June 27, 2007
"Mother Jones invites you to question if the Politics 2.0 revolution really lives up to its hype."
And PressThink asks whether the printing press progressives at Mother Jones have any kind of grip. "They saw the Internet and freaked: this can't be real. Recovering their bravery, they decided to debunk it."
Mother Jones magazine has come out with a special Politics 2.0 package. It has a great collection of interviews with “bloggers, politicos, and Netizens,” including MyDD’s Jerome Armstrong, Howard Dean, Chris Rabb of Afronetizen, Digg’s Kevin Rose, conservative Grover Norquist, Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, and Phil de Vellis, the guy who created that “Hillary 1984” video. Absorb them all and you have a tour d’horizon for how the Web is changing politics.
The writing and framing from the journalists at Mother Jones is another story. This will give you the flavor:
Are we entering a new era of digital democracy—or just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks?
New dawn or techo con game: such illuminating alternatives! Again:
Blogs, social networking, and viral video are redefining where political discussion takes place. But are they just replacing the old machine bosses with a new group of bullies?
And what an irony that would be. (See Meet the New Bosses.) Another:
Is old media dead, or is the blogosphere just a flash in the pan?
Because we know it’s one or the other. Those quotes come from a press release that landed in my box yesterday, provoking me with breezy hype about all the hype-busting going on at Mother Jones, an investigative magazine of the left.
“Mother Jones invites you to question if the Politics 2.0 revolution really lives up to its hype.” (Press release again.) When I later asked Clara Jeffery, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, from whence comes this impulse to debunk (and who provided the bunk that made your de-bunking so imperative…?) she said: impulse to debunk? We weren’t out to debunk. I don’t know what you’re talking about. We said some good things and we said some skeptical things. You have a problem with that?
Which is kinda how the whole interview went.
I thought I was her asking about an editorial decision Mother Jones made: to frame and present its report on “open source politics” not with an idea of its own, or a conclusion reached via reporting, but with the standard myth-busting software journalists load into their prose machines a zillion times a year.
The package begins with a page that is made up like a Wikipedia entry for Open Source Politics. (Of course no one can edit it, except Mother Jones.) This was meant to ease you into the bouncy, crap-detecting spirit of the section and get you to read it, while having a little fun with the form. Thus…
The neutrality of this story is disputed.
Open-source politics is the idea that social networking and participatory technologies will revolutionize our ability to follow, support, and influence political campaigns. Forget party bosses in smoky backrooms—netroots evangelists and web consultants predict a wave of popular democracy as fundraisers meet on MySpace, YouTubers crank out attack ads, bloggers do oppo research, and cell-phone-activated flash mobs hold miniconventions in Second Life. The halls of power will belong to whoever can tap the passion of the online masses. That kid with a laptop has Karl Rove quaking in his boots. And if you believe that, we’ve got some leftover Pets.com stock to sell you.
Fun, right? I had lots of questions about this part but Jeffery was again mystified as to why I would even ask. Sure, it’s snarky, she said. But the point of the fake wiki page was “to set up the ‘it’ll change everything,’ ‘it’ll change nothing’ tension that runs throughout the package.” And that is how the package is framed. My question was: why? Through several emails and a phone interview, I failed in getting an answer.
Ohmygod this is going to change everything! as against Same shit as always. To Clara Jeffery those are two different thoughts. To me they are the same idea: don’t think it through yourself, use rote forms: the revolutionary and his glorious dawn to come, the reactionary who spits at the new. To her there is some kind of “tension” between these views. To me there is no tension because they are fake alternatives to begin with— just off-the-shelf bi-polar hype-speak from Mother Jones.
If you read their interviews with smart people who know politics or know the Web, they are far more grounded. Take Mike Cornfield of George Washington University, who said:
There’s a big difference between having a technical capacity to do something and having the willpower to organize people and persuade them and make history. There’s just a huge gap there.
Or Jane Hamsher on the kingmaking powers of the online left:
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama probably don’t need the netroots behind them— they just need us not to hate them.
So I asked Jeffery: if your sources, the people you talked to for this report, didn’t hold such extreme views (“it’ll change everything” or “it’ll change nothing”) and if, after checking into it, twelve writers and editors working for Mother Jones didn’t come down in either of these camps, then why in the world would you use that “tension” to frame the thing? Where did it come from? Couldn’t you find anything better in the reporting you did?
The question—like all my questions—did not compute. She did, however, say that taking two extreme-ified claims and discovering that the truth is somewhere in the middle was a “perfectly standard” treatment in journalism. I had to agree with her on that. But it seemed like a strange explanation. Ours is the same lame frame game you see everywhere in the press, so what’s your problem with it, Jay?
Reality is elsewhere. That’s my problem with it. Here’s what Phil de Vellis said…
There are still gatekeepers. There are just a lot more of them, and new ones all the time.
Observe how this sort of statement doesn’t scream out, “revolutionary alert: there are no more gatekeepers!” Nor does it idiotically contend, curmudgeon-style, that since everything hasn’t been overturned nothing is really different. Vellis says: The political media system hasn’t crumbled, it still stands. But there are changes, and some of them show a pattern that is quite different from the old pattern, so we have to keep an eye on this.
Compare that to Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery in their editors’ note introducing the Mother Jones package, piling irony on irony in their hype-busting prose.
