Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NYT gots some 'splainin' to do...

I've been waiting, but it's clearly not going to happen. Not on its own accord, anyway. Not out of a sense of transparency or ethics or the public's right to know.

The brass at The New York Times thinks its decision to hold a story about the White House's warrantless domestic spying program for more than a year is none of our business. So they're not talking.

And, not to put too fine a point on things, that's bullshit.

Gabriel Sherman at the New York Observer had a piece about it today, along with this quote from NYT Executive Editor Bill Killer:

“I’m not going to talk about the back story to the story,” Mr. Keller said by phone on Dec. 20. “Maybe another time and another subject.”

Say what?

Read about it. Read about how Keller and Publisher
Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. and Washington Bureau Chief Phil Taubman were summoned to the Oval Office on Dec. 6 by a president who didn't want them to publish the story. They published it anyway -- bully for them -- but this begs a serious question: If the story was so significant that three executives from the Times were willing to buck the most powerful man on the planet to print it this month, then why didn't they publish it much, much earlier?

As in before the 2004 election. That much earlier.

According to the NYO piece, reporter
James Risen was prepared to write the story 14 months ago. When Risen's attempts to get the story approved were unsuccessful, he went on book leave "and his piece was shelved and regarded as dead, according to a Times source," Sherman said.

Was the Times forced to publish the story by the upcoming January release of Risen's book? Was it motivated by partisan bias (a popuar charge) to publish right before a key congressional vote on renewing The Patriot Act? Were there substantial holes in Risen's original reporting? Was it delayed by lawyers? Or by government influence? What issues were in play on this story behind closed doors at the Times?

But Keller, Sulzberger, Taubman, Risen, a second reporter assigned to the story and Managing Editor Jill Abramson have all since declined to comment. The wagons at the Times are circled.

It's all so very Old School. The adults got together behind closed doors and decided what they were going to do and say, and now all we get is the party line. To both the White House and the Times, it seems, the rest of us are children. Their message to us? You can't handle the truth.

The Times owes us an explanation, today. Not some other day, not some other subject, not whenever it suits Keller. Now. Come out and write a candid description of what went into this agonizingly slow decision, let us see behind the curtain and judge the credibility and motivation of all parties on our own. That's New School.

I've been a part of these newsroom battles, and they're ugly. Candor about who said what and why is painful, awkward and potentially career-threatening. But what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Did these people learn nothing from the Judith Miller disaster? Apparently not.

18:43 Update: A far better account of the story-behind-the-story at the NYT, written by reporter James Rainey, was published yesterday in The Los Angeles Times. Excerpt:
In a statement over the weekend, Keller said the paper printed the story after more reporting, which uncovered additional "concerns and misgivings" about the surveillance and also persuaded Times editors that they could proceed and "not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record."
The initial Times statements did not say that the paper's internal debate began before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election — in which Iraq and national security questions loomed large — or make any reference to Risen's book, due out Jan. 16.
But two journalists, who declined to be identified, said that editors at the paper were actively considering running the story about the wiretaps before Bush's November showdown with Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Top editors at the paper eventually decided to hold the story. But the discussion was renewed after the election, with Risen and coauthor of the story, reporter Eric Lichtblau, joining some of the paper's editors in pushing for publication, according to the sources, who said they did not want to be identified because the Times had designated only Keller and a spokeswoman to address the matter.
Dec. 22 Update: Here's Evan Dirkacz blogging the topic at Alternet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

An online reading list for old and new media

I want to offer the folks in my newsroom a useful reading list on topics related to journalism, emerging media, etc. But rather than build it as a text document, I'm going to build it here.

So this is the goal: Instead of compling an exhaustive, show-off list of web resources related to journalism, media, new media, convergence, blah-blah-blah, I'm going to put together an edited list: Not everybody. Not even all the big somebodies. Just sites I think might be useful to journalists who want to join the conversation, plus notes.

Here's what I came up with this afternoon (Ed note: updated on Nov. 30):

Big ideas, discussion and criticism
The Mac Daddy of all media/new media sites: Jay Rosen's PressThink. You at least check it every day, even if there's not a new post, because the comments and discussions can be great. Rosen is currently off writing a book, so his readers are keeping up the site ... even though Jay is still guiding things from behind the scenes. (RSS)

Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine is considered by many to be the perfect companion/counterpoint to PressThink. I disagree. I think you read Jarvis for Jarvis and Rosen for Rosen. Rosen has a better comments section.

Professor Andrew Cline has a blog and a podcast and calls it the Rhetorica Network. Cline is great at cutting through the crap on bias claims. Does bias exist? You betcha. Only it's more complex than most people think.

First Draft by Tim Porter is a very Rosen-esque site, in that the concepts are big and the context runs deep. The big difference is that Porter is a newsroom veteran, while Rosen is an academic. Porter isn't trying to bury newspapers -- he wants to save them. But he also understands that the real goal is improving journalism, no matter where it appears.

Dan Gillmor used to be the main man when it came to blogging about grassroots journalism. He even wrote the book on the subject: We The Media. These days he's involved in a local San Francisco project, so his blog isn't quite as useful to people outside the Bay Area as it used to be.

