There was a bit of a disconnect on what's happening to the newspaper business and my friend's insight on what is happening to the business of news. I mentioned that Murdoch was doing his best to kill the industry. From my view the FOXization of the media is destroying it's credibility and function as a true check on government power -- the role that earns the press the moniker Fourth Estate. He ignored this observation and described what he called the "perfect storm" that now threatens the very existence of large and small papers world-wide.
He predicts that our generation will be the last to remember actually holding something in our hands made of wood pulp and ink. At a time when more and more people have moved to getting their news online for free, advertisers who have always been the backbone of press room revenue are drying up due to the economic purgatory we're now dealing with. That's his two parts of the print media's deadly perfect storm, online flight coupled with recession, but there is a third systemic problem -- and it's the stuff right in his lap.
He described the elements of this perfect storm in a way that conveniently removed any responsibility on the reporting and editorial staff -- and thus any ability for improvement by the talent, the product the producers of news provide. Excellence in journalism is not rewarded in his analysis, nor mediocrity discouraged. I'm not saying that he is unaware or unappreciative of the content role in print's impending doom, just that it wasn't the first thing he points to as the cause. He is a rather smart guy after all, so I'm sure he gets it. He just wasn't bitching about it.
Enter journalism Professor Jay Rosen of NYU, Twitter Guru and one of the few old guys who gets new media. He rails against press "curmudgeons" clinging to the old models every day. Barbara at Mahablog noted his take on the inanity of typical "he said-she said" reporting, the kind of infotainment that led Jon Stewart to virtually destroy CNN's "Crossfire" program -- covering the controversy, the shouting match, instead of digging through the noise and exposing/explaining/truth-telling. This was the subject of Neal Gabler's fine piece at the Los Angeles Times which sparked both Barbara and Jay to chime in.
To look at this in a larger context, journalists would no doubt say that it isn't really their job to ferret out the "truth." It is their job to report "facts." If Palin says that Obama intends to euthanize her child, they report it. If Limbaugh says that Obama's healthcare plan smacks of Nazism, they report it. And if riled citizens begin shouting down their representatives, they report it, and report it, and report it. The more noise and the bigger the controversy, the greater the coverage. This creates a situation in which not only is the truth subordinate to lies, but one in which shameless lies are actually privileged over reasoned debate.Face it. Over the last decade or two, journalists and the politicians they cover have made lawyers look good.
Don't think the militants don't know this and take full advantage of it. They know that the media, especially the so-called liberal mainstream media -- which are hardly liberal if assessed honestly -- refrain from attempting to referee arguments for fear that they will be accused by the right of taking sides. So rather than be battered, the media -- and I am talking about the respectable media, not the carnival barkers on cable -- increasingly strive for the simplest sort of balance rather than real objectivity. They marshal facts, but they don't seek truth. They behave as if every argument must be heard and has equal merit, when some are simply specious. That is how global warming, WMD and "end of life" counseling have become part of silly reportorial ping-pong at best and badly misleading information at worst.
Gabler's piece (which is excellent and if you follow one link from this post this is it) does proffer a prescription for this fact-reporting vs. truth-telling dilemma: "shoe leather."
It requires digging up facts that aren't being handed to you, talking to experts, thinking hard about what you find.Of course there's even more to it. Not just thinking "hard," but thinking "different." Rosen touched on this in an earlier article this week before Gabler admonished his colleagues to "tell the truth not because anyone really wants them to but because it is the right thing to do -- the essential thing to do -- for the sake of our democracy." Rosen talked about the difference between explanation leading to information and reporting raw information without explanation, leaving it to the reader to supply their own analysis, form their own opinion and divine for themselves the "truth" -- which more often than not allows the news consumer to cherry-pick that set of raw data they like and reinforces their strenuously held preconceptions and avoid critical thinking.
There's a backwards model that leads to enlightenment. Take it away, Jay:
In the normal hierarchy of journalistic achievement the most “basic” acts are reporting today’s news and providing current information, as with prices, weather reports and ball scores. We think of “analysis,” “interpretation,” and also “explanation” as higher order acts. They come after the news has been reported, building upon a base of factual information laid down by prior reports.
In this model, I would receive news about something brewing in the mortgage banking arena, and make note it. (“”Subprime lenders in trouble: check.”) Then I would receive some more news and perhaps keep an even closer eye on the story. After absorbing additional reports of ongoing problems in the mortgage market (their frequency serving as a signal that something is truly up) I might then turn to an “analysis” piece for more on the possible consequences, or perhaps a roundtable with experts on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. I thus graduate from the simpler to the more sophisticated forms of news as I learn more about a potentially far-reaching development. That’s the way it works… right?
