Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Suggestions, please

A week ago I got the go-ahead to explore creating a single-event blog for the newspaper. The concept calls for a team blog that would post bits from more than a dozen reporters, editors and reviewers involved in covering a three-week international arts festival here in town.

It would be the paper's first formal step into the blogosphere.

Yesterday I got to spend about 40 minutes on the phone with Lex Alexander, picking his brain for ideas on blog management from a newspaper perspective. One of the big questions for me is what platform to recommend.

Since this would be a team blog with multiple novice bloggers logging in from various computers and locations, I ruled out Radio Userland and resident blog clients in general. I want something where the interface lives online.

Andy Rhinehart pointed out I could set the whole thing up via Blogger and still shift the domain name. But while the price is right, I'm not hot to push that option: Yes, blogger's interface is simple, but uploading images isn't, and I don't want to have to install Hello! on all the boxes in the newsroom (besides, I can't make "bloggerbot" work on my home box, anyway). Besides that, blogger has been having some uptime issues lately: note the double post below, not to mention the fact that it wouldn't let me log in this morning.

Andy had good things to say about Movable Type and Six Apart's web-hosted "typepad" platform. I really like what I've seen from typepad, too -- some of my favorite blogs are typepad blogs. It also appears to solve the image issue with direct uploads.

The News and Record uses Movable Type for its inhouse blogs, running the software on an internal server. That may be a bit of a stretch for my paper right now, but it does serve as another endorsement, of sorts, for the typepad option.

Any other suggestions from you guys before I set up a sit-down with our web staff?

Got My Mojo Workin'

Dave Winer, in an act of valuable public service, has posted the lyrics to "Got My Mojo Workin'" here.

This cleared up some decades-old misconceptions for me. For instance, I had interpreted the line "I got some red-hot tips I have to keep on ice" as having something to do with a choice portion of the female anatomy "keeping Hell on ice."

Come to think of it, though, "keeping Hell on ice" is a pretty cool phrase...

New Internet stats

From Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine:

Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet project gives stats just in from their latest study (which will be up on their site shortly):
: 136 million American adults use the internet -- 67 percent of adults.
: 87 percent of teenagers use the internet
: 59 million Americans have high-speed at home, just over half of users.
: 40 million Americans used the internet to get news online yesterday -- half the number who got it from TV, two-thirds of the number of who got it from newspapers.
: 4 million Googled someone they were about to meet.
: 1 million googled themselves.
: Lee also told me that they asked about use of Craigs List and online classifieds and found very high usage.
He says "the internet has become the norm in America." They're having trouble asking people when they use the internet because it's so much a part of their lives in so many ways now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Proof of insanity

Janet and I are now taking eight children camping in the Southern Appalachians this weekend.

In the rain.

And only half of them are ours.

If you're one of the people who think the ideas expressed on this blog are the work of a deranged idiot, you now have empirical proof.

Proof of insanity

Janet and I are now taking eight children camping in the Southern Appalachians this weekend.

In the rain.

And only half of them are ours.

If you're one of the people who think the ideas expressed on this blog are the work of a deranged idiot, you now have empirical proof.

Go Danny, Go Danny!

Danny Schechter, The News Dissector, is a one-man movement and an inspiring creative force. Here's 10 minutes of audio blending serious media criticism with spoken-word artistry, remixed and sampled and RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Fake news is corporate, too

A nice article from the Center for Media in Democracy that shows another side of the fake news issue.

I want to admit something here: When it comes to broadcast news, I thought I knew more than I did. I think I was more likely to view the VNR subject as I did the standard print (or electronic) press release, press kit, whatever.

I try hard not to be cynical, but sometimes it seems like the only times I'm right is when I believe the worst... which, come to think about it, seldom pans out either. Maybe I'm just wrong on a regular basis and I'm only beginning to see it.

Hell, my fantasy football team was a train wreck this year.

Buzzmachine: "Jumping the Shark for Jesus"

Jeff Jarvis: Religious right goes off the deep end here.

Dave Winer on "Liberal"

Dave sums up the situation pretty well right here.

What a remarkable moment

I don't know that I can remember a more dramatic turnabout. Two weeks ago the Schiavo case was a backburner story on the National wire. Then the ruling party's leadership decided to fan it into a forest fire, a passion play, a cultural proxy diverting unwanted attention from real business.

Today, those Republican leaders are clearly the ones getting burned. Schiavo didn't make our front this morning, but the story on yesterday's absurdities ran inside with a photo of a woman praying ecstatically in front of a protester holding a hand-lettered sign: "Barbara Bush: Are You Proud of Your Son NOW?"

Maybe she's proud of Jeb. He sent state police to take custody of Terry Schiavo, but they were acting on no legal authority and backed down when confronted by local police who wisely enforced the rule of law.

Randall Terry on the radio this morning: If she dies, the GOP will have Hell to pay from the religious right. Meanwhile, Bo Gritz is famously still driving cross-country to "arrest" Judge Greer, a Baptist whose pastor wrote him a letter saying it would be best if he stopped attending services. Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, a wingnut was arrested for putting out a contract on Greer and Michael Schiavo. Forces of life indeed.

The LA Times: Tom DeLay and his family faced a similar decision with his father. Result: Pulled plug.

Dubya's approval rating? Lowest of his presidency (45 percent), and it's not just the Schiavo case that people dislike. Iraq, the economy, blah blah blah. Consequently, the White House and Fox News backed off the Schiavo story this weekend, but I'm afraid that feline is out of the sack.

There's going to be a retrenchment after this one, a new direction for the GOP coming from Rove. But I think it's safe to say that the power Rove et al weilded two weeks ago has been vastly diminished. That's not to say they're finished by any means. These are smart people who should be able to adjust and return to the offensive (yes, that's also a double entendre), reclaiming and perhaps even expanding their power.

But it's worth noting: The GOP jauggernaut that passed the ANWAR bill three weeks ago just to show that they could do it (even the oil industry is leery of the idea) won't have automatic access to party discipline now. True conservatives are going to be re-evaluating their positions and talking seriously about damage control.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting events (I've done it before), and maybe they'll handle Schiavo's death with characteristic skill and turn this thing around yet. But my take is pretty simple: Dubya, Rove, DeLay and the rest of the gang have gone too far this time, and they're starting to wake up to that realization, hangover and all.

At least one head will have to roll, and it's going to be interesting watching them pick the sacrificial lamb. If I were DeLay, I'd be watching my back.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A different take on objectivity

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Riding the tiger

Dan Gillmor, quoting Frank Rich:
Next to what's happening now, official displays of DeMille's old Ten Commandments monuments seem an innocuous encroachment of religion into public life. It is a full-scale jihad that our government signed onto last weekend, and what's most scary about it is how little was heard from the political opposition. The Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe pointed out this week that even Joe McCarthy did not go so far as this Congress and president did in conspiring to "try to undo the processes of a state court." But faced with McCarthyism in God's name, most Democratic leaders went into hiding and stayed silent. Prayers are no more likely to revive their spines than poor Terri Schiavo's brain.

True, perhaps, and I've certainly felt that way. But I am also reminded of a lesson learned 12 years ago in little Shelby, N.C.

During my two-year tenure as city editor for The Shelby Star, some Chamber of Commerce Republicans (including my next-door neighbor and friend, Scott) proposed a referendum to allow the sale of beer and wine on Sundays, the idea being that this would help local establishments compete against bars and restaurants across the county line. The local Baptist organization -- generally considered the most powerful political group in the county -- immediately rallied in opposition.

Over the following weeks, the Baptists thundered from the pulpit, threatened boycotts, bought ads, staged rallies and generally kicked ass. In response, the men behind the referendum virtually disappeared from the face of the Earth. Faced with slanderous personal accusations and wildly inflammatory rhetoric attacking their referendum, the pro-alcohol side sometimes even refused to even take phone calls seeking their comment on the latest anti-alcohol broadside.