And what of the glorious netroots? Already we’ve seen some of these gate-crashers act more like gatekeepers, promoting groupthink, punishing dissent, and growing drunk on the tribute that old-school pols and the msm now provide them. Not only that, but the blogosphere hardly looks like America yet: as Afro-Netizen’s Chris Rabb notes, those “who could afford to sleep on Howard Dean’s couch in Vermont are the same people who can raise the money to build a digital consultancy or a social networking site.” Is democracy’s best hope just another—if somewhat bigger and younger—elite? Even if the online conversation broadens, not everyone in the crowd is wise, as the digital road rage in comment threads so often proves. And if you thought Willie Horton and Swift Boating were slimy, wait till every last racist smear or dirty lie finds its way to YouTube or Digg.
An outstanding feature of this kind of writing is the question that really isn’t a question because for savvy journalists there is only one plausible answer.
Can revolutionaries hold true to their lofty declarations, or will they inevitably be corrupted by power?
Pop quiz: which of those views is meant to scan “naive,” and which reads “savvy?” Give up so soon? Revolutionaries holding to lofty ideals as they become more established— not likely. And Mother Jones did not find any cases worth reporting. Revolutionaries with lofty rhetoric getting corrupted by proximity to power? Well, yeah— that happens. That’s where the real word is. That’s the savvy view.
“In the world of ‘Politics 2.0’ the masses are forging a more transparent political system—one where bottom-up organizing trumps top-down messaging,” the press release says. “Or so we’ve been led to believe by bloggers and web consultants.”
I asked Clara Jeffery who these bloggers and web consultants were, the ones who were leading us to believe things that Mother Jones just had to challenge. Had she spoken to any? Those true believers she wrote about, did they have names or anything? Again she didn’t understand the question. Why was I asking her about imagery in a press release that some flack sent out?
(Hey, Shel, help me out here, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? Press release goes out. PressThink receives it and has a few questions. Flack passes me along to editor. Editor says: huh?) Jeffery did mention that in this interview a real live revolutionary with lofty declarations could be found.
In March Jonathan Chait wrote about the Netroots in The New Republic, not the same subject but very similar terrain. Unlike the happy balloon poppers at Mother Jones, he at least had an interpretation to offer:
The Democratic leadership and the liberal intelligentsia seemed pathetic and exhausted, wedded to musty ideals of bipartisanship and decorousness. Meanwhile, what the netroots saw in the Republican Party, they largely admired. They saw a genuine mass movement built up over several decades. They saw a powerful message machine. And they saw a political elite bound together with ironclad party discipline.
This, they decided, is what the Democratic Party needed. And, when they saw that the party leadership was incapable of creating it, they decided to do it themselves.
When I asked Clara Jeffery what her interpretation was from all the reporting time her team put in, she had one: “Politics 2.0 is still a work in progress.” (MOTHER JONES CHALLENGES THE POLITICS 2.0 “REVOLUTION;” CLAIMS RESULTS ARE NOT IN YET.) Chait agreed that the results are not in, but didn’t leave it there:
What they have accomplished in just a few years is astonishing. Already, the netroots are the most significant mass movement in U.S. politics since the rise of the Christian right more than two decades ago. And, by all appearances, they are far from finished with their task: recreating the Democratic Party in the image of the conservative machine they have set out to destroy.
Which may not be entirely accurate but it does cause conversation, and from conversation additional layers of understanding may grow.
The Mother Jones editors had a great story about politics and the web within their grasp, but they were too busy fabricating myths they could bust up later— and so they missed it. Jerome Armstrong told them: right now there’s a generational conflict being played out within the campaigns. In 2004 the “big” operators around the candidate weren’t focused on the Internet, and didn’t see why they should be. And so at times the kids and outsiders could show the way to new uses, bypassing legacy thinking at the top.
Now in ‘08 all the old hands have woken up to the Internet and through embrace and extend they have tried to exert control over that department, colonizing it for the kind of command and control, push-the-message politics where (boomer) knowledge is ancient and decisive. “I know people on all these campaigns that work on the Internet and they’re frustrated as hell,” said Armstrong. “That’s throughout the Democratic Party.” But I bet you could find a similar dynamic on the Republican side.
“It’s a generational gap between the decision makers that lead the candidates and campaigns, and the campaign managers, who are directors of the different departments.” Somebody will do that story (a good story!) but it won’t be the printing press progressives at Mother Jones. They saw the Internet and freaked: this can’t be real. Recovering their bravery, they decided to debunk it.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
“There is no Boss Tweed of the blogosphere, and I don’t think there ever will be.”
Daniel Glover, National Journal’s Beltway Blogger reacts to the treament of his ideas by Mother Jones. He was interviewed for the package, and was also asked to write for it. His quotes about bloggers being thin-skinned made it into Daniel Shulman’s piece, Meet the New Bosses. What didn’t make it in? “The fact that I disagreed with his very thesis — that an elite group of mafia-type bosses in the liberal blogosphere controls lesser bloggers and intimidates traditional power brokers.”
Glover says he saw signs of a “pre-determined thesis.” He says my objection to the tone of the package “is a legitimate criticism.” And he says blogger reactions to Mother Jones show that the thin-skins and knee-jerk reactions remain. In other words: a must read post.
And don’t miss the comments where (in a civilized discussion) Daniel Schulman says: pre-determined thesis? Impossible, and insulting. Co-editor Monika Bauerlein says “Dan Schulman is too good a reporter to go into a piece with a predetermined conclusion.” Impossible! But Glover sticks to his guns. How does he know? Because he heard the pitch for the piece himself when Mother Jones asked him to take it on as a freelancer, and he saw his views coveniently ignored when they didn’t fit the thesis.