Wrong! For there are some stories—and the mortgage crisis is a great example—where until I grasp the whole I am unable to make sense of any part. Not only am I not a customer for news reports prior to that moment, but the very frequency of the updates alienates me from the providers of those updates because the news stream is adding daily to my feeling of being ill-informed, overwhelmed, out of the loop. I respond with indifference, even though I’ve picked up a blinking red light from the news system’s repeated placement of “subprime” items in front of me.
On top of that, if I decide to buckle down and really pay attention to “subprime lenders in crisis” news—including the analysis pieces and the economics columnist—I am likely to feel even more frustrated because the missing narrative prevents these good-faith efforts from making much of a difference. The columnist who says he is going to explain it to me typically assumes too much knowledge (“mortgage-backed securities?”) or has too little space, or is bored with the elementary task of explanation and prefers that more sophisticated work appear under his byline. Or maybe, as with this story, the very people paid to understand the story barely know how to explain it. That’s the opening theme of this column from The New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt, “Can’t Grasp Credit Crisis? Join the Club.
I spent a good part of the last few days calling people on Wall Street and in the government to ask one question, “Can you try to explain this to me?” When they finished, I often had a highly sophisticated follow-up question: “Can you try again?”I remember reading this column at the time and feeling grateful that someone at least tried. (He got about a third of the way there.) But Leonhardt’s column wasn’t displayed or classified in the right way. It should have been a tool in the sidebar of every news story the Times did about the mortgage mess. Instead it was added to the content flow, like this: news, news, news, “analysis,” news, news, news, “interpretation piece,” news, news, news, news, “Leonhardt: explain this to me,” news, news, news…
That’s messed up. That’s dysfunctional. We have to fix that.
Sorry to say, but noting the nature and space constraints of newsprint, and the passive nature of television news, online media is uniquely suited to presenting this kind of "scaffolding" upon which to present the news. The interactive "sidebox" have few analogues in print, links to more in depth material or primers, graphics conveniently accessible at the touch of a mouse button, an expandable narrative that puts information in contextual relation with the "big picture."
Print can't compete with that, but it's failure to sharpen it's most potent weapon against the digital encroachment -- truth-telling as opposed to information spewing -- is ignored at it's peril. Magazine formats seem better suited to this than daily papers, but unless reporters and editors are willing to admit they judge (and they do no matter how hard they avoid such appearances) and explain, they are doomed until they teach their customers how the facts they report fit into the larger scheme of things complete with reporting on what are fair yet contrary positions; yet unafraid of exposing mere obstructionists uninterested in solving problems while shouting down all who threaten the status quo that pays their rent.
This is something rarely seen in print, but more common there than cable news. However online in depth presentation of the overall narrative is much, much more common. Advertisers come and go with business cycles, but if print is to survive competition from the web just as it survived radio and TV, it's got to offer more than reporting that there is a controversy, buy why and which side is making sense and sincere in their arguments and which side is using the media to blow smoke.
For a recent example, it's fine that smug pundits now talk about revelations that the head of Homeland Security himself wondered about and eventually left the government because the color-coded terror alert system had been compromised by electoral politics, saying that everyone knew or at least suspected the Bush administration was abusing the system. But where were the intrepid journalists at the time, when it mattered, when we were being callously manipulated just as we had been manipulated by a lazy media leading up to the war in Iraq. It it was common knowledge, why did they let them get away with it?
These things matter, journalism matters, which is much more than reporting the "news."
But ultimately, if the president decides that he's going to go with a reform effort that doesn't include a public option, what he will have done is spent a ton of political capital, riled up an incredibly angry right wing base who's been told that this is a plot to kill grandma, grandma, and he will have achieved something that doesn't change health care very much and that doesn't save us very much money and won't do very much for the American people. It's not a very good thing to spend a lot of political capital on.Also, she pwnd Dick Armey.
When Armey said he took no responsibility "whatsoever" for the virulent protests against President Obama and compared it to MoveOn.org running an ad comparing President Bush to Hitler, Maddow pointed out that that never actually happened. Later she elaborated, pointing out that major conservative groups had speakers going around the country comparing Obama to Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin and asking supporters to put the fear of God in their congresspeople. When Armey said that he denounced violence, Maddow pointed out that his organization, FreedomWorks, was in a coalition whose website was promoting the violent fight at a Tampa town hall as a good thing.Yeah, Army's still a worm.
