MSM" is going to exist for the foreseeable future, and it's beyond the power of a lynch mob, no matter how much they salivate, to destroy it. (And yes, I realize that "MSM" is distinct from "the press" etc.) I think the original idea was for there to be more of a symbiotic relationship but that was hashed because the big media guys were such assholes about it. Now, in the last few months, I've noticed a countervailing trend in which a lot of the anti-Big Media bloggers are being perfect pricks too, but hey, the other guys started it!
But seriously, I really think that all that a lot of bloggers want (excluding those who merely want all legacy media reporting to fit their right or left agenda) is for the media to live up to its own stated standards and to reform its own practices where needed. I mean, when you have the AP credulously passing on a picture of a GI Joe doll and saying it's a captured American soldier and the blogosphere correcting them literally within seconds, something's broken. And it ain't the blogosphere.
Enter the "Blogosphere" (aka Smogosphere; my coinage). If you have ever visited a BBS you know exactly what the smogosphere is. There are no rational, enlightening discussions going on (but the vast majority of participants in both the BBS community and Smogosphere believe there is); just like on the BBS, the Smogosphere is just one side repeating the same arguments, not listening to what the other side says (but claiming to of course), flaming opponents, and carrying out witch hunts or crusades against members of the community it disagrees with. The fight of left versus right has simply carried over into a new medium. Each side has its paragons. The Left in the MSM has CNN/CBS; has papers such as the NYTimes, WaPo, and LATimes; in the smogosphere, the Left has dailykos and wonkette. The Right has FOX News in the MSM and has Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt in the smogosphere.
So in addition to a tendentious media seeking to entertain not educate, and to support existing views rather than educate and expand views, you have the smogosphere where any unqualified person can rattle off their uninformed *opinions*.
The "Mainstream Media" is already full of "experts" just foaming at the mouth to get on and vomit their opinon all over the air. Even worse is when you get 4 "experts" together and it turns into a shouting match. You can't hear any of them, can't understand what they are saying, and its not an edifying experience. Now, enter the "blogosphere" and you jump from 4 talking heads to 4 million even less qualified Nimrods babling back and forth across the Internet, or the 10th Circle of Hell that Dante neglected to write about.
The "truth" of the matter is that 99% of bloggers are nebbishes driving Ford Taurus' who take themselves too seriously. The ones that do get something (book deal, column in a paper) from this calamity of "free speech" are just going to be absorbed into whatever side (liberal or conservative) they were being a mouthpiece for in the first place.
Truth? *You* the MEDIA (read, MSM and Blog) are supposed to inform me of the *TRUTH*? I thought thats what Plato, Descartes, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger, Hume, Spinoza and all the other philosophers were supposed to be doing. After all, they dedicated their _lives_ to it.
Jay, I got excited about the possibilities of blogging when a newspaper story I wrote gained some currency in the blogosphere. It was exhilarating (and a bit humbling) to see my story analyzed, sometimes line by line, by people who were better versed in the topic than I was. I promptly started what I believe was the first blog linked to a news site in Montana.
But my enthusiasm has waned (last blog entry: Feb. 1. Next: Who knows?). Too many blogging myths about MSM make me doubt there can ever be fruitful cooperation. Among them:
1. The liberal bias myth. Sure, most reporters and editors are left of center. But to assume that colors everything they do is reductive and absurd. Reading about it is a waste of time.
2. The ivory tower myth. Many bloggers think journalists are shocked to discover that other people can write and report. In 25 years in the news biz, I don't think I've ever met a reporter who thought journalism required any special skills -- certainly not academic skills. I've never known a journalist who disagreed with Walter Lippmann's observation that "Journalism is the last refuge of the vaguely talented." Journalists get paid to write because they are willing to work bad hours for low pay. The best of the bunch succeed not because of academic training but because of personal qualities that are rarely exhibited in the blogosphere.
3. The blogophobia myth. Journalists supposedly despise bloggers because we fear the power of a new idea. I think many journalists despise bloggers for the same reason that reporters despise other "thumb suckers" who sit around and criticize without ever getting their hands dirty. Writing pithy op-ed comments about the reporting of others is the easiest job in the world. Don't expect to be admired for it.
4. The accountability myth. Bloggers say that for the first time, journalists are being held accountable. Baloney. My name goes on every word I write, and I never go anywhere without seeing and hearing from people who have opinions about my work. If I'm not accountable, I'm out of business.
5. The priesthood myth. Journalists supposedly believe they have some special knowledge and right to decide what the public gets to read or hear. It's called news judgment, and it derives from the obligation to make the best use possible of limited space and time. No one but a fool ever imagined that what we don't print doesn't matter. But we can't print everything.