Shulman then comments at PressThink: “[Glover] said that while some bloggers command bigger followings than others, no single blogger is setting the agenda so to speak. I agree and you’ll notice that I don’t suggest otherwise in my story, (nor will you find the words ‘gatekeeper’ or ‘boss’ anywhere in the body of my piece.” Headline to his article:
Meet the New Bosses
News: After crashing the gate of the political establishment, bloggers are looking more like the next gatekeepers.
Glover’s interview is not one of the ones you can find in the Mother Jones compendium: Interviews with Bloggers, Politicos, and Netizens on Politics 2.0. Why would that be? Explained here.
“No, we did not set out to debunk politics 2.0,” explains Mother Jones co-editor Monika Bauerlein at another must read post in comments (July 1.) “We did set out to debunk some hype that we saw within that universe.” (That’s a change—but a welcome change—from what had been a position denying any such intent; thus, my italics.) More:
No, we are not the victims of a rogue press agent. We approved the press release. It is a work of marketing, which doesn’t make it bad or false or “from another planet,” but which does mean that it highlights elements of the package that are assumed will get people’s attention and get them to look closer. The closer look is what’s intended; a press release is a tease, not a summary.
“And yes, there is similar ‘revolution-or-snake-oil’ framing in the heads and deks for the package.”
MoJo blog replies. What is Jay Rosen For? by Josh Harkinson. I thought this part revealing.
[Rosen is] writing from the perspective of an avid blogger who is familiar with the ins and outs of the Politics 2.0 world (I think) and doesn’t seem to realize that some of our readers, especially of the print magazine, are not. People with less exposure to that world need to understand the big questions at play—What’s the deal with this grand Politics 2.0 talk?—before they will see a reason to read about it. So we use that question as a starting point and then flesh it out with more nuance.
Yes, the big questions…. Perhaps that’s why in the print edition of Mother Jones the cover package is entitled, “Politics 2.0 smackdown.”
Points to Mother Jones for engaging with the blogosphere. And here.
Monika Bauerlein comments at the Huffington Post version:
Jay, thanks for spreading the word about our package—we’re delighted you’re helping get the word out. And when folks actually read it, they’ll see that it’s a pretty wide-ranging exploration of how technology is transforming politics, how politics is transforming the netroots, and lots of other questions. Why you’ve gone on a crusade to take this down as some sort of fake exercise in myth-busting (or why myth-busting would be a bad thing, especially for progressives, anyway) is a mystery to us, but feel free.
Jeffrey Dvorkin, former NPR ombudsman, now with the Committe of Concerned Journalists, emails. “Seems to me that we need to find a way to bring the public into the act of journalism in a more effective way than we have thus far.”
Here’s what I love about blogging: you ring people up with a question, they drop by to answer you. Shel Holz, ace PR-in-the-Web-age blogger, (“Shel, help me out here…”) in the comments:
Jay, that was exactly what you were supposed to do. Were I the flack who sent out the release (a questionable tactic in the blogosphere to begin with), I would be gratified to learn that it had motivated you to seek an interview. And if the interview had gone the way you described, I would spend a sleepless night wondering if the client was worth the billables. One wonders how much time the client has spent learning how to talk to the press (or bloggers), all the more distressing given she is a member of the press herself. This suggests nothing about the rightness or wrongness of Mother Jones’ point of view on Politics 2.0, merely its approach to addressing those who responded as desired to its outreach efforts.
Thanks for asking.
Micah Sifry in The Nation, Sep. 2004, The Rise of Open-Source Politics.
Micah Sifry in the comments defends his statement at the MoJo blog, “there are no gatekeepers anymore.” Clara Jeffrey at the MoJo blog contests Sifry on the “cream rises,” calling him naive to think that. Blogger Hubris 3.0 by MoJo reporter Daniel Schulman warns us: “The egalitarian blogtopia Sifry knows and loves is changing—and not always for the better.”
Mike Cornfield emails:
They swung their counter-establishment bat at the already flimsy (straw hombre) idea that the Internet will bring about a democratic revolution. A lot of interesting quotes tumbled out, mixed in with some not so interesting ones and a lot of facts and factoids. For what it’s worth, I was pleased to be among the many interviewed, and they quoted me accurately and excerpted me fairly. But I didn’t see anything extraordinary in the contents, positive or negative.
Off the shelf pressthink will do that for ya.
Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice: “Rosen’s reaction to the Mother Jones piece is in a way reacting to our whole culture being enmeshed in the Hollywood idea of ‘high concept’: where things are painted in simplistic, starkly contrasting, immediately recognizeable terms.”
Clara Jeffery hits the blogs for some dialogue with those who linked to my post: “As the editor of Mother Jones, I would ask only that you and your readers take a look at the package itself, and not just Rosen’s windy and self-promoting screed.”
In These Times from 2006, Can Blogs Revolutionize Progressive Politics?
Matt Stoller emails: “[Reporter Daniel] Schulman sent me questions about the slippery line, ethically speaking, of bloggers working for campaigns. I emailed him and asked him to google ‘blogger ethics panel’, and he didn’t get the point. There are lots of conflicts of interest in politics and journalism, the internet just makes them transparent. This is actually much more consequential for old political figures whose conflicts of interest are now on display than it is for bloggers, who are accountable directly to their audience (nothing keeps you on your toes like having thousands of people shouting at you every day).”
Schulman in the Mother Jones article, “The New Bosses.”
Moulitsas has been on paternity leave and didn’t respond to interview requests. When I emailed Townhouse list owner Matt Stoller to talk about this story, Stoller replied tersely: “Google ‘blogger ethics panel.’” (A running blogosphere joke, the query brings up various tales of mainstream media hypocrisy.) Then he posted my email on MyDD as the inaugural message in a series he calls, simply, “Annoying Email.”
Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones replies in the comments:
Much of your argument against our Politics 2.0 package presupposes that the extremes of thought on net politics—“revolutionary” or “irrelevant”—do not exist. I will grant that people who are truly informed on the subject don’t hold black and white views, but the rhetoric that they and the press employ frequently comes off as, totally unambiguous, and results in a mistaken impression that things really are that simple. It is thus unfair to say that we are setting up two straw men. The straw men are already there. Yes, knocking them down is easy, but it’s also a way to, in the process, explore a lot of interesting issues raised by politics 2.0 with more complexity and nuance.
I like that: the straw men are already there; heck, let’s use ‘em! Josh also reminds me that Mother Jones has had a web site since 1993 and is “edited and written these days mostly by Gen-X. kids.” Never heard of a young curmudgeon? I know quite a few.
Posted by Jay Rosen at June 27, 2007 5:04 PM
Much of your argument against our Politics 2.0 package presupposes that the extremes of thought on net politics--"revolutionary" or "irrelevant"--do not exist. I will grant that people who are truly informed on the subject don't hold black and white views, but the rhetoric that they and the press employ frequently comes off as totally unambiguous, and results in a mistaken impression that things really are that simple. It is thus unfair to say that we are setting up two straw men. The straw men are already there. Yes, knocking them down is easy, but it's also a way to, in the process, explore a lot of interesting issues raised by politics 2.0 with more complexity and nuance. You don't seem to disagree that we do that in the interviews (you don't really get into most of the reported pieces--have you read them?), but you simply object to the framing.
So let's look at your specific objections. You write:
Reality is elsewhere. That’s my problem. Here’s what Phil de Vellis said.
There are still gatekeepers. There are just a lot more of them, and new ones all the time.
Observe how this sort of statement doesn’t scream out, “revolutionary alert: there are no more gatekeepers!” Nor does it idiotically contend, curmudgeon-style, that since everything hasn’t been overturned nothing is really different. Vellis says: The political media system hasn’t crumbled, it still stands. But there are changes, and some of them show a pattern that is quite different from the old pattern, so we have to keep an eye on this.
Ok, so you seem to be saying that nobody will actually come out and say, "There are no gatekeepers." Well, you're wrong. Don't take my word for this one, just look at Micah Sifry's comment, posted a few hours ago in our blog
. His verbatim quote is: "There are no gatekeepers anymore." Gosh, looks like that goes against your argument. As the reporter who did the bulk of interviews for this package, I was told such things all the time. Very smart people do believe, for example, that the netroots will usher in a new era of progressivism unseen since the New Deal. On the flip side, people like Grover Norquist are total skeptics. He told me: "What would our friends at MoveOn point to as sort of a success? Getting people all exercised in writing naughty emails, naughty words and sending them to congressman may make you feel better, but does it change the world?" I shouldn't really have to spell this out for you, Jay, but, anyway, there it is.
I'm sorry that you didn't find our analysis up to snuff with TNR. Not much I can say there except that we are not TNR, thank God. As for the fact that we crusties in the print biz have just woken up to the Internets, you might want to consider that Mother Jones has had a website since 1993, has employed bloggers for years, and is edited and written these days mostly by Gen-X kids, among them myself and Clara. Oh wait, but that might not fit your frame.
Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones Magazine
Josh: You did a lot of reporting but in the end you had no ideas with which to make sense of the Net in politics, so instead you popped some balloons. Now you seek to defend that as your "idea." Balloon popping (sorry, straw man toppling to use your terms...) leads to nuance!
To me it is worth more comment that Clara, editor in chief, denies that the package is done in any myth-busting style. Incredibly--meaning, her statement is not credible to me--she said that debunking wasn't a strong theme of the package; it's not a good characterization of the tone; it wasn't our intent, etc. Several times she said this.
I wonder: do you agree with that?
The point is not that you should "be like" Jonathan Chait or the New Republic. Please don't. Here is a writer who looked at the phenomenon and instead of knocking over straw men (your term, not mine) set himself the far harder task of assessing what was actually different in national politics because of the rise of the Net and the movement sometimes called the Netroots.
This task you and your package declined.
If I understand what you are saying in your comment above, you do "grant that people who are truly informed on the subject don't hold black and white views" but sometimes they let slip a remark that sorta sounds like they do and once in a while you talk to someone who really does make breathless or utopian statements; so it does happen.
But, you also said, you know that these sloppy, unwisely categorical statements do not represent very well what informed people actually believe, and so when publicized result in a "mistaken impression that things really are that simple."
Nonetheless you said you feel entirely justified building a story line around them because... this is where I need a little help... because...because it's easy! Right. Okay. Pre-fabs, they snap right in!
I'm pretty sure I agree with you, so that's the good news.
I said nothing about your age or which generation you belong to, nor did I deny that MoJo has a significant presence on the Web. I said you were printing press progressives, and in my view (not yours, I'm sure) you are. You prefer not to have to deal with the people your magazine calls "the online masses." Printing press progressives is a reference to your attitude, not your age.
Hands down my favorite part of the Mother Jones package is the derisive glossary of terms they provided, The Digerati Code. You get not a two-fer but a three-for with this beautifully designed Dodge Savvy.
1.) Because it's a joke glossary, not a real one, only half serious, you don't have to do the exacting work of fully understanding what these terms mean in use and explaining it to the uninitiated without prejudice. You get a huge break that way. When you go derision it makes things a lot easier.