CJR Daily: Real-time media analysis from the Columbia Journalism Review. CJR Daily is the lair of Steve Lovelady, one of the great personalities and thinkers from PressThink.

MediaChannel is a broad, deep resource. The MediaChannel's Danny Schechter blogs as The News Dissector, and you can get him every morning in your e-mail if you subscribe.

Steve Yelvington works for Morris in Augusta and was the brains behind the Bluffton Today model. He's awfully damned smart. Don't-miss link: Ten years in new media: Looking back, looking forward. (Special recommendation from Andy Rhinehart)

Morph is a collection of writings, with comments, at The MediaCenter. (RSS)

Why should we limit our discussions of new media to old media forms? EPIC 2014 is an eight-minute Flash animation by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson that will orient you as well as any ponderous feed you might add to your browser.

Technology, culture, geekery, etc.
Slashdot: News for Nerds.Stuff that Matters is one of the best-read sites on the net, but if you're a journalist, you've probably never heard of it. (RSS)

Dave Winer's essential proto-blog, The Scripting News (RSS available, but not recommended, and isn't that ironic considering that Dave is the RSS Daddy?) probably has more daily readers than your newspaper does. Chew on that for a while.

The business
Digital Deliverance is a media business blog by Vin Crosbie. Crosbie also blogs over at the Corante group collaboration Rebuilding Media. He thinks big thoughts, but they're generally industry thoughts, not journalism-practioner thoughts. (Special recommendation from Andy Rhinehart)

Lost Remote TV blog is useful to print journalists trying to get the new media world, in which you have to grasp multiple media, not just newsprint. (Special recommendation from Andy Rhinehart)

Romanesko is the place to get the buzz about the journalism business. It's more like gossip column/newsletter for journalists more than it is a serious discussion of Big-J Journalism (although this is where you get the news that fuels those discussions). It's part of the Poynter Institute, which also offers the useful E-Media Tidbits, which is nice to have as an e-mail subscription.

Memeorandum: The Newfangled News Tangle (RSS) is a way of tracking what stories are being discussed. I keep it as both a static bookmark and as an RSS bookmark, and if you check it out you'll understand why. The static bookmark gives me more info about the items. The RSS bookmark makes for faster scanning.

For more meme tracking with strange little graphics that mean something, try The Daypop Top 40 (RSS available, but not recommended).

Blogdex calls itself The Weblog Diffusion Index. (Keep the RSS and static bookmarks side by side in your favorites)

The Hotline's Blogometer might just be the one thing I'd read every day if I could only read one thing. This is the best digest of blogosphere comment I've ever found. New one posted every business day at noon.

Blogpulse has multiple Zeitgeist/meme-tracking tools. I don't use them, but some people will love 'em because they're so easily customized.

Technorati is the standard for blog searching and its basic search page gives you the Top 10 search terms for the past hour. So if you wanna write about something that people are talking about, ya go to Technorati...

Newsmap gives you a real-time visual grok of the global info stream by country perpspective. Size, color, x-and-y coordinates -- everything means something at Newsmap.

Media watchdogs
Liberal watchdog: Media Matters for America. (RSS)

Conservative watchdog: Media Research Center.

Newspaper blogs/sites
The Times Picayune became a virtual newspaper the day Katrina hit, because so much of its readership was literally scattered to the winds. Today, its website has elements that might make it the world's biggest blog.

John Robinson's The Editor's Log. Here's the editor of a mid-size metro daily walking the walk for transparent, user-focused 21st century journalism..

The (Greensboro, N.C.) News and Record's staff blog and reader-writer blog idex page is called Town Square. Notice how the reporters who blog here are blogging as an extension of their beats, not as opinion columnists. Unless, of course, they happen to be opinion columnists. is a different kind of site. It's the online component of the newsprint RTP Tech Journal, but manages to be innovative in all sorts of ways. I like the idea behind its frontpage design. I like the way they use video. I like the way they structure and organize content.

GoUpstate is the website for The (Spartanburg, SC) Herald-Journal. It's run by Andy Rhinehart, a former print reporter who taught himself HTML back in the 1990s. GoUpstate works in ways many larger newspaper sites don't, and despite being the website's only employee, Andy still finds time to innovate. Consider: GoUpstate has been streaming live audio coverage of local high school football games for years, while other papers in the state struggle to post high school scores before Saturday morning. Note how the homepage design is optimized to fit your a computer screen.

Bluffton Today is a significant experiment in combining online and print products. Lots of web-savvy thinking here, and bold uses of user-generated content. It would belong under the hyperlocal header, but it's corporate, not independent.

The Knoxville News Sentinel site ( is one of the better ones out there, at least as far as design goes.

Will Bunch is a newspaper guy who runs the full-service blog Attytood in Philadelphia. It wasn't on my list at the beginning, but after going back on a recommendation, it's high on the list now. (Special recommendation from Paul Lukasiak.)

The Cincinnati Post has a blog for its photo staff that offers a simple and attractive concept: Put up a shot, write about it, then let the users comment. Good photos provoke strong emotions, so this is a natural fit. Special recommendation from Grace Beahm.