No story has demonstrated the gap between bloggers and working journalists more than "Easongate." To journalists, the guy admitted he misspoke and almost immediately tried to correct the record. Unless he's the president or a rock star, there's no story there. Reporters make a living by quoting people saying provocative things, but no responsible reporter takes pride in seeing a guy lose his job over a matter like this. I feel like garbage when it happens, especially if it's because of a story I wrote -- even if the speaker deserved it. The gloating in the blogosphere over this incident makes me think that this is a world I do not wish to inhabit.
1. Will be discussed and debated until the end of time. I agree that they are not as monolithic nor as conspiratorial as some of the less level-headed detractors say, but your near-classic cliche formulation "Of course we're all left-of-center, but our gargantuan frontal lobes allow us to supress our bias/it just doesn't matter/it's much more complicated than that, and I'll leave it at that", beloved as it is by Professor Rosen and so many others, just doesn't cut it. I agree that it's not convincing when some of the more unhinged "MSM" haters see every thing as an example of bias. But what about us more nuanced folks, who don't think it "colors everything they do", but that it is a meaningful factor? Simply by rejecting the maximalist case you haven't disproved that left-of-center bias is a factor. I like the classic answer to your argument that I saw Michael Barone give at a panel. Fellow like yourself says that sure, 90% (or whatever) of journalists register as Democrats, but it doesn't matter because of professional standards and blah blah blah. Barone says, "So if 90% of them were Republicans you think your work product would be the same?" He says, "No, then it would be biased." Ask yourself the same question. Ask yourself how you respond to Fox, Sinclair Broadcasting and other media which is suspected of having a conservative bias.
2. I live in New York, and I've met many journalists who confirm the ivory tower myth. Do some googling, there are at least a fair number of these folks who are just dripping with condesecension. You can easily find a fair number of anti-blog op-eds, particularly in CJR and stuff like that, which bring-up the lack of credentials etc.
3. I don't think journalists despise bloggers for the most part. The whole idea that it's somehow more noble to "get your hands dirty" than to "sit around and criticize", however, is facile. So bloggers don't have the right to criticize reporters if they've never done reporting. Have all the reporters who write stories critical of cops, soldiers, doctors, politicians, lawyers, doctors, executives, etc. actually performed all those jobs? NO. Then why do they have to right to write critical stories? Why do they expect to be admired for it?
4. Your name on the piece doesn't mean that you're accountable. Has your paper run a correction as prominent as the original mistake every-time you've fucked up? Does your paper prominently correct and climb down and apologize to the people wronged every time they make a correction? These things define accountability, not a byline.
5. Yeah, um, maybe your news judgment isn't infallible. And you can print everything now. You have the internet to post full interview transcripts, original drafts, clarifications, etc. Why don't you use it.
Now that things have quieted down a bit, maybe I'll burn some of Jay's bandwidth and respond to Eric Dreamer above.
1. "You haven't proved that left-of-center bias isn't a factor." True, and I would never try to do that. I just think it's wildly overrated. What about Fox News? I like Fox News just fine and watch it often. During the invasion of Iraq, I switched back and forth between CNN and Fox repeatedly to track how each covered the story. Saddam got his butt kicked on both networks.
2. I'm sure there are condescending journalists out there, and I've encountered a few myself. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to even do this job. But I've spent most of my working life around journalists and find them with rare exceptions to be funny, skeptical, quick with a good story, and not at all ideological. Most of the condescension I encounter is in the blogosphere.
3. Yes, some of the criticism of those who don't get their hands dirty is facile, but it also is a longstanding American tradition. Just look at movie heroes: They're always the guys who are out bustin' ass in the field, never the bureaucrats who fill out the evaluation forms. Do journalists expect to be admired for what they do? I don't think anybody with that illusion lasts long in this business.
4. Oh yeah, I'm accountable. My name isn't just on the stories. It's also on the masthead. I sign the paychecks. When an advertiser pulls ads because of something I wrote, the money comes out of my pocket. I once worked at a small Texas daily that had the highest city-zone penetration in the state. When I wrote a hot story or a tough editorial, it wasn't just a couple of people in a restaurant who noticed. Virtually everybody I met, on every street corner, had read the story, and most of them recognized me. That's accountability.
In some ways, I think, what blogging has done is to make every newspaper a small-town daily. Now you have readers up front and in your face whether you edit the New York Times or the Palestine Herald-Press. It's a strange new world for some people, but it's the way newspapering was meant to be. One big difference: When I wrote in East Texas, I knew I had to look my readers in the eye the next day, and they had to look at me. That enforced a certain civility that's sadly lacking in much of the blogosphere. As for corrections, we run all of them on Page 2, mostly without apology.
5. Yes, it's true: My news judgment isn't infallible. And we could certainly make better use of the web to amplify and expand upon stories. The big obstacle: I can't figure out how to make money at it. I don't have time for it, and I can't afford to pay anybody else to do it. I spend too much time working for free as it is.