I was convinced the referendum was DOA, and so were the Baptists. While they gloated, I got mad at Scott and his GOP colleagues. I thought it was shameful the way they had left a few public spokespeople to take the brunt of the backlash and scurried into their hidey holes, abandoning the idea they had worked so long behind the scenes to promote.

On election night, we all went up to the central fire house to watch as the election commission posted the latest precinct returns on the big outdoor chalkboard. The two leaders of the Baptist Association were there, front and center, accepting congratulations from the crowd and telling people where to go for the big party afterward. My friend Scott and a few people from the pro side were there too, but they were much lower key.

The first returns showed heavy support for the referendum, but the Baptists didn't show any particular concern. As the night wore on, though, a new reality became apparent: People wanted Sunday alcohol sales, but they didn't want to be publicly criticized for it. The day before the election you couldn't find anybody who supported it, yet the measure passed by a substantial majority.

The preachers went from glib to glum, snapping at me when I approached them for comment and stalking away from the firehouse in a cold fury. On the other side of the parking lot, the Chamber guys left with polite smiles on their faces, off to celebrate more energetically in private.

Lesson: Scott and his friends understood that the Baptist Association had grown overconfident because of its long string of victories. They understood that a plurality of Baptists would vote for beer once they got behind the curtain, but that everyone would toe the religious party line until that moment. Even after the victory it was hard to find people who would admit to supporting the referendum, although you could find plenty of people who wouldn't say.

Fear of public humiliation is one thing, but true support is another.

The GOP, as a commenter at Dan Gillmor's site put it, has been riding the tiger and now finds itself inside the beast. Its most cynical political operatives have counted on the power of their moralistic arguments to energize their base while silencing the opposition.

But you can only play that card so long before the faithful begin to resent it, and this is particularly true of Southern Baptists, an oft-maligned group. Yes, most are culturally conservative, but they also come from a proud tradition that celebrates the power of the individual to interpret scripture and form a personal relationship with God. Baptists respect authority (too much so for my tastes) but when you try to push them around, by God, they push back.

I don't expect to see many public defections from the neocon/religious fundamentalist coalition that currently rules the nation, but its once-solid base is eroding rapidly. The Schiavo fiasco is just one example. I mean, who actually thought the nation really wanted to see more of Randall Terry? "BACK! BACK TO THE 90S, CLINIC-BOMBING SCUM!"

Will the Democrats have the sense to use this opportunity to put forward a cohesive statement of positive principles? They're still in hiding so far, making this an interesting moment in our political history. The people are leading: Which politicians will be smart enough to follow?

Spring milestone

The dogwood in our front yard bloomed this morning, in the midst of a street-flooding Easter downpour.

Spring has sprung in Charleston.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I forget important things

Insomnia is annoying but useful (sometimes). Last night's revelation: I've designed a global warming information grid that neglects to examine possible solutions.

The most important issue to average people is "what should I do?" and I completely forgot to address it.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Speaking of cultural proxies...

Here's something from a conservative who e-mails me on a regular basis. I wrote a four-page essay this morning before work, much of it on the role of cultural proxies for complex, longstanding grudges. I came in this morning and found this (subject line: "Hit the nail on the HEAD!")

Here's what those feelings look like, raw and unfiltered:

Wow, whoever wrote this, sure hit the nail on the head!

Story in Tampa Newspaper

Will we still be the Country of choice and still be America if we
to make the changes forced on us by the people from other countries
that came to live in America because it is the Country of Choice??????
Think about it

All I have to say is, when will they do something about MY RIGHTS? I
celebrate Christmas, but because it isn't celebrated by everyone, we
can no longer say Merry Christmas. Now it has to be Season's
Greetings. It's not Christmas vacation, it's Winter Break Isn't it
amazing how this winter break ALWAYS occurs over the Christmas
holiday? We've gone so far the other way, bent over backwards to not
offend anyone, that I am now being offended. But it seems that no one
has a problem with that.
This says it all!

This is an editorial written by an
American citizen, published in a
Tampa newspaper He did quite a job; didn't he? Read on, please!

I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we
are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist
attacks on Sept. 11,
we have experienced a surge
in patriotism by the majority
of Americans. However, the dust from the attacks had
barely settled when the "politically correct! " crowd began
complaining about
the possibility that our patriotism was offending others.

I am not against immigration, nor do I hold a grudge against anyone
who is seeking a better life by coming to America. Our population is
almost entirely made up of descendants of immigrants. However, there
are a few things that those
who have recently come to
our country, and apparently some born here, need to understand.
This idea of America being a
multicultural community
has served only to dilute our sovereignty and our national
identity. As Americans, we
have our own culture, our
own society, our own language and our own lifestyle. This culture
has been developed over centuries of struggles, trials, and victories
by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.

We speak ENGLISH , not Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese,
Japanese, Russian, or any other language.
Therefore, if you wish to become part
of our society, learn the language!

"In God We Trust" is our national motto. This is not some
Christian, right wing, political slogan.. We adopted this motto
because Christian men and women,
on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly
It is certainly appropriate to display it
on the walls of our schools. If God
offends you, then I suggest you
consider another part of the world as
your new home, because God is part
of our culture.

If Stars and Stripes offend you, or
you don't like Uncle Sam, then you
should seriously consider a move
to another part of this planet. We
are happy with our culture and have
no desire to change, and we really
don't care how you did things where
you came from. This is
our land, and our lifestyle. Our First Amendment gives every
citizen the
right to express his opinion and we
will allow you every opportunity to do
so. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about
our flag,
our pledge, our national motto, or our
way of life, I highly encourage you
take advantage of one other great American freedom,
It is Time for America to Speak up
If you agree -- pass this along;
if you don't agree -- delete it!


I figure if we all keep passing this to our friends
(and enemies) it will also, sooner or later
get back to the complainers, lets all try,

Blogging the neo-pagan story

For those of you who don't know this, last January i thought it would be a good story to get to know the local pagan scene (neo-paganism is the fastest growing religious category in the country... a somewhat misleading stat in that the group is so small and poorly defined that big increases are easy to produce ... but I digress). I started going around, meeting people and groups, and pretty early on I decided that I should follow these people for a year before writing any story.

Last week I proposed my concept for the story and requested a May 1 run date. This week I had dinner with a couple of priestesses from one group and attended a meeting of the other.

And this morning I couldn't sleep, so I got up and created a blog just for the neo-paganism story. Its purpose is to allow the people who are "in" the story to participate in the creation of the story (link).

I know that other people have blogged stories, but I'm not aware of anyone who has blogged a story with such a large and diverse group of people. I don't think such an approach is doable or wise for all stories, but I'm excited about its potential here. One way or another, I'll learn something.

Blogging in Charleston?

Good (though not yet settled) news: At Thursday's feature department meeting I proposed that we create a blog as part of our coverage of Spoleto, a three-week international arts festival. The bosses liked the idea and gave it a tentative go-ahead.

Now it's just up to me to make it work. I've contacted Ed Cone in Greensboro and he's forwarded my info on to a couple of guys at The News and Record (speaking of Cone, he gave my recent blogging story a link and a nice mention this week; Dave Winer at Scripting News put up the link but had nothing to say about it).

More news, as it happens...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The boor factor

A worthwhile e-mail comment from a reader today: Kudos for some of the other topics, he said, but perhaps I've gone a bit overboard on some of my posts that deal with religious people.

My first reaction, of course, was to apologize. For all my flaws, I hate offending the innocent, and I'm well-aware of my natural tendencies toward bombast and hyperbole.

But on reflection, I want to use that comment to make a finer point.

This blog has no complaint with those who, having examined contrary positions, choose to reject the so-called "rational" status quo in favor of the course put forth by their spiritual faith. Reason isn't the only solution to every problem, and to go looking for God by rational means alone is something akin to looking for darkness with a flashlight.

However, this blog quarrels openly with those who, having examined nothing but their own righteously insecure biases, seek to claim the moral and intellectual high ground. No amount of reason sways them, no amount of light reaches them. These people are the boors among us, and I have little remaining patience for them.