2.) Because it's a joke glossary, with many of the terms played for laughs ("broadcast politics: using elite white male journalists and pundits to get your message out...") you can attitudinize all over and freely express your suspicion of the Digerati, which is good clean fun.
(And, as I said, you don't have to figure out how to concisely explain broadcast politics, a pattern less visible before the Net because it was more naturally the order of things.)
3.) If anyone makes the mistake of taking the glossary seriously, and tries to criticize you, like I am doing now, well, it's obvious they missed the point, which was simply to have fun with some definitions of these wacky Internet terms. Not everything has to be serious all the time, right?
Right! And that's why I love the combo. It swings. It plays offense and defense equally well. You get by with a cursory job in defining key terms that might help readers understand Politics 2.0, you can have fun making fun of the Digerati, and it's a joke text so critics get stuffed.
Brilliant, MoJo! I know some of you disagree with me but I think it's these small features that add up and become the signature on the package.
Monika: I'm conversing....Your "it's obvious" is pure bunk. So by all means join the argument.
Okay Josh. Now we're seeing at least some movement, intellectually speaking.
So I take it you are joining Clara Jeffery in denying that any debunking tone or purpose is in evidence in the framing and presentation of the Mojo 2.0 package?
Or did you feel the question was unworthy of an answer?
Or would you like to take a pass given that she's your boss and all...? (Understandable.)
I ask because you have introduced a different purpose with this explanation:
Our "idea," in short, is have a bunch of people talk about their ideas. It's not revolutionary, but it's very Web 2.0, and it differs from the I'm-an-expert-so-let-me-tell-you-how-it-is approach that bloggers have come to expect and loathe in the print world.
Couple of corrections.
Expert? Who said you should pretend you're the experts? I didn't. You're thinking in extremes again-- claim no authority (just debunk) or claim all authority (The expert.) Life isn't like that, Josh. Chait never says in his article, "now that I've studied it, I'm the expert."
But he does say: here's the part about the Netroots that's real, and here's the part I find truly revolutionary, even though the revolution hasn't come yet, and here's where my understanding of them and their understanding of themselves depart.
He did that work. You could have, in your own ways, but you didn't. You can keep interpreting that as my call for your "single" all-embracing view if you like, but that's really isn't what I mean at all. You are way, way off.
That there might be something that isn't balloon-popping on the one hand or a pre-emptive and arrogant claim to expertise on the other-- that is the idea you may need to absorb.
Now if your plan really was to have a bunch of informed and interesting people talk about their ideas on politics and Web 2.0, which is a valid approach, then maybe we can see where the package got into trouble.
For what you are saying to readers with this notion is: we respect the knowledge and insights of our survey of people so much (and frankly, we're so proud of our interviewing skills in drawing them out...) that we're basically going to let them talk and listen really, really well because they--not us--are a richly informative crew when it comes to the Web and politics.
If that was your approach, to present Mother Jones as the debunker of the Digerati, stripping away the hype they peddle and letting readers in on all the ironies the Netheads and Web consultants don't talk about (which is definitely the tone of the package despite Carla's deluded denials) this decision was a critical mistake, for it undermined your other idea and led you away from the work you would have had to do in order to complete a good "listening to smart people" package. Like putting together a serious glossary rather than clowning your way through it.
Mother Jones challenges the Politics 2.0 "revolution", the actual slogan under which your work went out, should have read "Mother Jones explores the complex landscape of Politics 2.0 with some of the world's best guides."
But... and here we come to the contradictions at the heart of this little episode... that isn't the stance you wanted to take. Doesn't feel tough enough. Non-dramatic. It lacks that savvy sheen print journalists like to have on the surface of their work. Your desire, I believe, ran counter to your concept.
Your desire was to be the proud myth-busters, the ironists, the "check" on blogger and Netizen zeal ("and what of the glorious Netroots?...") the crap-detectives, and so even though your editorial intent was to listen to geeks (among others) you couldn't help jeering at them to puff yourselves up. Thus: "are we just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks?"
These are exactly the moves I criticized in my post.
One more thing, Josh... about "are we just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks?" Where in the package did you answer that question?
I think we're going to have to put MoJo reporter Josh Harkinson as well as MoJo editor Monika Bauerlein in the "debunking wasn't on our mind, and isn't a theme of the package, so I don't know what you're talking about, I really don't...." category, joining editor Clara Jeffery.
Truly interesting, considering how right there on the surface the message is.
How do we explain it? Any theories as to what this denial by three MoJo's is all about?
Or, to put it more neutrally, what accounts for this difference in perception, where they see no attempt to debunk and to others--especially me--it is quite apparent, an unconcealed part of the frame and a major chord in the overall tone?
Monika says she is puzzled by all the confusion about MoJo's intentions.
There's a lot of promise and a lot of peril here, a lot of good stuff and some bad. We set out to explore, reflect, and join a debate that is very much ongoing online. What's so weird about that?
Nothing is. What's weird is not being able to hear any "let's bring the dreamers down to earth and remind them what politics is all about..." purpose in the writing that framed the whole package:
Can there be such a thing as open-source politics? True believers promise a marriage of freewheeling pluralism and the technological tools to share and refine its goals and strategies. Bottom-up organizing, they promise, will trump top-down messaging; "from many, one" will actually mean something again.
It sounds really appealing. But we live in San Francisco, and saw what happened the last time the tech Kool-Aid was passed around. Innovation was quickly co-opted by the money sloshing about, a sock puppet told us it made perfect sense to ship bulk pet food around the country by air...and, well, you know the rest.