Ed Cone, who could write the book on metablogging, is best known for his Word Up blog, which everybody just call's "Ed's blog." He also blogs about ACC basketball, among other topics. (RSS) I could point out other metablogs, but in the spirit of the original idea, I'll stop here. Just read Ed.

Hyperlocal, independent news blogs/sites
The New Haven Independent was founded by a long-time reporter who spotted something I had written at PressThink and decided to give journalism another try -- on his terms. I think it's a great site, naturally.

Hypergene is a participatory journalism blog, with plenty of how-to stuff. (Special recommendation from Andy Rhinehart)

If you live in Watertown, Mass., and you care about local events and have a computer and a sense of humor, you read H2OTown. It's written by Lisa Williams.

I seldom get around to reading this, but check out Essex County, New Jersey's The Barista of Bloomfield Avenue by Debbie Galant and Liz George. This is hyperlocal news with style and pop and personality. It's a nice bookend for H2OTown, too.

Greensboro101 is Roch Smith's community blog portal. Between Roch and Ed and The News and Record, Greensboro, NC, had everything it needed to become the capital city of Blog Nation.

Craig's List could have been filed in all sorts of places on this list, but I'm putting it here because it functions as a useful connection to your community. Those of you in the newsprint business should be paying particular attention, because Craig's List and its unborn cousins are far bigger threats to your traditional business model than flashy start-ups like Pajamas Media will ever be. Craig's List is where you go to find a job, a rug, a roommate or a ride, but you can also rant about what bugs you, write a love poem to the woman who smiled at you as her train left the station, or book a multi-partner neighborhood sex party for the weekend.

Useability, web design and site architecture
Jay Small works for Scripps-Howard and blogs at Small Initiatives. (Special recommendation from Andy Rhinehart)

Jeffery Zeldman is a web designer and author who blogs at (Special recommendation from Andy Rhinehart)

Steve Krug wrote a great book about website useability (Don't Make Me Think). There's more at his site.

Chris Nolan is a recovering reporter who morphed into a techie and now blogs with a sharp, cold eye.

Wikipedia belongs on any new media list for a couple of reasons. In the first place, if you need a reference for new media developments and their related technical terms, or if you're looking for information on the innovators in the field, Wikipedia is probably the best place on Earth to find quick answers. Secondly, it's the largest encyclopedia ever created, a feat accomplished with only two paid employees. But I think it belongs here for a third reason: Wikipedia is a model of the voluntary cooperation that is an emerging theme in Internet culture. This tends to freak out business types, who can't imagine such behavior on such a broad scale. Like it or not, wiki-esque cooperation and community is going to be a feature of future commerce, so you'd better adapt your thinking to include it.

(Nov. 21 update: Wrote a more descriptive header for the first category; added the link to the EPIC 2014 Flash animation; added Craig's List and Wikipedia; fixed the spelling of Jay Small's name, which has only one "S" in it; fixed the link to CJR; after going back and reading it more thoroughly than I have in the past, I added Attytood to the list on the recommendation of investigative reporter Paul Lukasiak. Thanks for the other recommendations so far -- I'll have to take some time to check them out before deciding whether or not to add them.

(Nov. 22: Took the non-existant "e" off Roch Smith's name. Thank you, Anna H.)

(Nov. 30th: Fixed style and bad-writing glitches, fixed fixes I missed, added the interesting photoblog suggested by Grace Beahm. I've gotten myself an in-house website for the newsroom, so it's about time to post this stuff for my bretheren. Thanks to everyone for your feedback and help, both on- and off-blog. --dc)

Monday, October 17, 2005

The New Media Food Chain

Anybody who has followed Jay Rosen's recent PressThink coverage of the Judith Miller debacle at The New York Times has probably noticed a change in the color of the sky this week. Some future historian will likely declare the Miller case a milestone in the development of global networked media, concluding with 20-20 hindsight that this was the week when we entered a new world.

In the Old World, the press and its superset, The Media, covered our institutions. When The Media became part of the story, some subset of The Media would examine that role and report on it.

In the New World, The Media still covers our institutions, but it no longer covers itself. That function has now been assumed by The Blogosphere. Permanently.

This is a natural phenomenon, because coverage of our shape-shifting, hydra-headed Media practically demands limitless perspective. No single observer can see the whole of it. But The Blogosphere is the totality of many observers. And while The Media is far better equipped to cover the world than individual citizens are, anyone with a TV and access to Google can cover The Media. Consequently, The Media covers tsunami recovery efforts, while The Blogosphere covers that coverage -- sometimes including unfiltered reports from bloggers on the scene. Is it accurate? Misleading? Does it offer the proper context?

While we have witnessed this phenomenon previously, the Miller story is the best example so far. Print-only readers simply do not have the same grasp of this complex tale as do those who read the comments and threads at places like PressThink, CJR, BTC News, Joho, etc.

Not only is The New York Times unable to cover itself in this instance, but other Old World publications seem to be struggling as well. They are bound by rules and conventions, friendships and rivalries, by "professional courtesy," and -- in some cases, no doubt -- by complicity.