By the way, not every boor is religious. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was an atheist boor. Think up your own examples.

That said, the dominant boor species today is the fundamentalist boor, and they are easy to distinguish from their fellow congregants (be clear on the point: not all fundamentalists or evangelicals are boors). They demand that all their points be considered with delicate precision, yet they make not even a meaningful pretense of honestly considering anyone else's arguments. Each boor is convinced that the other side in any debate is somehow an agent of evil or, at best, a subhuman dupe.

Boors find evidence for mortal sins in the most commonplace actions of their opponents, yet are absolutely unaware of the mote in their own eye. They project their personalities on the world at large and find it a corrupt, vicious place. They believe their opponents to be dishonest and consequently feel no moral imperitive to honesty themselves. They misrepresent facts, slander their opponents and act as if they feel not the slightest twinge of conscience.

Confronted with facts and mature reflection, boors become abusive, typically engaging in a series of riotous fallacies and concluding with brutish ad hominem attacks. They can be tough opponents in discourse, as they love to latch on to a seemingly inconvenient fact and refuse to relinquish it, no matter how much evidence is stacked against them. They believe that their fervor is a virtue that will be rewarded.

Somewhere in the tortured psyche of the boor lies a sense of profound insecurity, which to me suggests something of their affinity for fundamentalism. Fundamentalism says that knowledge and achievement are nothing next to faithfulness and orthodoxy. Consequently, a Nobel-prize winning scientist may have earned his standing in the elite via his achievement, but the fundamentalist can feel superior to him thanks to his fervent True Belief, be it in Jesus or in Muhammed or Rush. This makes fundamentalism particularly attractive to people who are not "winning" any of our American cultural competitions.

Boors believe in revealed truth and celebrate systems in which any counterattack on their claims can be rejected by appeal to the suppositions of that revelation. Consequently: If I say Jesus would have punished homosexuals and you cite Bible verses to suggest otherwise, I know that you are wrong because Satan is a deceiver. If I say that the mainstream media is liberal and a reporter points out that the Gannon/Guckert story got practically zero traction in the press, while the Clinton "Travelgate" was a story for weeks, I just say that you're so liberal you can't even see when you're being liberal.

Media does a poor job of identifying and dealing with boors. Either we exclude all dissenting voices (which only gives boors more legitimacy) or we allow boors to dominate discussions. In fact, media is becoming the province of boors, with Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly the most obvious examples.

Our media needs reform, but for that reform to occur, we must figure out who is a legitimate participant and who is a boor -- or, as they're known online, a troll. They will claim a seat at the head of the table, but they haven't earned entrance to the room.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. And that's where I want to start drawing lines.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Terry Schiavo poem

This arrived last night jut before midnight from a sender that identified itself as The link at the bottom of the page led to a blog that didn't appear to have any direct connection to this poem, so I'm not going to link it.


Plight of Terri Schiavo Sparks Poetry

Living in a country of lawlessness and greed,
Trying to stop the murder of the most vulnerable against judicial decree.
Two-bit criminals playing with human life,
Commit high crimes in the national light,
Driven on by the media who feeds
The pap to the masses living in ignorance indeed.
Selfishness and corruption reigns in the land of the free,
Dastardly schemes on your TV and internet screen.
Shoving their actions in our faces like a carrot,
They invoke privacy in their death warrants which they believe hold such merit.
Justice is coming but not from those who lead us,
But from the depths of our souls as their crimes try to greet us.
Striking them down with ferocity and might,
We awaken from slumbers of ignorance's delight.
The future looks brighter once we defeat them,
Wresting from deaths' clutches their hostages.

I think this is a remarkable document. First, the kitsch is appalling. Second, and this is a pet peeve, people who think poetry means rhyming the last words in couplets without any consideration of meter just drive me nuts. Not to mention the fact that this poet tries to couple "greed" and "decree."

But look at what this really says: It attacks some vague cultural hegemony while undermining the legitimacy of law, sets up Christians as the knowledgeable class, calls for a revolution and somehow equates that outcome with "freedom."

Sheesh. It's just one of those "through the looking glass" mornings...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Open sourcing

Slashdot pointed to a piece on Open v. Closed-Source Climate Research this a.m., and Dewey sent an e-mail calling it to my attention.

Our brief discussion brought up a cool realization: In journalism the talk is all about "transparency." In software design you talk about "open source" code. But the principles expressed by each concept extend beyond bias and interoperability, and they boil down to this: How Do You Know What You Know?

Everyone doing climate science should be making their algorithms public -- not because I'll be able to understand them, but because doing so takes away the charge "What are they trying to hide?" Democracy demands a similar rigor. No state should be able to run electronic voting machines that don't offer open-source software and detailed inspection.

The trick to making journalism transparent and government open and software better is figuring out a 21st century approach to intellectual capital. There are only two reasons to keep certain things secret: 1. Because you're up to no good; and 2. Because it's the only way you know that you can be paid for your good work.

Which is why the next big breakthrough for our culture might well come from an accountant or a lawyer. Solve the open-source business model problem and change the world.

Reality reminder

As one might imagine, I tend to get too wrapped up in the stuff I'm thinking about. Yesterday, a friendly exchange with an old friend deteriorated in Yours Truly going on an uber-geek monologue about my current objets du zark (zark: vi. To focus intensely on a series of subjects, discarding each as one moves on to the next.).

Her reply:
When you are ready to talk about the lower end of Maslow's hierarchy again,
let me know.


Monday, March 21, 2005

My proposal for GW package

Those of you who check by here semi-regularly know that I've been trying to figure out a new way of writing about complex subjects where the issue isn't breaking news but too much information. My immediate subject is global warming, and I spent most of last week reading, writing and doodling on it.

On Thursday and Friday I wound up writing individual ideas and questions on a stack of index cards, which I then arranged and rearranged on the table in the features department. From one of those arrangements came this idea, which I finished writing up this afternoon. Unfortunately there is nobody here I can really discuss this with today, so I'm going to post it instead.

Forgive the long blogpost.
(Addressed to my boss:)

After a bunch of reading, summarizing and organizing, I’ve been able to significantly refine my proposal for a global warming package.

I propose to drop narrative story structure altogether and to simply “grid it out,” as an executive making a decision might. Hence, the following:

1. A global warming cover package for the Health/Science section, April 18, with a full open page inside the section, preferably a color position. I could also offer some kind of “USA Today” 1A treatment to get people to the section, but it’s not necessary for what I propose.

2. The concept is “Global Warming: A user’s guide.” Instead of trying to make this material compelling by personalizing or localizing it, I intend to attract readers by creating a package that serves as an organizing, conceptualizing “tool” for each reader. This is based on my unproven theory that there is a hunger for anything that can help readers understand daunting, politicized, complex subjects.

3. The only narrative in the package would be a short introduction, which would orient readers to the package and how to use it.

4. The rest of the section front space for the story would be devoted to no-jump sidebars and graphics.

5. The inside page (it takes no jumps) should be turned on its side, as the “tool” aspect of the package is a spreadsheet that works best in a horizontal layout. Its structure:

A) Ten aspects of the global warming debate, presented in rows
B) These aspects are presented in five different columns: i) Pro; ii) Con; iii) Evaluation; iv) G2K (Good to Know); and v) Conclusions.
C) Notably, the final section, Conclusions, is left blank. The spreadsheet is literal a tool for people to use in systematically drawing their own conclusions from material.

6. The bottom of the inside page will be devoted to sidebars, glossaries and other ways of explaining concepts that are fundamental to understanding the subject. Each would include resources for further study. I have 11 subjects currently listed as meaningful material for explanation, but I consider that list flexible, capable of expanding or combining as necessary.

I’ve attached a draft of the pro/con/evaluation summaries based on my initial reading of the materials I’ve been collecting over the past year. Note that these summaries do not use numbers and statistics.

Since a single reporter is not objective, I propose that I submit my materials to multiple “experts” with various perspectives on the issue and take their comments into consideration before the final edit. My intent is to create objective materials, but not at the expense of artificial balance. Scientific arguments cannot be countered by non-scientific arguments, so to avoid creating a structure in which only scientists can be heard I’ve designed this format to include summaries of political and cultural critiques.