Not only do we have to be wary of the geeks and vcs trying to sell us (literally) on MyDemocracy, but ultimately these are politicians we're talking about—creatures of spin, beholden to many, sincerity challenged, and risk averse. Who says that "listening to the netroots" is not just another "listening tour"?
And what of the glorious netroots?...
What's weird is being unable to hear any debunking going down in mocking lines like these:
The halls of power will belong to whoever can tap the passion of the online masses. That kid with a laptop has Karl Rove quaking in his boots. And if you believe that, we've got some leftover Pets.com stock to sell you.
Remember there was no special attempt at hype-busting, myth deflation or debunking in this package, according to the editors, though the headline on the press release invited us to "question if the Politics 2.0 revolution really lives up to its hype," rather than, say, "Politics 2.0: A lot of good stuff and some bad." That's weird, too..
Theories at to what's going on here?
Yeah, I think we're getting there.
I like "simplify, then exaggerate." Do you have a better source for that, Tim?
But here it's "simplify, then exaggerate, then debunk the cartoon images you created in step one." As you said.
I also like this from a reader of the Huffington Post version, which went up last night.
I suspect as you do that Mother Jones began their research with that highly polarized, rather juvenile article concept in mind--juvenile because it reflected a simplistic world view, white/black, a pre-adult reality based on concept rather than living. When content didn't fit concept, instead of throwing concept overboard and running with a potentially great piece (as you mention), they stuck with their outmoded concept.
Another idea: one of the simplified, ultra-exaggerated notions that pro journalists tend to fall in love with and make part of their religion (not all but a lot of them) is skeptic v. cheerleader, with one of those terms a term of contempt and the other of course high praise. (You can swap "true believer" for cheerleader and it's the same device.)
If you don't want to be a cheerleader, then you have to be a skeptic, right? If you advertise what a skeptic you are, then everyone will know you're not a cheerleader. If someone criticizes our way of being skeptical, or what we said when we were trying to point to our skepticism, well, that's because they wanted us to cheerlead; but we must inform you, Sir, that we will never, ever give up our skepticism-- we're journalists, not cheerleaders!
Genuine skepticism in journalism is a good thing, a healthy thing, a virtue, a discipline. But formulaic skepticism, and skepticism where learning is light, is not only a bad thing, but a self-deluding bad thing because the criticism that might allow for correction is itself assimilated into the skeptic vs. cheerleader frame.
I wrote about this in two earlier posts, one of newsroom religion:
In the daily religion of the news tribe, ordinary believers do not call themselves believers. (In fact, “true believer” is a casting out term in journalism, an insult.) The Skeptics. That’s who journalists say they are. Of course, they know they believe things in common with their fellow skeptics on the press bus. It’s important to keep this complication in mind: Not that journalists are so skeptical as a rule, but that they will try to stand in relation to you as The Skeptic does.
Emphasis added. It's also explored in "When I’m Reporting, I am a Citizen of the World.”
Mother Jones found that their sources (an excellent mix) were better at being skeptical about the glorious dawn of democratic revolution via Web than the MoJo editors and reporters were. (Not surprising, the sources have to deal with the realities of political life online.) But if the sources are the better skeptics, what role does that leave for the journalists?
Cheerleaders? No, no way. We have to be even bigger skeptics. Authority challengers for the "new bosses." But this "bigger" skepticism is a cartoon image. It isn't based on knowledge drawn from life, but the formal requirements of an image. That's why every time they refer to "true believers" and the like, they never reference anyone in particular. There is no particular referent for that, except the rituals of journalism itself.
I hope you'll address.... is not editing my blog.
Telling me to halt my examination because it's beyond your tolerance level and go on to something more constructive... that is editing my blog.
I am sure the difference is clear to you.
This is from the Huffington Post thread, where they have a new comment system in place.
It widens the frame...
Jay, I know that your focus is on the press, but I think that this topic could be opened a little broader, to talk about how the blogs etc. have had an effect on the left in general.
Since Ronald Reagan was elected, the US left has been either a) basically radical (e.g., Mother Jones) or b) Reagan-lite (e.g., James Carville). Neither has really been effective in promoting progressive causes. Now there's something different from either of those two, and it's making progress.
Mother Jones is a long-standing institution on the left, a magazine that has for decades stood outside the MSM (and explicitly against right-wing media). But one of the things that makes the lefty blogosphere interesting is how little of the established left-wing institutions, people, and attitudes of the post-1980 political landscape have been part of its rise. (In fact, one of the points working in Left Blogistan's favor in its conflicts with Right Blogistan is the fact that the righties keep pounding at the same 1980s-1990s stereotypes about lefties, many of which do not apply to lefty bloggers--if your enemy refuses to learn about you, you have a little advantage.)
But to take an obvious example, people like Markos have wasted no bandwidth defending Rep. Jefferson as a victim of the white power structure on his bribery charges. There's a common-sense attitude that if you're caught with $90,000 in marked bills in your freezer, you're probably not innocent. This is markedly different from many leftists I knew in the 1990s, who would automatically have taken Jefferson's side in order to strike a blow for the oppressed.
Mother Jones is part of an older left-wing journalistic movement, and they are being displaced as public voices by people who do not automatically agree with them. Just like their colleagues at places like the Washington Post, they see the status quo being upset, and however much they'd deny it, they liked the status quo just fine.
I think she is very much on the right track. I wrote her back...
As you indicated, I think we have to go to generational factors, the history of the New Left and the counter-culture, the baby boomer generation in journalism, as well as politics... and you have to know the specific history of Mother Jones itself, the institution, along with the people who still have hold of it, and the new people who are trying to inherit it, along with the whole life and times of the alternative press in San Francisco, out of which MoJo was born.