In this limited sense, The Blogosphere has now transcended The Media. This is not to say that bloggers are more powerful than the TV news networks and big dailies (yet), but there is a comparison to be made here between a relationship that we understand far better: Media does not control government, but because it has the power to establish the narrative for government actions, media influences government.

To understand the New World, move one link up the new media food chain and look back. The Blogosphere does not control The Media, but because it has the power to establish the narrative for Media actions, the Blogosphere influences Media.

A scientist, looking at that event, would say that The Blogosphere is able to do this because it is larger and more complex than The Media. In every sense of the word, The Media is now the subject of The Blogosphere. It has "gone meta."

Let us pause and recognize the historic significance of this moment. We are democratizing power and changing the culture in ways few people have even imagined. Next step: Let's help those people imagine it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Media "singularity"

Editor's note: When one of my posts over at Xark! (a criticism of Anderson Cooper called Enough with the posing) initiated an interesting back-and-forth about media credibility and objectivity, it prompted me to write a long comment. I'm cross-posting it here because, as I read over it on the page, it occurred to me that I had inadvertently described a state of media singularity -- an evolutionary step in human consciousness.
The discussion about credibility/objectivity/etc. is a worthy one, but my point here was more basic: I don't like the acting, the dramatic personae, the fake cinema verte. I think Geraldo has done it for years, and it's laughable, but when I watched Anderson Cooper do it, I found it disturbing.

One of the best things I read every day is a e-mail called Media Savvy: A daily update on media and political matters that has the effect of making me a better receiver. From an informed position, everything has value -- Hannity, Limbaugh, Franken, PrisonPlanet, Stewart.

But what I notice about myself is that I assume I'm capable of watching all this and sorting it out in meaningful ways, but I assume that people who tend to get all their news from one source or another lack this perspective. So an important question becomes: "Am I right about that?" And if I am, what (if anything) should we do about that? Does it require any action more specific than identification and discussion?

These days I write a great deal about biology, and here's a lesson from the life sciences: diversity is the sign of a healthy ecosystem. Taken as a whole, our mediasphere is more diverse than ever, but the real issue is, what about people who self-select a media monoculture? How do we re-engage them?

And this is where I think Janet is headed in the right direction: The spirit of the new media age is niche. The spirit of the old was One-Size-Fits-All. I think that when we fight over MSM coverage today, the unspoken goal is actually control over the normative power that Big Media represented in the One-Size-Fits-All Era. Conservatives aren't generally angry at bloggers who write opinionated pieces favoring homosexual marriage, but an AP story that takes no stand yet has the effect of making gay unions look normal drives them nuts.

Janet says that a new media will emerge, and I agree. I think we're actually making it, right now, right here, at this moment. The old model is top-down, normative, restrictive, authoritarian. The new model is sideways-distributed, group-forming and based (in the loose sense) on merit rather than authority.

It's hard to imagine this now, but it will become easier once we build the tools that that give individual users more direct control over information. By tools I mean the tools of discovery informatics, neural networks, intelligent agents: thinking tools, pattern-recognition tools, aggregators, quantifiers, connectors.

Today a blog is an individual neuron in a holographic consciousness that isn't yet fully self-conscious, something that allows us access to the greatest problem-solving technology ever invented (community).

In the future, a "blog" will be part of an aggregate, measured, fluctuating vox populi, and the back-and-forth flow of information will be ordered and shaped not by editors and producers, but by machines.

The human factor doesn't disappear in such a system -- it just moves to doing the things that humans do best: Asking questions, sharing experiences, considering options, etc.

That's the optimistic view. The pessimistic future is FOX Populai, the manipulation of small media by Big Media in a monocultural hierarchy. You can choose left or right or "phony centrism" (left and right will both claim that the "objective" journalists are all working for the other side secretly), and the culture will continue to polarize.

But we're not playing on that level right now. Today, blogs and VODcasts are just "cool," particularly with the demographic that forms the core audience for Anderson Cooper 360. When Cooper steps out of his news character and steps into his romantic citizen-journalist character, he is self-consciously trying to be two contradictory things at once. Maybe that's a sign of genius. And maybe it's just opportunistic and shallow.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Intelligence Briefing model of journalism

Posted today at PressThink in reference to discussion on the NYT's Times Select paywall:

What's valuable today? Information that comes with a high degree of confidence and carries predictive power.

What's parsley? Politicized opinion, infotainment, stenographic reporting and "analysis" of the obvious.

I think we are in the middle of a paradigm shift that will divide information and commentary into two basic categories: 1. Basic, "unwarranteed" communication, which will continue to be too cheap to meter; 2. Value-added information, which will abandon our Old School value of "fairness" for a model based on the daily intelligence briefing.

When we talk about "objectivity," we tend to talk about its limits. We don't tend to talk about its value. When we talk about commentary, we talk about its slant. We don't tend to talk about its perceptiveness. Our current frame of reference is a newspaper/broadcast model that is based on certain assumptions about "gatekeeper functions," "credibility," "balance," and the mass audience.