The draft summaries are fairly detailed. I'll send them out to anyone who wishes to review them.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mercury in retrograde

Apparently the planet Mercury went into retrograde Saturday, and in astrological terms, this means it's generally a good time to stay in bed. Mercury governs communication, so it's particularly bad for journalists, writers, etc.

But the worst problems this weekend were mechanical: In one weekend we lost a kitchen faucet, a washing machine and a lawnmower. We added DSL, and eventually got it to work, but it was really just one thing after another.

My thoughts were frazzled, flitting between dreams of a wired personal Utopia and things I want to write and do, mostly considered whilst driving children hither and yon and making trips to hardware stores.

But no matter how big the thoughts we think or how grand the dreams that inspire us, there is something grounding and pleasant in a waterline connection that does not drip, a hole that is filled in, a yard that is raked.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

What I love about Dave Winer

As anyone who reads Scripting News can attest, Dave Winer is a complex and fascinating character. He obviously pisses off a lot of people, and I can understand why.

But it's posts like this one that make me a Dave fan. Forget the abrasive stuff, the occasionally abusive tone, the overly generalized swipes against my profession. Dave Winer has an inclusive social vision, a clear message about what the soul of emerging media could be, and a willingness to walk the walk.

"Spiritual Warfare"

An interesting bit from David Corn's most recent post...
And while we're on DeLay, I noticed that the other day that Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and a leader of the social conservatives, urged conservatives not to abandon DeLay, who is under fire for a variety of ethics matters. (His political ops in Texas are under criminal investigation for arranging illegal campaign contributions and are being sued in a civil lawsuit, and DeLay has been drawn into the scandal involving Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who faces legal troubles for allegedly scamming Indian tribes out of millions of dollars.) Weyrich said, "If we let [DeLay] hang out to dry, how many others in leadership will ever risk trying to accomplish bold objectives? DeLay also needs our fervent prayers. This is spiritual warfare."

Note Weyrich's use of the phrase "spiritual warfare." This is a very specific term for conservative Christians. It describes what they consider to be a basic fact of life: there is an ongoing struggle between God and Satan, and this titanic battle is reflected in the temporal tussles we mere mortals witness every day. In other words, what you read about in the newspapers is all part of the face-off between the Holy One and Lucifer. What Weyrich was saying was that troubles afflicting DeLay are attributable to the powers of the devil. DeLay is not in hot water because of his own sleazy dealings. No, Satan is after him. That would mean that those critical of DeLay--and perhaps even those reporters who have written about the scandals near to DeLay--are doing the work of the Prince of Darkness. (And I don't mean Richard Perle.)

This concept is a valuable one for Democrats who are considering adopting a "spiritual values" approach to campaigning as a "lesson" from the 2004 election. Words like "spiritual," "religion," "values," "fairness," "freedom," "liberty," "love" and "Jesus Christ" mean wildly different things to different people... and these people are NEVER going to be on your side.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Blogging GW

GW in this case is my notepad shorthand for "global warming," which is a subset of "gcc" (global climate change). I'm several days into playing pattern recognition with GCC and GW, trying to imagine a structure that would use about 160-200 column inches of newsprint (note: NOT 160-200 inches of narrative COPY) to create a "mental organization tool" for readers.

Now, obviously, that's an unusual proposal for a newspaper. Yes, I'm aware of that.

But here's where I stand: I don't KNOW from global warming. I've worked to know and recognize my biases (skeptical of oil companies/religious fundamentalists... overly credulous of environmentalists and "reasonable" scientists). I accept the propostion that belief of any kind can distort one's view. And, having said all of that, I want, for myself and others, to try to derive a system for examining the competing claims about GW, one that would give me a better sense of what's really going on instead of the usual "he said/she said" surrender that passes for mass media journalism.

This effort is driven in large part by a sensibility posed here by a reader:
"Maybe write a story about how the average person with finite time and interest should go about forming their opinion? e.g. what rules of thumb should they use, e.g. who should they outsource their researching to, to get the best results. (will the 4 year old kid down the street be the most accurate resource? how about the snake oil vendor? the industry shill? the Koran? the Bible? the blogger who sounds most sure of himself? ...)"

However, that sensibility is not enough for what I have in mind. It needs a different structure than the "Dan Conover explains it all for you" structure of a narrative.

Yesterday I spent about an hour on the phone with Tom Yulsman, co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. I needed to talk with someone to help me brainstorm this, and Yulsman was very helpful. But the biggest piece of help he gave me may have been inadvertant. He started speculating about the effect of GW on Charleston oyster farming, thinking aloud about how telling the story of an oysterman and how GW might affect him would grab readers, give them something to relate.

And that was when I realized that this bit of conventional wisdom -- people relate to "people stories" is an undeniable truth of journalism -- was what I wanted to avoid.

I have a theory, untested, unproven: If you can find an honest and comprehensible way to help people organize and evaluate the complex issues that confound them, they'll read it. They won't need oystermen or single-mothers or localization.

I think there is a hunger for straight, credible insight. I want to try to feed it.

Only I'm not quite sure how to do it, or whether a person with my subjective "minority of one" viewpoint is up to the task. So consider this an experiment. Like any honest experiment, it can fail.

All comments are welcome.

Another post at PressThink

My post this morning in Jay Rosen's continuing thread, "A Western Civ Course in What's Gone Wrong With the Press."

My favorite valid argument in favor of the "liberal media bias" proposition undergirds Tom Gray's "Caring > Activism > Ideology > Partisanship (bias)" progression: That too many journalists fail to grasp the indirect functionality of conservative thought. This has been true at times, and at times still is.

To be able to understand the case conservatives make for their policies, one must understand certain classical ideas about economics/human nature, etc. Without that understanding, then the conservative position always seems callous and uncaring -- when in fact many sincere conservatives are merely hoping for the same result as activist liberals, but with a different understand of government's role. Classic liberalism tends to see direct government action as the answer, and that's easier to grasp; Classic conservatism may have similar goals, but its mechanisms run deeper and are more subtle.


Now, having grasped and applied that understanding to my thinking long ago, may I please move on to the next level of analysis? Not every claim to classical conservative validation is sincere or rational. Instead, I would say that most of the problems afoot in the country today are the result of policies that claim the mantle of conservatism but are in fact wildly anti-conservative (in the sense that they do not conserve and preserve the founding ideas of our republic). To think critically about faux-conservatism is not liberal bias.

I think Gray's solution (adding "pro-life Christians" to the newsroom as remedy for "journalistic rot") cuts straight to the heart of the cultural disconnect Jay describes in this post: If Gray had suggested "free-market economists," that recommendation would have followed rationally from his earlier statement. Instead, he recommends adding a particular flavor of religion to the mix.

Journalists are accused of not understanding conservative thought and therefore failing to frame our stories in a non-biased way. Yet the deeper issue appears to be one of cultural affiliation. We try (and yes, I acknowledge that we often fail) not to pick a side so that we may serve the same function to all sides. But our cultural critics tend to come from a religious tradition that teaches one may not serve more than one master (and that by rejecting God, one serves his enemy).

Hence, I borrow Gray's model to make a new one -- One possible construction of the religious view of "liberal media bias":

"Intellectual hubris > cultural arrogance > Ideology > Partisanship (Satanism)"

Clearly this is not the view of all conservatives or all Christians, but one only has to listen to those pulpit messages linking journalists to the godless cultural elites to see this rhetorical chain reaction at work. "Not like us = evil."

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 18, 2005 10:08 AM |

I'm beginning to think that the first response to press criticism should be figuring out what each group means when they claim it. The /. guys don't think much of the MSM, but their complaints may be wildly opposed to those of religious conservatives. Please one, lose the other?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

What's up with blogger?

I simply couldn't post yesterday. Everything timed out.

My comment on Jay Rosen's blog yesterday actually got a response from Jay himself.