Because all these factors are there, quietly pulsating in their decision to go to with derision and balloon-popping amid high-concept prose as MoJo's shining "edge" on the subject.
I just wanted to know why they went that way.
But... I failed to find out (though I went to the source for the decision) and this is what my post is about. I think the reason I don't know yet is precisely that so much background went into it: MoJo's response not to the Web but to a new crowd of producers on the Web is conflicted and tentative, relying on "stock" themes, precisely because the cross-currents are so deep at that particular institution.
And it's not just Mother Jones. I think the confusion is global: what's alternative about the self-identifying alternative press now?
You say: "The MoJo'ers are kinda in meltdown mode at Huffington Post at the moment"
Obviously that was what you were going for, I guess? Why not, instead, answer the questions we ask, rather than skirt around them for your own message reinforcement? I posted my question only to have it deleted, which hopefully won't happen to this one.
And what you didn't include from the j-schooler's comment you laud above was this:
"When you meet people you disagree with in person, would you call them "thin-skinned and hysterical" or say they've "lost their grip" then, or are such comments strictly products of the Internet's great liberalizing influences on opinion and information?"
Because all of this posturing is really possible only in this kind of forum. If I call you up on Monday, and ask, again, why you didn't return any one of our staff's more than a dozen phone calls requesting an interview--during the week, and on the exact day, you told Dave Gilson was convenient--would you (assuming you answer or return my call) start calling me names and shaming me as hysterical? Or would you refuse to answer my question as you have thus far?
Because I really just want to know. Were you too busy? Did you feel the idea didn't have merit? Maybe so. But certainly now you seem to have plenty of spare time, and obviously the content is important to you. And please don't respond by saying, I just didn't get the message, because that's crap. And if it's true, it's a lousy excuse and it tells us you only engage within the confines of the blogosphere.
Why avoid becoming part of the conversation only to lambast it later? Ironically, that Monday-morning quarterbacking is the beef folks have with media--that journalists poke their nose into an evolving situation and pass judgment in writing before the proverbial ink is dry. Well, in this case you, the 2.0 blogger, are worse that the MSM journalist.
Answer the phone, your emails, whatever, become part of the story that involves you. Just think, if you had, the package might be even have met some of your failed expectations, and wouldn't we all benefit from that? And also if you had, your criticism now would have credibility.
As it stands, to me you are just the blogger who was too busy to bother.
Elizabeth: In my view the main reason there has been no debate since my post, or a very low quality one, is that, according to the Mother Jones editors and writers, there was no attempt to debunk going on, it is not a "theme" of the package and it is not there in the tone of the package, either.
Whereas from my point of view there was such an attempt, and it was quite manifest, to the point of being obvious-- and not only to me, but to other intelligent, informed readers who encounter the work. You can find them in the comment thread here and at Huff Post.
You wanted to ask if this phenomenon lives up to its hype, and in the main (with some exceptions) you feel it doesn't, though there are some promising, even exciting things going on. Because the genre requires it, you also supplied your paraphrase of what "the hype" around the subject is. And these passages are the worst, the most tendentious in the package.
I would add that among those who found "puncturing the hype" the theme and major selling point of your package was your own public relations person, who asked me to write about it after informing me of what was so distinctive in your approach: Mother Jones challenges the Politics 2.0 "revolution."
That you continue to treat this announcement as if it descended from another planet is... strange. Very strange. Your PR person read the same package I read and came to the same conclusion I did about the intent: "to question if the Politics 2.0 revolution really lives up to its hype...." (Her words.)
On Monday you can either ask Jay Harris to fire Venture Communications for badly distorting your work, or you can ask yourself: why did they stress hype-busting as the theme? Possibly because it was plainly there?
Of course it is not just the press release. It is there in the tone, framing and presentation of the package overall. If you are trying to reduce all of that to "the marketing" (someone else did it!) that just won't work. You are not the victims of a rogue press agent. The press release touts what you yourselves wanted to tout, and that is why I wrote about it.
In addition to that, I believe Mother Jones editors and writers feel quite strongly that this debunking was needed. They made it clear in the package and they have made it ever more clear since. But for some reason--which remains unexplained--they continue to insist that no such thing happened; no debunking spirit, no debunking tone, no debunking intent.
These denials are not credible. It's fascinating to me that MoJo'ers apparently think I am the only one picking up that message from your package, and that if you can discredit me the message will go away.
Since MoJo's intent to debunk--puncture the hype--is the starting point for my criticism, and Mother Jones editors and writers do not accept it, there is no starting point for debate. That will remain the case, even if this thread goes on. As Josh Harkinson said, "I feel his critique is, on its face, kind of silly." So do the co-editors.
Josh also accused me (in this thread) of not reading the package before I wrote about it, which was incorrect. He dropped vague hints that Huffington Post was killing comments from MoJo people in order to stifle debate, which was incorrect. He said that passages praising the interviews you did were added to the Huffington Post version after our exchanges at PressThink, which was incorrect. (They're identical in both versions) And he said I didn't respond at all to requests for an interview, which was incorrect. He also told HP readers to expect a blog post "in minutes" and that was incorrect. It turned up hours later, with an incorrect time stamp. And all that is why I told him he was losing his grip. That is why I used the word "meltdown."
About none of those errors has Josh said a word.
Truth is, I still don't know why MoJo felt it was so important to debunk the political web in the framing and presentation of its Politics 2.0 package, though I tried to find out. Particularly because in the interviews you conducted (which, again, I praised as a wonderful tour of the subject) you find almost none of the extreme claims that make for such happy balloon-popping.