When you adopt an intelligence agency perspective, the information gatherer and the information analyst are working for a specific end user, not a general, passive audience.

This is a radically different relationship. Your loyalty is to your subscriber, not to your sources, not to your political friends. Your value -- your continued employment, for that matter -- is attached to the quality and utility of your information and your insights.

People will pay for such content, and the networked media makes it possible for more people to access such services. These are, ultimately, the "editors" described in the EPIC 2014 animation.

Will people pay for Times Select? Not unless it has this function.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Getting ahead of disaster

The problem with a disaster like Katrina is that it is literally too large and too profound for the average person to wrap their brain around. Consequently, the media now resembles a bunch of blind men describing an elephant, only we're doing it around the clock.

Making matters worse, in our rush to catch up with events, in our need to provide "hurricane porn" 24/7, we've overlooked another important part of our job as journalists: Probing for meaning.

The unplugging of New Orleans from the American economy -- and the absorption of at least half a million long-term refugees -- promises to be one of the most transformative events of the early 21st century. The implications of this mind-boggling task will affect every American in hundreds of ways, large and small.

If there was ever a time for a disaster wiki ... if there was ever a call for the smartest people in the country to get in communication and start comparing notes ... this might be it.

When considered in the light of an American moment that was already feeling rather precarious, the ongoing disaster in the Gulf represents an enormous threat to our way of life. Traditions, institutions, relationships and expectations that made perfect sense on Sunday are now either history or utterly unsure. And we're not thinking about them.

A year from now, we will look back at these days and say "If we had only thought of X."

It's our job as journalists to start thinking about X today. And one way to do that is to start asking everyone we know -- and many people we don't -- "What might X be?"

P.S.: Here's the e-mail I just sent out to about 90 people, many of them local, many of them spread out across around the country:
Dear all:

I am casting as wide a net as I can today, trying to get as many thoughtful responses as I can to this question:

"Regarding the long-term flooding of New Orleans, what so-far unpublicized secondary effects are likely to have the most profound, transformative and currently unanticipated effect on the nation as a whole?"

Some secondary effects, such as the rising cost of gasoline, are getting lots of attention. Others, like the destruction of the Gulf Coast shrimp fishery, have yet to be examined. I am interested in what people with different perspectives and insights would foresee as important issues affecting us all that we have yet to consider in the wake of this disaster.

I hope to combine the best and most thought-provoking responses into a piece to run in (my newspaper) in Charleston, S.C.

If you have a thought that you wish to share, I will be greatly appreciative. If you have any friends or colleagues that you think might offer an interesting response to this, please consider passing it on to them.

Thank you,

Daniel Conover

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Guerilla media

Whilst cruising around the Chihuahua desert one afternoon in 1988 with my cavalry troop's executive officer, I listened as he waxed philosophical over an MRE.

"A tank costs $2.6 million," he said. "But what if you took that $2.6 million and bought a bunch of dune buggies, mounted guided missiles and machine guns on 'em, and offered each dune buggy crew some kind of bonus for harrying the hell out of the enemy?"

The lieutenant's idea was radical, the kind of thing you talk about with a curious young buck sergeant but never with fellow officers. Restated from a 21st century perspective, the XO was suggesting that a swarm of lightly armed, highly mobile, independently commanded guerillas might be more effective at denying a modern enemy the ability to execute its plans.

In military jargon, we might say that 1st Lt. Kontos was stealing the principles of "asymmetric warfare" from the underdog and applying them to the dominant force. Not pirates: Privateers.

I was reminded of this while reading a comment on Jay Rosen's post about "things (journalism professors) used to believe but don't believe anymore." Journalism instructor David Crisp despaired of the current state of the business, examined the ideals that now look silly and concluded that "Maybe I'll just try to teach them to write punchy ledes and forget the rest of it."

Better yet: Teach them those ideals, David, but point them away from newspapers and network television. Tell them where to find the resistance instead.

Whatever you want to call it -- mainstream media, legacy media, The Media -- the dominant media in our culture is stuck. It moves a predictable speeds, in predictable ways. It lacks verve and brilliance, but it is well supplied and armored.

You can't confront it and win. You can't "change it from within." Creating a mirror-image "alternative media" that could go head-to-head with such a force is simply not a logistical possibility.

So instead, maybe you take Crisp's journalism students and you teach them the way of the guerilla. Teach them big ideals and little survival tricks. Teach them wisdom and initiative and character. Keep them out of the halls of corporate human resources, where mediocrity prowls in jealous vigilance.

Give them blogs, and set them loose.

Some enemies cannot be defeated directly. But if you deny those enemies the ability to act as they wish, if you harry them and give them no rest, if you show the people in the countryside that there is an option, then maybe...

Just maybe.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Being wrong: It's a good thing

One could argue that what truly distinguishes homo sapiens sapiens as a species isn't mental capacity, opposible thumbs or subcutaneous fat, but evidence that suggests we're the only animal that will choose death over being proven wrong.

People don't like to be wrong, but they should really give it a try every now and again. Being proven wrong is the gateway to all new knowledge, and it's actually freeing and exciting.