Here's what I wrote:

The value of Jay's post to me is the way it reframes many of our practical choices. I've believed for some time now that (for most of us) politics is a vague proxy for a deeper set of responses to the world. Now I can add bias claims to my list of cultural proxies.

Here's part of the disconnect: Bias means one thing to right-wing critics, another thing to left-wing critics, but only ONE thing to journalists. Consequently, we don't quite understand what people are telling us, and our responses tend to fall flat. We are literally speaking a different language.

Jay's earlier post on "Decertifying the Press" made the case that the current ruling party has taken this discontent with the media and turned it into a means of extending its power. Combine that post with this one and one can see how the anger against our profession may not be rooted in political-bias arguments, but political interests are actively and callously fueling that discontent.

Is the answer to our problem, therefore, turning press coverage to the right so as to find some nebulous center? Nope. Grassroots conservative critics dislike the media on a level that goes deeper than politics, and the political campaign against the press isn't about policy but about control.

I'm not sure where that leaves us, but at least we're defining the subject in more meaningful terms.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 16, 2005 02:08 PM | Permalink

Here's what Jay wrote back:

Daniel: Thank you especially for putting those pieces together, and your comments generally. I love your phrase, "a vague proxy for a deeper set of responses to the world." And yes, add bias to the list of cultural proxies. My sense is these things are all related, but I have to admit I don't know exactly how.

In this respect, I thought it was significant that David Shaw--a liberal journalist--called de-certifying the press a paranoid line of thought.

Equally interesting to me (maybe only me...) is that the once again--it's happened before--was unable, unwilling, uninterested in having a simple link to Pressthink when Shaw, a columnist, is writing for the purpose of arguing with a PressThink post. I find that a fascinating statement about where that newspaper is in its evolution (which seems to be a decision not to evolve.)

Sweet, eh?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Vanishing Newspapers

While the rest of the blog world talks about why more women and minorities aren't blogging (Because they don't feel like it? Because they've got better things to do with their time?), the talk this week in newspaper circles has been about readership, or the lack thereof.

Here's an interview on PJNet with Philip Meyer, one of my former professors at UNC. I haven't read the book yet, but this short Q&A gives a pretty clean overview (Be sure to note the cocky/defensive "defender of the REAL AMERICANS" troll at the top of the comments section).

Here's The New York Times writing about the newspaper angst over offering our product "for free" online. This is the current circulation department lament across the country, by the way: "Circulation is down because people can get the news for free online! It's our website's fault!"

Here's an American Journalism Review piece that explores a new study on why people read newspapers in the first place. (by the way, its four-corner conclusion sounds like every other conclusion on every other readership study I've ever seen. Fight back by "providing excellent customer service; improving editorial and advertising content; building recognition and loyalty through stronger brand promotion; reforming management and culture." Jesus. You mean people get paid for writing this crap?)

There's more stuff out there, particularly the new State of the Media Report 2005, an enormous slog that actually looks at online news. I haven't even finished the 34-page executive summary.

But the piece that I like the best so far this week is Jay Rosen's "A Western Civ Course in What's Gone Wrong With the Press", another development of his "decertifying the press" idea.

We all need to be concerned about the dynamic market for information, but those of us with an interest in the public-service value of an active press must confront Rosen's ideas.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

More on podshow

On today's DSC, Adam Curry interviews podshow biz partner Ron Bloom in Miami via Skype.

Bloom is talking about their new "node managers" when he goes into this description of what podshow is about...

BLOOM: They're hidden superstars of content. As the content makers and producers start to proliferate, the content editors, if you will, are really going to be the hidden superstars of the genre. And the secret producers who produce other talents.


BLOOM: The two groups are very much like what happened in the good times in radio and music is when you have great, as we used to say in the music business, "What makes a great producer?" and they used to say "A great band." So...

CURRY: Mmm-hmm.

BLOOM: So by matching these great editors and producers with just this great talent, I think we're going to see a proliferation of just fantastic podcasts.

CURRY: Poetry, man, that's just poetry.

King Kong Konover

So today's mail brought something cool: a researcher in the wardrobe department for Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong" has written to me via The 27th Pursuit Squadron Homepage for help in developing the flying suits for the pilots who take down the big ape.

I don't know that I've got anything to help out, but we'll see.

Adam Curry's new venture

On the final podcast of his most recent American trip, podfather Adam Curry came out of a day of meetings at Redmond, Wash., talking about NDAs. "No Damned Announcements," he called them, and then went on to hint to his DSC audience that there was something to announce, only he wasn't announcing it. Yet.

Anyway, cats started leaping out of bags on Monday's Daily Source Code, where Adam announced his newest venture,, and talked a bit about his business plan.

There are more announcements to come, and no telling whether any of these will be in collaboration with the folks from Redmond. Regardless of Microsoft's interest in Curry, I'm pulling for the guy to make some money off podcasting. Standardization and monetization are good things -- but for me, the best thing about blogging and podcasting is that they simply elude centralized control. For every commercially successful podcast I hope we have a thousand dedicated to nothing more than the glory of speaking freely.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Decertifying, continued...

It occurred to me recently that I know an analog to Jay Rosen's press decertification argument: Satan the deciever.

Inconvenient facts getting in the way of your agenda? "Well, that's what you'd expect from the liberal media." It's a great response because it never forces you to confront the facts you're trying to avoid. Logic is not required.

Dinosaur bones from 65 million years ago casting doubts on your fundamentalist belief that God created the planet 5,000 years ago? Piece of cake: "Those bones were put there by Satan." I have an uncle who believes this, and he sent his three children through Bob Jones University.

There is a segment of the country that has so thoroughly walled itself off from new information that nothing will ever get through. All you need is a persecuted world view in which your perceived enemies will stop at nothing to discredit the faithful and distort the truth. Once you've got that in place, the rest is easy.

Serendipity alert

Today while cleaning out the garage I found a notebook from my days at Chapel Hill, and in between pages of notes on binomial distribution and musings about the first round of the upcoming 1990 NFL draft I found a written conversation between myself and one of my former professors. Apparently we were bored in an auditorium lecture and entertained ourselves by writing back and forth to each other like teenagers.

(for the record, I was a non-traditional student at UNC, a former tank commander/cav scout sergeant who had not quite demilitarized... so my relationships with my profs tended to be different than those of most students).

Anyway, the payoff: later in the day i checked my e-mail and I had something waiting for me from that prof -- a beautifully written piece of journaling prose.

Also this weekend we bid farewell to reporter Jason Hardin, who is heading off to Greensboro to write for the News and Record. He, like me, is a Tar Heel. We talked about home (he's from Ashboro; his wife from Siler City), and what it means to hear Tar Heel basketball games called by Woody Durham. I ate oysters and drank a lot of beer and lounged on Robert Behre's perfect lawn and loved evertyhing being part of newspapers for just a couple of hours.

Dave Slusher mentioned my podcasting story on his blog and gave it a polite review, which is probably about all it deserved. He also mentioned my blog and said something about how the process of doing the story was more involved than he would have thought. The only thing I really like about the story per se is that i replaced subheads with script-format dialog quotes from different podcasts as a way to break up sections. That was new and creative.

I don't know if there's any other value to this blog right now besides this process stuff. I'm not really talking about new media much this month: everything has become very process-oriented, very personal. No big ideas in March, just me trying to get through stuff and being obsessive and neurotic in public.

But maybe that's more valuable. There are a lot of people writing about reporting in the larger sense, not too many writing about the act itself. And of course what your monkey-mind hopes for is that people see that you are just human and then they forgive your sins and omissions, but that's crap. You do what you do, you do it the best you can do under the circumstances, and if people don't like it or they don't like you, well, you drive on. Maybe you learn from that, maybe you don't, and sometimes you're actually right. As Shu would undoubtedly chide me, all my self-reflective navel gazing don't mean squat.

