Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: The Media (page 4 of 6)

Mark Knoller, Twitter’s MVP

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a stamped of big media figures making their way onto Twitter. During the campaign we had folks like Ana Marie Cox and Slate’s John Dickerson. These days, we have everybody.

I wanted to call out the reporter who I think does the best job of anyone using when it comes to using Twitter — Mark Knoller, the White House correspondent for CBS Radio. If you ever wanted to know what life is like for a White House correspondent, or you want to keep up with what the President is up to on a daily basis, Mark Knoller is your guy.

His Tweets are well written, often funny, and almost universally informative. If you’re interested in politics at all, you should start following him immediately. When people protest that they don’t see the value in Twitter, Knoller should be part of the explanation of why they’re wrong.

The value of press conferences

During the Presidential campaign, Barack Obama attacked the Bush administration for its abuse of the state secrets privilege. The Bush administration was the first to argue that cases could be dismissed entirely because they would require the disclosure of state secrets — previously that privilege could be used to suppress certain sensitive evidence, but not to toss out a case entirely.

And yet, when President Obama took office, his administration continued to use the policy exactly as the Bush administration had, much to the chagrin of civil rights activists.

Last night, Time magazine’s Michael Scherer asked Obama to address the discrepancy between his campaign position and the position his administration has taken. Dan Froomkin has the full question and answer. This alone was a huge win — now Obama is on the record with his position on state secrets.

As it turns out, Obama’s answer was deficient and somewhat dishonest, see Glenn Greenwald’s analysis for more. At least now, though, we’re having a conversation. Obama has taken a position, that position is somewhat at odds with reality, and so we can see how those reality and that position are reconciled as time goes on.

Roger Ebert’s love letter to newspapers

Roger Ebert wrote a remarkable recollection of the culture of the newsroom that any fan of newspapers should read. The future of the newspaper business is bleak, but its past is indisputably glorious.

Discomfort is a necessary side effect

I, like everyone else on the Internet (it seems) watched Jon Stewart pummel Jim Cramer on The Daily Show last night. At the end, Jon said, roughly, I hope that was as uncomfortable for you as it was for me. It was. But an aversion to that kind of discomfort is a disease that prevents big problems from being solved.

I had in mind a different post about the show, explaining that Jon Stewart’s criticism of how Jim Cramer and CNBC cover Wall Street describe the overall failure of journalism across the board, but Glenn Greenwald wrote that post for me.

So instead I want to talk about Glenn Greenwald and the necessity of feeling uncomfortable.

I voted for Barack Obama, and beyond that I donated money to his campaign and went door to door to encourage other people to vote for him as well. I really want him to succeed because I invested in his success.

Here’s the thing — sometimes President Obama lets me down, and I know this in large part because I read Glenn Greenwald’s blog. It’s not very comfortable for me to read about how the guy I really, really wanted to be our President does things I really think he shouldn’t, but I consider it to be necessary medicine. Greenwald is fighting the noble fight — criticizing a President who I’m sure he in large measure supports, because principles are more important than the person or the political value of a united front.

People are too unwilling to face discomfort. Journalists don’t want to make the people they interact with on a daily basis squirm. People want to read that the politicians they support are fighting the good fight. And this reaches far beyond politics as well. Java programmers didn’t want to read that C# had a lot of nice language features that improved on weaknesses in Java. People in general seem to prefer to remain ignorant of the practices of industrial agriculture in the modern world.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it also has negative externalities.

I’m not writing this to congratulate myself. For me, the challenge is in asking the uncomfortable questions directly when they need to be asked. I’d always rather try to figure out those answers myself, but in many cases there’s value in the asking.

The risks of journalism in Sri Lanka

The editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader newspaper was murdered on January 11. A few days before his murder, he wrote an editorial to be published upon his death:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

Here is describing his newspaper’s mission:

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic… well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you’d best stop buying this paper.

Today, The Big Picture has a series of photos from Sri Lanka’s once again escalating civil war, including one from the funeral of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the author of the linked editorial.

For background on Sri Lanka, see this 2003 New York Times article which describes how Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka perfected and popularized suicide bombing.

Also, Tony Bourdain’s travel show No Reservations featured Sri Lanka a couple of weeks ago. You can find some behind the scenes info at this blog, written by one of Tony’s hosts, Skiz.

Links from January 26th

The limitations of blog coverage

The USS Mariner (a baseball blog) has as good a short explanation of where blogs trail newspapers and other outlets in terms of what they can provide. The topic in this case is sports, but it holds up for other topics as well:

I’m (obviously) a huge proponent of blog coverage, but there’s no way it fills the gap of a major paper. We don’t get press access. We can’t go talk to Wakamatsu or anyone on the team unless we know them personally. We don’t have the ability to spend eight hours interviewing people about a breaking issue and turning around something insightful for the next day. The research and analysis done here or on Lookout Landing or anywhere is done essentially for free (well, not Lookout Landing, obviously, as they get to bathe in a hot tub of Kos’ money every night). There’s a lot you can’t do as a writer when your budget is zero.

This disparity isn’t as large as it once was — Talking Points Memo alone has shown that “blogs” can break big news stories, but sites that do commentary are reliant on the professional, full time media to dig up the news that they comment on.

Links from January 25th

Why the Internet matters

Jay Rosen on the role the Internet plays in the media sphere:

Now we can see why blogging and the Net matter so greatly in political journalism. In the age of mass media, the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized—meaning they were connected “up” to Big Media but not across to each other. But today one of the biggest factors changing our world is the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, trade impressions and realize their number. Among the first things they may do is establish that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.

In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. Journalists call this the “echo chamber,” which is their way of downgrading it as a reliable source. But what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.

How reporters are like developers

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read this:

To the old-school reporter, “listen to the customer” is assumed to be code for one of the following: (a) cave to the politician; (b) coddle the advertiser; (c) pander to the ignorant; or (d) give credence to the crazies.

This mentality has served newspapers poorly, and it serves developers poorly too, but it’s very difficult to overcome.

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