My most recent bout with wrongness has been my belief that all online media discussions devolve at some point into partisan brawls. Last week's PressThink thread seemed to support my thesis, and since the topic was the Plame Game, one can hardly be surprised.

But the current thread over at Jay Rosen's indespensible website has turned out to be refreshingly civil -- even inquisitive. Commenters I have sparred with, and in some cases disparaged, have made thoughtful, reasonable points. They've asked good questions. There hasn't been a notable insult, left or right.

Why the change? Why is one week contentious and the other harmonious (though certainly not bland)?

If I were a sociologist, I think I could get a Ph.D. examining the communities that grow up around successful blogs. They are endlessly fascinating.

And anyway, I was wrong. Not all media discussions end in partisan, culture war bickering. Thank goodness.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The newspaper of the future

Passed along from Andy Rhinehart this morning: This link to Digital Deliverance and its summary of New Media principles in the wake of the NYT's weekend story on "the newspaper of the future."

Not so much new, but a really good summary to pass along to your colleagues.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... an update

Regular readers of this blog and/or PressThink know that back in June I wrote a long post about my dissatisfaction with the standard blog format and my desire to try something new.

Since then I've been developing that new idea over at, a blog hosting service that offers unlimited team blogging (for a cost). In the next few days, I plan on taking it to the next phase, sending out author invitations to people I would like to read on a regular basis. If the idea catches on, more author invitations will follow.

The concept: Build a space where people of different backgrounds can write about any topic that engages their imagination, without limiting the discourse to the traditional rhetoric of politics, conflict and debate. If successful, it will be less like an episode of Crossfire and more like a rambling house party with a lot of interesting guests.

I don't know how it will turn out -- it could be total flop -- but I've just got to find out what could happen if one makes room for art and humor and science and serendipty, while still keeping the conversation timely and topical.

That doesn't mean that I'm ending this media blog (as others have erroneously concluded). I've just pulled away from it as I've turned my thinking in new directions, posting here only when I feel like I've got something that belongs in the media conversation.

I won't be publicizing that new site off this one for much the same reason that I've stopped providing my URL in comments on PressThink. It's not that I've stopped speaking, it just that I'm more careful about what I'm advertising. Everyone understands that the volume at which one speaks is part of the message, and by dialing back my volume I'm hoping to speak with more integrity.

Some of you have already written requesting the link to new blog. You'll be receiving it shortly. Anyone else who wishes it need only ask.

Friday, July 15, 2005

My say to the PressThink crowd

Jay Rosen's July 7 post at PressThink on how the press should shun Novak until he comes clean (how positively Amish!) notched 265 comments, the majority of which I felt served as an example of how practically any media thread these days rapidly devolves into a political food fight.

On Tuesday, a guy calling himself antimedia showed up on Rosen's comment board with a bunch of Rove stuff I hadn't read before. Definitely right wing, but pretty good stuff. Meaty. Researched. Practically footnoted. I skimmed it, went back to work, and when I checked back ... there was even MORE of it.

Between 1:12 a.m. and 10:27 p.m. on July 12, this guy antimedia filed 13 posts, several of them lengthy, with all sorts of citations to material I'd never read or heard about. Without having checked it all out, I marked it for further study. It all struck me funny. My Spidey-Sense was buzzing.

The next morning's paper featured the Rove story prominently -- but with an eye-opening twist. The stuff I'd read for the first time in antimedia's Tuesday posts was suddenly the focus of the national wire story, only it was coming out of the mouth of Ken Mehlman, the former Bush campaign manager who now runs the RNC. Later that afternoon, while tracking the consistant GOP message, I found what I was looking for. And they looked remarkably like what I'd read the day before at PressThink.

At 5:39 p.m. on July 13, I posted this question on the comment board:
Anybody else notice how antimedia showed up yesterday flashing a line of logic that was practically identical to the GOP talking points that were being circulated more or less at the same time?
Thursday was busy, but today I finally got the time to check back in.

The first response, from regular PressThink conservative contributor Trained Auditor, was about what I'd expected:

Antimedia shed some real light, slaying some sacred cows of the left in the process, chiefly that "Bush lied" - - in fact, the President's 16 words in the State of the Union address regarding African nuclear materials were well founded (see underlying report(s), excerpted by Antimedia). I don't see that point disclosed in the brief catch-up summaries that are typically included in recent news reports of the Rove connection.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 13, 2005 06:13 PM | Permalink

Then another new guy, going by the anonymous handle "blanknoone" showed up around 8 p.m. and made a couple of on-message, fact-packed, well-drilled pro-Rove posts. This prompted a response from Steve Lovelady of CJR, the guy who tends to ride herd on Rosen's righties.