On the whole, the people you talked to do not say, "the revolution has come and it is going to be a glorious dawn for democracy." That is not their perspective. In fact we don't know who says things like that because you never bothered to tell us.
To take one example, who says the blogosphere "looks like America?" You tell us it doesn't (and I agree, it doesn't) but who says it does? And if it is so important to ask if the Politics 2.0 revolution lives up to the hype, why isn't it important to explain where the hype is coming from, what it says, and who buys it? Why do I get to read snarky passages about "true believers" but not the names of those believers?
My answer: because you are not writing about actual people who are true believers and what they actually say and feel. You are advertising that you are not among them, and for that purpose is doesn't matter who they are.
That's why debunking "the myths" is so lame as an editorial strategy. It gets you off the hook. "The myths" are so prevalent, why try to find any evidence for them? In fact, the myths are another form of hype-speak. Yours.
I took my deep breath Thursday.
Elizabeth, outraged, asked me why in the world I would say, "you're losing your grip" to one of your writers, so I told her. Now you complain that I went into too much detail. You guys are hard to please.
Finally, someone takes responsibility for what was in the press release. Thank you.
So no, we did not set out to debunk politics 2.0. Well Danny Glover (are you going to try to discredit him too?) just suggested you had a pre-existing thesis that political bloggers were the new bosses, behaving a lot like the old, and you ignored what he said that didn't fit the thesis. Wouldn't that suggest at least a little bit that there was an intention to debunk?
We did set out to debunk some hype that we saw within that universe. If that is the case, why didn't you tell us who is spouting this hype, where it can be found, what it says, and why didn't you link to it? As I said earlier: why do I have to read about true believers without finding out who they are?
We do have a substantive disagreement. I think "revolution or snake oil" is a terrible way of framing this subject. I don't care that it's been done a zillion times before, it's still terrible. I think it is lazy, ill-considered, cheap, dumb, and well below the standards you ought to be setting as an editor. It leads you to think you "have" the story when you all you have is a schema. In general, a truth-avoiding approach.
You think it is just fine: useful, rational, conventional in journalism for good reasons. A truth-telling approach. Solid. Reusable.
In my view its main virtue for journalists is that it puts them "in the middle" between opposing extremes, and they try to convert that rhetorical position--an artifact of their story-telling strategies--into credibility with an audience. Editorial triangulation. Weak.
I can't speak to the conversations held between MoJo editors and Danny Glover, since I wasn't privy to them. I can speak to my own conversations with Monika and Clara, as we discussed the story that would become “Meet the New Bosses.” As Monika noted in her comments over at Beltway Blogroll, I was quite skeptical of some of the issues that were raised during our initial chat – to be clear, though, ideas were not being foisted on me, we were basically having a brainstorming session. Among other things, I was skeptical about the significance of last summer's Townhouse flap, which in some quarters was raised as evidence that Kos was somehow controlling the discourse in the lefty blogosphere. I didn't and don't buy this. Nor did I find anything nefarious about the existence of a private e-mail list used by certain bloggers, consultants, and activists to talk strategy and tactics. I did find it an interesting example of how the liberal blogosphere, or a subset of it at least, is becoming more sophisticated, coordinated, and beginning to build up its own infrastructure, intellectual and otherwise. (As Mathew Gross, a blogger who's now working for Edwards told me: "It's a very conscious effort to build a power structure. These are people who are not just blogging, but who are thinking very sophisticatedly about what the Republicans did for 20 years to get to the point of being able to dominate the cultural discourse.") I also found it interesting that Kos' reaction to an unfavorable story was not unlike one you might expect from a seasoned politco -- "starve it of oxygen" – and I note that in my story.
As for my interview with Glover -- Monika erred when she noted above that we didn’t interview Glover -- we did indeed have a long and wide-ranging discussion, and I wish I could have included more of his comments in my story. As I noted yesterday on his blog, I particularly wish I included his point that "the open, democratic nature of the online world will leave the door wide open for Kos 2.0 -- the Anti-Kos -- to fill the populist vacuum and become the thorn in the side of the new bosses." I do recall asking Glover about the notion that the blogosphere is leaderless -- this topic came up in other interviews, as well -- and while I don't remember his exact response, I believe he said that while some bloggers command bigger followings than others, no single blogger is setting the agenda so to speak. I agree and you'll notice that I don't suggest otherwise in my story, (nor will you find the words "gatekeeper" or "boss" anywhere in the body of my piece). If Glover is now suggesting that Kos is not a leader of sorts among liberal bloggers -- *a* leader, not *the* leader mind you -- I plainly disagree with him. Anyway, he did register his objections – that he was only quoted on the reaction to his Times op-ed -- with our fact-checker who passed them along to me. I in turn raised this with my editor.
Lastly, allow me to explain why my interview with Glover was not included with the rest of the interviews published on our site and excerpted in the magazine. No vast printing-press-progressive conspiracy there, I’m afraid. My interviews were conducted separately from the others, since I was exploring a narrow topic within the politics 2.0 phenomenon and not asking the same type of questions our other interviewers were. In addition, many of my interviews included information that was imparted to me on background or off the record, so it was not be possible to provide full transcripts, nor did I want to risk confidential info finding its way into a transcribed interview. So that’s why you’ll find no interview with Glover – or other sources for my story, unless they were conducted separately by another interviewer – in our online package.
You seem intent on believing that I went into this with a preconceived notion and wrote a piece that conveniently conformed to that notion, and, while I assure you that’s not the case, I fear that whatever I say won’t dissuade you from your own predetermined version of events.
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...