Oliver pointed out the interesting fact that the audience (one of whom was escorted out with a weapon) was mostly white conservatives -- in the only majority black district in the State of Tennessee, 59%, Harold Ford Jr.'s old district.
Roger Fakes, 70, said he sat quitely during most of the meeting, but Cohen’s insistence that citizens would be able to keep their private health care drove him to his feet.
He argued that changes to private insurance would force citizens into the government plan.
‘There are some of us old gray-haired folks that don’t want the government involved in any of our business,’ he said.
The right's version of community organizing is to infiltrate other people's communities.
There was a time when conservatives were against busing.
My problem is exactly the opposite of Kevin's. I've been too busy, working too much to have time to blog as much as I'd like to. At least in long-form. I've been a Twittering fool, but short bursts and keeping up with blogtopia and the conservative circus act is about all I've been able to handle. (If your interested my snarky Tweets, follow @4dams.)
So hey, you think, you're working hard despite the recession, good on you Mark. Wrong. Here's why. I'm busier than hell because business is so damn bad we can't afford to employ as many people as we used to. In 2000, our little bar/restaurant had a staff of 12 -- one boss, seven full-time cook/server/bar-maids, two part-time weekend help, a karaoke MC and a janitor. The karaoke fad died in these parts a few years ago and as of June we were down to a staff of seven when the janitor quit.
Guess who's riding a mop when everyone else in the world is sleeping from 2am-5am?
Kevin documented how bad things are here in Toledo when he breezed through here, videoing an interview of me and our blog mate from Michigan. I don't know if he ever posted those tapes. Pretty interesting conversations as I recall.
When my wife and I moved to Toledo, I walked away from a solo private family law practice of 12 years to take over my retiring father-in-law's café. That was exactly 9 years ago this month. He never did retire, can't afford to, and my wife puts in 50 to 60 hours a week there too. Our son now works there as does my sister-in-law.
Dad can't do the job he once did, especially since his heart surgery about 5 years ago, so I've always had to spend a fair amount of time running and grunting and spending enough time there that restarting a law practice never really happened, not when my wife put me in charge of the house and kids and went to work running her dad's business.
See, one thing they tell you in law school but you never can appreciate it unless you try, you simply cannot be a "part-time" lawyer. "Either practice law ... or don't," they told me. They were right. The family as well as the family business needed me -- as did an ailing and eventually dying mother, and acquiring two new kids (my nieces) who ended up in our custody. My ambition could take a breather, and at least our bills were getting paid. I found time to blog, but I found I couldn't dedicate myself to my clients the way they deserved. C'est la vie.
Officially Toledo has a 14% unemployment rate and our place caters to working folks, factory workers who are closed down or only working one instead of three shifts, guys who work at Jeep which shut down for the summer, constructions workers who aren't building anything, and folks with enough disposable income to bar hop -- like anyone can afford that right now.
You know the drill. Add about 10% discouraged workers to the official numbers and you are closer to the real picture. THERE ARE NO JOBS HERE. No work, no people stopping at the local watering hole after no work.
And they banned smoking in bars. That didn't help. It'd be nice if we didn't have to compete with other bars who ignore the law. I can't tell you how much business we've lost from the smoke-Nazi jihad.
Our sales are half of what they were, half of what they need to be. We're pretty much cut to the bone and even started to close early, real early, on Sundays. I'm working my ass off just so we can keep the doors open, not that I'm complaining since my wife (as always) works even harder. Good thing she loves me.
One thing my predicament does have in common with Kevin is that I too broke a couple of teeth. Since I don't live in Massachusetts and can't afford regular health insurance let alone dental, I found out just how brave you can be when you have a toothache and own your own pair of needle-nose pliers. Don't know what I'm gonna do about this annoying hernia though. Live with it I suppose.
Looking back, I don't think I ever would have left Cleveland if I knew how all this would have worked out, but hey, unlike some other places, we're still open. I'm really not complaining. I'm actually optimistic and truly believe and have said right along that if we can survive through this summer we'll have survived the worst they can throw at us. Our place survived Prohibition, the Great Depression, it can make it through this.
One more month and I think things will begin swinging the other direction. I hope so since we can't survive too many days like yesterday. $20/per hour is pretty good pay for one person. That's all we averaged Wednesday, which is a disaster when you split that among the electric and gas companies, suppliers, Uncle Sam and the few employees we have left.
Never fear my friends. I'm keeping my sunny (okay, snarky) disposition. You'll know things took a turn for the worst if you hear me talking about going back to practicing law. Gah! That would be an act of desperation in truly desperate times. It would suck to have to go back to earning a dishonest living again.