I love it.
Now that Daniel Conover has exposed "antimedia" as a talking point parrot from the RNC, "antimedia" mysteriously disappears, only to be immediaately replaced by "blanknoone."
Come on, guys -- I can post under any name I want, but in the end I'm still Steve Lovelady.
Congrats, Jay. You've finally got the big boys, with all their numerous aliases, trying to pollute your site.
In a way, it's a compliment. They only wade in if they see something alarming on a site with wide readership.
Look at it this way: you've graduated.
Now, at last, as Phillip Roth says in Portnoy's Complaint, we can begin.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 13, 2005 09:26 PM | Permalink

That drew two consecutive comments from blanknoone:

Steve, I've been here for a while, even if I haven't been here for a while. I'm not new, and I'm not antimedia. M'kay? And Jay should be able to verify that by IP address without a problem. If you care, ask him to. I invite it.

Furthermore, you don't address any of my points. I haven't read any GOP talking points, at least not yet. But just because they are talking points (and I really don't think my long post could POSSIBLY be considered a talking point) doesn't mean they aren't true.

Posted by: blanknoone at July 13, 2005 09:42 PM | Permalink


BTW, Steve, has your supposedly non-partisan media watchdog group finally acknowledged having a radical left winger running the show and put him on the masthead? How long did it take? It would be obvious to anyone reading your posts, but at least you could be honest with your subscribers.

Posted by: blanknoone at July 13, 2005 09:45 PM | Permalink

And about half an hour later, here comes antimedia with another long post (excerpted):

I know this might come as a shock to you, Daniel, but contrary to the apparent majority of the commenters, I actually am capable of both reading and thinking for myself. I've never been a member of any party except the Libertarian party (for one year), and I've never been to any site where there are "talking points". This is because I don't need to be spoon fed my thoughts. I'm quite capable of thinking on my own, as should be quite clear from my comments in this thread.

A thinking person might actually question why my points so closely match the "talking points" when I obtained them independently of any political site. (I actually read the SICR, for example.) It could actually be possible that the Republicans are using facts for their talking points! (I don't know that for a fact, because I've not seen them. Nor do I care what their "talking points" are.)

As opposed to comments such as yours, invoking ad hominem to disabuse readers of the notion that I might actually have a point, I posted fact after fact after fact, none of which have been refuted by any commenter in this thread.

When I posted about Wilson's lies regarding his wife's involvement, irrefutable facts, commenters began attacking those facts by saying they were "unimportant" or "immaterial to the discussion of whether or not Rove committed a crime" or they could be "understood" in a different way. (As if there's more than one way to "understand" facts.)

So far, not one of the facts I've posted has been refuted by anyone. Many, on the other hand, have used ad hominem and condescension in an attempt to "refute" them. It hasn't worked, other than to strengthen the resolve of those who only care to see the "truth" they believe in rather than the facts of what took place.

Considering this is a journalism blog and many commenters are journalists, that ought to trouble a few of them at least. That it apparently doesn't is merely proof of the bias they insist does not exist.

Steve Lovelady wrote

Now that Daniel Conover has exposed "antimedia" as a talking point parrot from the RNC, "antimedia" mysteriously disappears, only to be immediaately replaced by "blanknoone."
Frankly, Steve, I have no idea who "blanknoone" is nor do I need his or her help to argue. But I do find your sanctimonious and condescending attitude a bit off-putting. I hope you aren't as uncivil in person.

As far as Conover "exposing" me, please don't make me laugh. Conover hasn't a clue what he's talking about. I hardly have time to sit around here conducting a pissing contest with the likes of you and your cronies. I just stopped by this evening to see if you were all still stewing in your juices, and sure enough, you were. (It's actually comforting in a way to know that some things don't change.)

This brought the ever scrappy Lovelady back out:

Nice try, antimedia/blanknoone/whatever-your-next-name- is.
Never even checked in on what the arcane and irrelevant RNC talking points are, yet you've been echoing them for four days ?
And the two of you don't even have the same ISP address ?
Gee, what a surprise that is!
Duh-uh !
Say hello to Ed Gillespie for me, boys.
If Valerie Plame had ever been this clumsy about cover, this country would be in real trouble.
But, as I said earlier -- welcome to the show. With your presence, it can only get more interesting.
We're finally dealing with players, not commentators.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 13, 2005 11:27 PM | Permalink

Which got about the kind of response I was rapidly coming to expect from antimedia:

Steve Lovelady, how stupid do you have to be to keep repeating this ignorant mantra "antimedia/blanknoone/whatever-your-next-name- is". Click on the link, you boob. You'll find I have a blog. I'm not playing some silly whack-a-mole game, and if you go to my blog you'll find I've written about all this stuff for over a year now.

I am not a "player" either (whatever the heck that is) despite your paranoid delusions. I'm a simple American citizen, US Navy veteran, father and husband, computer security geek. Nothing more, nothing less. The last time I got a solicitation from the Republicans I wrote them a long, nasty letter about how they were a bunch of boobs and asked them to take me off their list. (Not that it did one bit of good.) At least the Libertarians finally quit mailing me.

So there you have it: Another testy little exchange, signifying nothing. Maybe.

Here's my say on all of this:

To the antimedias of the world, let me just express, truly and sincerely, how angry you make me. It makes me angry whenever some jerk accuses everyone in my profession of the same crimes, some of which are nothing more than bitter imagination.

I don't like the showboating. I don't like macho swagger. So when you call yourself "antimedia" and show up stomping around in big boots, don't expect me to act all friendly.