Here's what I think: No matter how experienced you are, reporting never gets easier, because the more you know, the more you become aware of new ways to screw up, things that didn't even occur to you before. Learning and writing are an infinite onion, which may be why so many of my journalistic heroes are so materialisticly pragmatic. Gordian Knot? CUT IT.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Looking ahead/looking back

our site went through some kind of problem yesterday and wasn't back up until after I left yesterday afternoon. So I just now got the links out to the concerned parties, and I got addresses from most, so I've sent out all but two of the copies that I need to mail.

The only feedback so far has been that people loved or hated the cover (god gives adam an iPod, a la the Cistine Chapel). The best part was that when I described this in an e-mail to the sources, Dave Winer wrote back and said "Which Adam?" a great little joke (because the e-mail was also addressed to Adam Curry) that I completely missed the first time around, proving once again that I'm really not that bright.

Anyway, I'm kinda closing the book on the past month today. Gotta tie up loose threads with the page designer for the blogging story, which I still dislike. Too general, poorly balanced, too "pro-blog." It stands as a testament to my limits and as a cautionary tale about the dangers of saying yes too often. Yes, it's a good topic; yes, we should be writing about it; yes, I'm in the best position to do it. But if I would have said no, or if I would have said "yes but later," it would have been a better story and everyone would be better served.

Sometimes I think the hardest part of the job is saying "no."

I've got a bunch of stuff to do: Furniture to assemble, a new computer to set up, spring yard work. I've got some friends to hook up with podcasting, some sci-fi stories that need finishing, and then there's the newspaper stuff: A yearlong project on local neo-pagans to bring in for a landing, plus the aforementioned explainer piece on the epistomology of global warming (thank you, Anna).

But right now, UNC is about to play its first game of the 2005 ACC Tournament at noon. For those of you who are not from North Carolina, that makes this a High Holy Day in the Tar Heel universe, and I must repair to a bar or something.

Peace out.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


So it's almost 10 a.m. and I just rolled in half an hour ago. Job No. 1 was to get a link to the material sent out to the people who were part of the story but don't live here.

But our website still doesn't have a link to my Preview section story. Or to any of the Preview material.

HUH? It's PREPRINT. How is it not the FIRST thing we put up on the website?

I just don't get it. Anyway, no reaction to the story. No comments on the pcpodcast blog.

I'm bummin. I think I need a day off.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

SUCCESS!!! (sort of)

I just got back in from a very interesting meeting with a friend and checked my work e-mail: sure enough, there were the links to the podcast I'd made, thank you very much web guys.

So I updated the new blog with the real links, then tested the direct download link.

It's running, but VERY slowly. One of the web guys wrote in the ;ast note that they were going to be "monitoring bandwidth" with this up and that, in future, I should make smaller files (17 minutes came out to 16.2 MB -- about average for a podcast, I think).

It's entirely possible that I've over-reached our abilities, but we'll see what happens. Sometimes the only way to find out whether something will work is to see what breaks when you road test it.

And now, to make and eat the first meal of a very long day...

(3/11/05 EDITING NOTE: For whatever reason, the link to my blog is coming up with THIS blog's URL on it when you click the link. I just checked and that isn't a function of the html tag applied here, so I'm not sure where the problem is. If you want to go there, you'll have to go manually.)


OK, here's the end of this saga for today: The web guys have the MP3, but it's low on their priorities, so they haven't even started putting it up yet, writing feeds, etc.

But thank god they're at least working on it. The guys from libsyn called me and we resolved those password issues, but it turns out that even if that had worked perfectly, I still could not have put up my podcast today at libsyn. Why? Because the MP3 was 16.2 MB and our e-mail rejects attachments larger than 10 MB.

If it had not been for the network server, that MP3 would have been stuck on my box forever: too big for floppies, too big for e-mail, trapped on a box without a CD burner (maybe a flash drive solution, but I digress).

Anyway, I've had it. The whole thing has been a learning experience, but I'm going home. I'll update the new blog ( from home when the web guys e-mail me the host link, but if they can't get it together, that's their problem now.

Recording the podcast -- including the time it took to download and install the software, write the "script," download the other podcasts, record my audio, cut and paste the audio from the other blogs and put the whole thing together -- took me four hours (and that's really overstating it, given all the other things I did during that time). Getting it up on the web has already taken 8 hours today, and it's still not finished.

It's a Brave New World, but the old one is still kicking my butt.

While I'm Waiting

A guy I knew in the Cav (his name was PFC Dameron, but I don't remember his first name) taught me the Five Stages of a Military Operation.

I think they apply to most civilian endeavors as well.

STAGE ONE: Enthusiasm.

STAGE TWO: Disillusionment.

STAGE THREE: The search for the guilty.

STAGE FOUR: The punishment of the innocent.

STAGE FIVE: Praise and honors for the non-participants.

Act accordingly.

Problem solved?

My excellent adventure in posting a podcast on our newspaper server appears to be drawing to a close, and it looks like it will be a happy one.

The lesson, which is really just a current version of the ultimate organizational lesson: Find the right person, communicate with people who care, and things happen. Right now there are two helpful, professional people working to resolve the hosting issue for my podcast. With any luck, the feed will be available in just a few minutes.

As I was saying earlier about how innovation is ALWAYS a hassle, I want to amend that comment. That's me talking without editing. Innovation is USUALLY a hassle, and when it's a hassle it's almost always because you've run into one person who is supposed to help you but doesn't.

I think most organizations are rife with people like this, and they often sit at key intersections of action and communication. In my editing days I spent huge chunks of my life cajoling and sometimes brawling with these people.

So, it's a reminder to those of us who get excited by thinking about media transformance. We have got to connect to the other people who care, the people who are willing to get things done. Sometimes we'll have to go over heads, sometimes we'll have to bash them, but the first step is getting OUR heads together. If we leave things to the "business as usual" chain-of-command and communication, nothing will happen.


OK, Andy Rhinehart has made a couple of comments about this, so I'm just going to come clean. Please view this in the spirit of disclosure and not horn-tooting.

Yes, I won the S.C. Journalist of the Year award Friday in Spartanburg. It was something I always wanted to win and I'm very honored by it.

That said, I came home and packed the plaque away in a box and I don't want to look at it, talk about it or think about it. Journalism is full of people who introduce themselves by talking about their awards, and I guess that's fine, but I don't want to be like that (Work is done and then forgotten; that way it lasts forever. -- Lao Tzu).

Hell, I haven't even told my mother yet.

So anyway, that's what happened and please don't think I've gotten a big(ger) head because of it.

True story

So here's today's installment: This morning I downloaded audacity and the LAME (what a name) MP3 key to my newsroom PC, plugged in a microphone/headset combo and recorded a companion podcast for tomorrow's podcast story in the paper. After editing in clips from three other podcasts, the thing clocked in at about 17 minutes.

The only thing left: hosting it with a feed.

Without naming names or burning bridges, let me just say that at this hour it does not look like our newspaper web site will be the host. I started talking about this a couple weeks ago. My boss and I met with the web guy last week. But this morning? Crickets. Like starting from scratch.

My solution, with just minutes before the press start, was to upload the podcast to our personal libsyn account... only Janet has the password, and she's out touring the new bridge. With the clock ticking down and J not answering her cell, I reset her libsyn password and started refreshing my mailbox every few seconds.


So, with the deadline's hot breath on my neck, I had the bright idea: Start a new blog at blogger and use that to point to the link/feed, whether it winds up being at libsyn or on our paper's website. The blog went up quickly and I e-mailed the link to a very stressed out page designer. Immediate crisis averted.

Now I just have to figure out the hosting problem by the time this thing hits the street Thursday morning.

I know a lot of you out there think everybody inside the MSM is a hack. It's not true. We have creative people just like other industries. But trying to do ANYTHING outside the norm is always a hassle.

The irony: Yesterday management sent out a thing about how the new standard was that newspapers have to become innovative to survive.

Well, y'all have a nice day.

Your pal,


Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Three work days, three stories, and not the kind of stuff I used to jam out in my 15-stories a week community tri-weekly days, either. My brain is seriously fried now, and it feels like the wheels are about to come off.