Secondly, I don't cover Washington, and I don't write about it professionally. So don't walk in and throw down a gantlet on your "facts" about the Plame story and expect me to just do what you say, when you say, the way you say it. Get that chip off your shoulder when you're talking to me.

Third, I'm sick and tired of know-it-alls trying to tell me that THEIR sets of details are the ONLY ones that matter. The motto of this site is "Fight the FUD." That means I'm interested in trying to understand what's really going on, NOT in being led around by the nose in your neo-con fog because you happen to have figured out how to manipulate the media via its own rules.

WHICH, by the way, means that I'm going to stand on my post about what I believe to be true in the Valerie Plame story. WHICH, by the way, says that the facts you've presented, no matter how rigorously documented, appear to me to be nothing more than another red herring. WHICH, by the way, means that I'm not going to traipse around after whatever you guys say is important until I see some evidence that you grasp what I consider to be the significant concept: Was the administration truthful in the run-up to Iraq and is it being truthful now?

And you're not going to distract me from that. I vocally supported the decision to go to war beginning in the fall of 2002, and let me tell you smarmy punks something: I'm one of those Americans who just hates the idea of being betrayed by his government.

Unless and until I hear some conservative willingness to accept the obvious truth on that score, we don't have a conversation. It's like buying a house: Somebody has to make a qualified offer before the negotiations begin. You guys who want to start an argument with me and change my mind are like people who'd walk up to a Realtor at an open house and say "I'll give you a hundred bucks for the house, lot and the garage, and by the way, all you Realtors are lying poofs."

If I were doing true hardcore journalism on this site (which I've never claimed to be doing), you bet I'd go through your material. Exhaustively. That's the cost of doing real journalism, primary journalism, bias-filtered journalism. But why even bother with you? Most of the conservative "antimedia" critics I've met demand such things, only then when you give it to them, they dismiss the possibility of real, primary, bias-filtered reporting, call you a name and change the subject, because, you know, reporters are liberals.

You guys don't want news. You want comforting kitsch and patriotic propaganda. You don't want change, either. You want to keep the press decertified, so that you can keep ignoring it when you don't like what it says.

Now, do I agree with Lovelady that antimedia and blanknoone are one and the same? Do I think that antimedia was a GOP plant? Do I think that the Republican Noise Machine has decided to include the PressThink board in its scorched-Earth spin policy?

No, yes and maybe.

I mean, antimedia and blanknoone could be the same person. Both are anonymous and, by my way of thinking, far less credible for it. If you play clever little identity games, you're going to leave yourself open to criticism and suspicion. But that doesn't mean that they're the same person, and, by the way, who cares?

Is antimedia a GOP plant? You decide: I didn't recognize his handle, and I've been reading PressThink regularly for six months. This afternoon I checked back to May 3, and the first post by anybody named antimedia came on July 12 -- the same day that Rove and the GOP launched their counteroffensive across the media. The stuff I read in the talking points memo I heard first from antimedia.

Antimedia claims he has never seen the GOP talking points, which were distributed about 10 hours after he filed his first PressThink comment. And I suppose it's possible that a coincidence like that could happen. Only I liked what I heard Rove's biographer say this week: "There are no coincidences in Karl Rove's world."

Now, Mr. antimedia, let me clarify something. You invoked your victim status in claiming that I had engaged you in an ad hominem attack. As you know, that's a Latin term that means "attacking the man." What I did was ask a question based on an observation. An ad hominem would have gone like this:
Anybody else notice how antimedia showed up yesterday flashing a line of logic that was practically identical to the GOP talking points that were being circulated more or less at the same time? What a lying Spookworld bastard.
But I didn't say that. And as for me having a clue, that's all I had. A clue. I didn't have a conclusion. You just filled in the blanks and accused me of reaching conclusions.

I did small-scale political journalism for about 10 years of my life. I didn't play on the Washington level (although I covered local delegations), and I don't know all the Inside-the-Beltway tricks. So listen carefully to what I'm saying: I'm not claiming specific knowledge.

But I am saying that I've got enough direct experience to have a pretty good idea of how this game is played. And based on that first-hand experience of the way modern parties conduct their real-politik business, is it out of the realm of possibility that a national political organization would hire or recruit or assign people to go out in the blogosphere and try to sway the debate, frame the discussion, insult and defame their opposition? Is it unreasonable to be suspicious of such things? No.

And, had that happened, would it be reasonable to expect the guilty to fess up when confronted? "Aw shucks, boys, ya caught me!" Not on your life.

The right wing is coming apart in front of our eyes right now, but that doesn't mean the end is near, or that they'll just shrivel up when contronted with their hypocrises. It is necessary now to confront them, to oppose them, perhaps even to expose them from time to time. They cannot continue to stand on this house of cards, but history teaches they will not go quietly.

Once they are gone, let's remind people what "conservative" really means. What "liberal" really means, too. Neither is a dirty word, and neither has a stranglehold on truth or wisdom.

But until that time, George W. Bush is right: You're either for him, or you're against him. It didn't have to be this way, but so be it.