The photo of Dave Slusher, scheduled for 12:30, wasn't shot until after 2. It's 9 p.m. and it's still not back. The publicity stills from Area 51 have disappeared into the ether. The cover illustration won't be done until tomorrow... and tomorrow is when it all gets put together.

I'm a wreck, I tell you.

Meanwhile, my piece on blogging is a complete and utter disaster. Thirty-eight inches of mainstream fluff that my fellow bloggers will probably rip to shreds. I hate it. It's incomplete, amatuerish crap, but a deadline is a deadline. I know most people won't know the difference between the good stuff and the bad stuff, but I'll know.

Of course I'm hardly the one to judge. People tend to like like the stuff I hate, and vice versa. I think I'm just gonna go drink.

This is how this business eats you up.

Bill Keller, New York Times

Here's a quote from an e-mail New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller wrote to Jack Schafer of Slate in February. Keller wrote this as part of a longer e-mail in response to a criticism Schafer had published on an NYT piece.

I dig it.

"The credibility of the serious press is under assault on several flanks. There is a debate underway, sometimes silly but sometimes profound, about whether it is possible or even desirable to have an impartial press based on robust, empirical reporting and fair-minded analysis. There is some confusion out there about how what we do differs in kind from Fox or Instapundit or Rush Limbaugh. We should be in that conversation. At least we should try to engage those who seem to share a genuine interest in a well-informed citizenry—those who are not driven by sheer ideological (or commercial) malice.

"Some journalists get into this work to be players, to right wrongs, to change the world. The best investigative reporters have at least a streak of that. Most journalists, I think, like being on the sidelines, witnessing, analyzing, but a little detached, neither on the field nor sitting with the fans of either team. I've always been in the second category. I like the sidelines just fine. But when the fight is over the role and future of journalism itself, the sidelines are a pretty untenable position."


More of "the uh-oh feeling..."

This just in: More people are getting their political news online.

On the bright side, maybe fewer of them are getting their information from TV and radio? Maybe? Possibly?

Submitted by Dewey Sasser.

If it's Tuesday, it must be bloggers...

Yesterday was 13 hours on podcasting. Today I must begin -- and finish -- a story on blogging. Sure, piece of cake.

Of course, today began with signs and portents, particularly this headline from Page 5A: "White House admits/first blogger to briefing." It's a six-inch AP piece on Garrett Graff of the MediaBistro blog Fishbowl D.C. getting a daily pass to the briefing room... a little test of WH accessibility claims in the wake of the Gannon/Guckert debacle.

The AP writes that Graff, 23, "decided to see if he could get a daily pass for a briefing after a recent controversy raised questions about White House access and who is a legitimate reporter (emphasis added)."

And the White House comment? "The briefing room ought to be an inclusive place," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

So there you have it: five newsprint graphs on a test of McClellan's Gannon/Guckert claims and zero mention of the Gannon/Guckert scandal. Amazing.

Feh, I say. Look, Graff has been blogging on this for the better part of a week. After three days of trying he had gotten exactly nowhere with the WH Media Affairs office -- 17 unreturned phone calls, zero access to anyone above the rank of intern. He enlisted his boss at MediaBistro to help, and that got nowhere, too.

Instead, it looks like the thing that got him that pass was intervention by THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA (ah, sweet irony). A couple of guys from the press pool took an independent interest in Graff's saga and went to the WH Press Office (a separate organization from WH Media Affairs), where someone apparently had the brains to figure out that you score PR points by letting the guy in, plus then he takes his pesky blog and goes away.

Result: Graff got in and our readers got a whittled-down wire story, stripped of context, that made the members of the WH brain trust look like progressive thinkers on media.

Of course, the original AP story gave the Gannon/Guckert background, but our 5A was squeezed by longer stories. Somebody made the wrong cut, but I don't think the motivation was partisan.

The real problem here is that We (that's the MSM royal We, BTW) continue to miss the significance of Jay Rosen's press decertification story, so we treated this piece like a brite on blogging. End result: We cut out its heart to save room for Graff's brite last-graph quote about the briefing room not being very glamorous. Why? Because we didn't see the story as being part of something serious.

And this is liberal bias... how?

As I said once to a former boss, You Cannot See What You Cannot Imagine.

P.S.: My favorite day-after nugget from Graff? "You can either be blogging the news or gathering news to blog. It's damn hard to do coherent and in-depth reporting on a blog timeline." Welcome to the Monkey House, Mr. Graff.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Dewey on blogging

Dewey Sasser is a software engineer and MIT graduate who comments here. He has dipped his toe into the blogpond here.

You know we'll have turned a significant corner when news guys like me have as much to contribute on tech blogs as techies like Dewey have to say on media blogs.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Conspiracies R Us

Judging by some of the e-mail I'm getting, the first step in having a good discussion on media is making a convincing case that the issues here run deeper than newsroom polls that show most of us voted for President Clinton or Al Gore or John Kerry or whatever.

People are just skeptical: They think the press is liberal and that the evidence is so simple that it just doesn't even bear discussing. The case for my perspective is trickier to make. Yes, I think it's obvious once you've read certain things and worked up close and personal in the system, but most people aren't going to read "Into the Buzzsaw" or "Republican Noise Machine," (but funny how they've all read "Bias" by Bernie Goldberg) and they don't have the first-hand experience of how operators work the system to their advantage.

From our perspective, all official information that comes out of the highest levels of the federal government is managed and processed and always has been. It's the way the game is played, and it's a high-stakes game.

But there's a difference between managing information on behalf of your client and treating communication as a weapon. The Old School manipulators did damage control; the New School wants to attack and stay on attack. The Old School viewed the press as a form of opposition that needed to be held at bay; the Neos view the press as the enemy, as traitors.

And until we can prove to people that we aren't, they're going to keep on winning.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Jim Shumaker on newspapers and New Media

"Well, they'll always be around. Shit, you know what they said in the '20s when radio came in, well, that's the end of newspapers. The late '30s, when television started they said well that's the end of newspapers. Forties when they started on cable and the '50s, they said, well, that's the end of newspapers. And now everybody's talking about the fucking information highway and fiber optics and all this shit and they say, well, that'll be the end of newspapers. It won't. They'll be around. You ain't ever seen a TV yet cover an ordinary wedding--or an ordinary funeral. They don't announce births, marriages, routine deaths and the like. The little community newspapers do. They, incidentally, are the healthiest newspapers in the country right now."

-- Jim Shumaker, interviewed in 1993 by Perry Deane Young, published by The Independent Weekly in January 2001 after Shumaker's death.

Guilt by Press Association

We made quite a night of it at the S.C. Press Association, where Janet and I drank more or less all night and I think I only had to buy one G&T. Not bad at all.

In truth, though, I don't enjoy Press Association get-togethers like I once did. When I was just starting out up in North Carolina, a great newspaper state, the annual awards dinner was a family reunion. There were feuds and subplots and scandals, plus an open bar and a lot of disreputable behavior. You wanted to win something just for the invitation.

South Carolina's press association is smaller and generally not so rowdy and eccentric, although the Charleston and Myrtle Beach papers give it the old college try. Some of the people who turn up for these things just don't even seem to be from our tribe at all. Probably it was ever thus, but it sure seems that the herd is being thinned. Once upon a time, being a newspaper reporter was like moving to the Island of Misfit Toys with a concealed carry permit. Today it's more like a job, and morale is just... lower.

I do wonder what the late, great Jim Shumaker would have made of all of this. I suspect he would hate all the hype and love the way people who don't wear ties are using new media to poke fingers in the eyes of big shots.

But that's just me indulging in phony nostalgia. Shu doesn't represent the "Old School:" he just represents Shu. He became a legend by being a cranky old guy that everyone loved, but he got there via a lot of erratic, hard living. He did what he had to do to pay off all those ex-wives and he went on about whatever it was he was doing. And if you met him once, you knew that man was nobody's stooge.

I'd like to be like that someday, even if the tribe gets smaller every year.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Picture of Dorian Conover

My good friend Jim Swofford reads this blog, and good friend that he is, he struggles mightily to understand what the hell I'm talking about. That's what your old friends do: the rest of the world just moves on to the next blog.

Anyway, this morning he wrote with a theory of why I wasn't convincing him of much: He hasn't actually seen me since the 1980s, back when I was basically a scrawny little liberal college boy. His mental image of me, he said, dates to 1984.

"This doesn't have a big impact on the Iraq war or the budget deficit, but I
thought you might be interested anyway. I'm working hard to take you
seriously, but heck, you're 20 year younger than I am."

So, in case the rest of you are wondering, I these days I look like a cross between George Clooney and John Wayne, only smarter and more physically intimidating. Oh, and chicks dig me...

bloggercon for SC and other topics

Apparently there's talk of a bloggercon in Charlotte now, and that's the closest one I've heard about. But there's a semi-local Evil Genius who might be thinking about something along those lines soon...

Dave Winer is just kicking ass this week as a news provider, and so much of the news is coming out of Google: sneaky shapeshifting of other people's content, adware, developing a browser, yada yada yada. Whatever happened to "don't be evil?" as a business plan? There's a nice comment on market hydraulics. If we had a collective brain in the MSM we'd be covering this stuff, and the way to do that ISN'T to tell some kid to go do it -- it's to work something out with the Daves of the world. And you know why we won't? Because the Daves of the world are not controllable, and we would want to control the product.

Hey, apparently my name got mentioned on the EGC clambake for March 3. It's still downloading here, but I read the shownotes. You know one thing that has changed? It used to be that reporters knew that they had more readers/listeners than their interview subjects. That's not necessarily true anymore.

I love what Jay Rosen is doing right now on PressThink. His latest is on Decertifying the Press, and it's the real deal, really a follow to his earlier piece on Gannon. It's great stuff because it contains none of that frustrating, point-missing, blind-alley distraction we all hate: when it comes to this topic, Rosen gets it. Guess who else agrees? Ed Cone. He's writing his weekend newspaper column on the topic.

Leaving soon for the SC Press Awards in Spartanburg, and Andy Rhinehart says there will be interesting topics afoot today, including the launch of their new aggregator (now that's just good marketing: launch it on the day all the newspapers in the state are in town).

The thought occurs to me: somebody ought to be blogging the press awards. But it ain't gonna be me, as I'm most likely gonna be wrapped around a beer.

Janet is gonna upload audacity onto a laptop, and plans to record on the way up to Sparkle City, so maybe this whole thing will wind up as a podcast.

A QUICK NOTE TO CERTAIN READERS: I got notes from a couple of you yesterday that I'd be responding to here, and sharing your links, except I'm working from home this a.m. and don't have access to my newspaper inbox. I'll get your stuff up Monday, and haven't forgotten -- it's good stuff, and deserves a link.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

big thoughts, small stuff

Just a quick post to keep the blog active. Here's what's whipping around inside today's mental cuisineart:

1. Plumbing: After Mr. Rooter spent Wednesday a.m. snaking out my line ($183), we spent the night at my mother in law's thank to a Total Plumbing Disaster brought on by a load of laundry. You don't want the visual, or the scratch and sniff. (Update: resolved)

2. Nanotech ethics: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? What if they're SMALL angels? Spent all day at the nanotech ethics conference in Columbia. Very interesting stuff, and somebody should have been blogging it. Podcasting this stuff is just a no-brainer, I think.

3. Great news: an old friend has gone into rehab again!

4. Can't figure out when I'm going to write the podcasting story, and I'm still crossing my fingers that Adam Curry is going to write back. Still, with guys like Winer, Cone, Slusher, the AREA 51 crew and some other practitioners, I've hit some high notes.

5. Beers last night with a friend on the paper who just GETS IT, instantly, on what this new medium means for us. He'll be blogging in a matter of days.

6. Andy Rhinehart called: the HJ is going to launch its Go Upstate aggregator tomorrow. They are so kicking our butt on this, but I don't feel bad about it. They've earned that status by doing the damned work, you know.

Gotta run. On deadline. Two hours in the car and I still don't know my lead.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Here comes the blur

OK, now we're coming up on another one of those really manic periods where I get all excited and exhausted.

Yesterday was probably too much stimulation. Started the day with plumbing problem; had a fascinating (for me, anyway) interview with Ed Cone, who turns out to be my homeboy; got a reply from Adam Curry and sent him 20 questions (some of which were just plain stuped); found out Dave Slusher lives just up the road and reached him on the phone; went for noodles with Janet; came home, recorded a 15-minute practice podcast; tried to upload it to libsyn.

Lesson: big file + slow connection = confusion.

I don't know what happened, actually. I know I did things wrong the first time, that I had to to try a second time and that I went to bed with the file loading. This morning the upload was complete, but the file didn't appear to be on the server. So now I'm uploading again.

Anyway, I'm starting the day tired and this is not a good thing: i've got a freelance assignment meeting in an hour, another plumber coming at 10 and depending on when that finishes up, perhaps a drive up to Conway, 70 miles north, to meet Slusher. Tomorrow I'm scheduled for a nanotech ethics conference in Columbia, and Friday we go to the state press awards in Spartanburg. Not sure when I'm going to write all this stuff, much less cut a real podcast.

I would have written a shorter post, but i didn't have the time...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Beach renourishment

My wife points out that we have a story in the paper this morning about beach renourishment that never really addresses why we have to worry about beach renourishment in the first place.

The answer: because barrier islands are rivers of sand. So long as you don't build anything on them, they move and flow and everything is cool. Put a house on it, though, and suddenly the natural movement of sand up and down the coast becomes a crisis.

Her point is that when we write about such things, when we tack on "nut graphs" (the newspaper term for short explanatory summaries), we do well to talk about the underlying issue, not just the politics.

My points: 1. This is true of more than just beaches; 2. There's a nice little taoistic lesson in here, somewhere.

What might transparency look like?

So if I were building a transparent portal into a newsroom, what would it look like? What would be relevant? To ask the question another way, what should be private?

To ask which Presidential candidate I supported would be fair, but that one vote doesn't make me transparent -- it just turns me into a caricature. But perhaps politics is the best starting point, since politics is what we SAY we're concerned about (much of what passes for politics is simply personal psychology projected onto an imaginary external screen) when we talk about bias and credibility.

Obviously, political memberships and activities would be on the list. But how deep would we need to go to determine the real orientation of a writer? Take the death penalty: I'm "for" it in the sense that I think it belongs on the books. But I'd also like to see it used less, and would prefer to see the law re-written so that a death sentence would require not only aggravation but a higher standard of proof.

How about abortion? I'm "pro-choice," so you can pencil in "baby killer" right there if you're so inclined. But here's the thing: I'm willing to compromise on aspects of abortion law, particularly if doing so would move abortion rights out of the realm of legal precedent and into the solid footing legislative statute.

Gun control? Nice idea, but I don't trust government enough to agree to it. Separation of church and state? Absolutely. Affirmative action? Yes, but only if we can all agree that it's a corrective measure, not an entitlement. Social security? Stop robbing the trust fund and then we'll talk. Deficits? Depends on what you're borrowing to buy: roads and schools and fiber optic networks are investments; jets and tanks and tax cuts for the wealthy are economic Krispy Kremes.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this isn't what people really want to know. They're really trying to decide what tribe we belong to -- us or them? And describing politics as a series of stances and positions is really just wonkism. It claims the title of transparency, but it misses the point.

Politics is one of the ways we express our hopes and fears via complex cultural proxies. Abortion isn't JUST about abortion and never has been. Affirmative action is a policy -- race is the enormous and complex subject. Social security reform? That's actually a whole series of subjects, many of them related to basic feelings about ideas like "good fences make good neighbors."

And when we get down to this level, we're really talking about revealing our souls. I don't know that I'm ready to do that on the internet.

There is something valuable in transparency, but damned if it doesn't stump me whenever I try to imagine it in a practical application.