The debate over news and new media is too often tribal. And though it may make for lively debate, tribalism impairs judgment. Yesterday, Jeff Bercovici blamed a 21-year-old stringer for the violent deaths of 24 people, including seven United Nations workers in riots in Afghanistan, after AFP published his account of a Koran-burning in Florida by Terry Jones, the unhinged pastor. The context, according to Bercovici: the report went against an informal media consensus to ignore Jones’s antics. This has been rebutted elsewhere, so I won’t go into detail on it. But there is a basic problem in arguing that journalism – communicating information about something that happened – is by definition a provocation, or that people looking to provoke, and people susceptible to provocation, won’t find some instrument to express themselves no matter what AFP does. In addition, old media is not a cartel; media outlets cannot collectively agree to “disappear” an event any more than investment banks can all agree buy stocks in order to make the market go up. And if they could, what standards are they supposed to use?

But there’s another issue here. This post – which took shots at Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis – was also reminiscent of Bill Keller’s attack on Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post. As Bercovici’s subject was citizen journalism – or journalism outside the old media cartel and its values and standards – Keller’s subject was aggregation. The problem here is that “aggregation” wasn’t Arianna’s idea. It is a technological and economic feature of the web as it currently exists. It’s very easy to set up a website or an app and pull in content from many sources. This is a useful service. Sometimes this occurs illegally, and/or without permission, and the HuffPo has done some things with NYT content that the NYT doesn’t appreciate. But if that’s really the problem, a magazine column isn’t the place to deal with it.

By personalizing the issue, Keller trivialized it. Aggregation is a force that that legacy media must grapple with. (Indeed, the NYT does some aggregating of its own.) Markets, technology, clicks and eyeballs aren’t personal. Attacking individuals instead of acknowledging this reality is unserious. The problem here is oversimplifying and anthropomorphizing complex forces, putting a human face on uncontrollable trends the writer disdains. This a common feature of politics – which should tell you something. It’s a terrible way to do journalism. For journalists, anecdotes can carry great power, but in each of these instances the anecdote collapses under the weight of the subject it’s supposed to exemplify. The broader problem here is viewing new media from a position that is simultaneously both defensive and dismissive. That is not a good frame of mind to bring to bear on a rapidly emerging global economic and social phenomenon. The forces being unleashed by new media and social media are formidable. And for journalists, worthy of respect and a sincere effort to understand them. Even if they piss you off.

I was originally aiming for a “Sopranos”-style ending at T/S rather than going with the typical farewell post. Journey on the jukebox. Onion rings. Ominous stalkers. Suddenly, a black screen! But what the heck. I’ve blogged in a variety of forums, and True/Slant was special in its combination of flexibility and journalistic credibility. (And also that it paid you.) It was also a great community, a portal to an array of interesting subjects and journalism about them. It was a great new media/journalism experiment, and I hope that it sparks more innovation.

Thanks to all for reading and commenting. To follow my work post-T/S, the best thing to do is to follow me on Twitter. There’s also my own website/blog. My blogging will show up there and also at the Huffington Post, the Guardian and other venues.

We live in a very data-rich era. And that means fantastic opportunities for journalism. But can journalism rise to the occasion?

I refer to the WikiLeaks release of a trove of 92,000 U.S. documents detailing efforts of the U.S. Army and Special Forces in the war in Afghanistan, published simultaneously with interpretive accounts from the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. As soon as this went up, you could feel the ground shifting under the media and governments: their traditional relationships were suddenly upended by this new architecture of information flows. From anonymous leakers to seemingly invulnerable transnational secret-exposing organization to journalists and to the public.

To those who say “there’s nothing new here,” I suppose that’s right in the general sense. But if you read some of these documents (or their excerpts), I don’t think they are so easily dismissed as old news. They paint a vivid picture of a daily reality that is absurdly complex, baffling and possibly hopeless. The sensation you get from reading through them is different than if you just read the words “complex, baffling and hopeless.” More different than if you read a policy paper on it. And more different still than if you watch the Pentagon’s daily briefings. There’s no substitute for primary sources, and the volume of information and breadth of topics creates an overwhelming sense of the drift of the war effort.

Does this represent an emergent form of journalism? (more…)

At first, I couldn’t quite understand why David Weigel, the Washington Post politics blogger who just resigned, would merit his own feeding frenzy. He’s not Helen Thomas: he hasn’t been around for 60-plus years, nor does he have a front-row seat in the White House briefing room, nor has he uttered on-camera statements that many people consider offensive or outside the bounds of political discourse.

Instead, one of his offenses was … dancing, maybe a little strangely, at a wedding. This was truly a feeding frenzy worthy of a Seinfeld episode.

Seriously, Weigel is a talented journalist who added a fresh perspective to the Washington Post. He should not have been booted out for what he did. Why was he? The Weigel Incident does illustrate some of the biggest fault lines and flaws of Washington journalism. Here are a few: (more…)

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

Every so often, the establishment press unintentionally reveals how it works. It’s as if you suddenly put Big Media through an fMRI that showed not only its internal structures and their connections to the government, business et al, but how this system actually works, dynamically – and also pinpoint where something has gone wrong.

I’m referring to James Risen’s New York Times story on Afghanistan’s apparently vast mineral resources. I wanted to wait a little while before writing on it, because such a story has a kind of lifecycle, and I wanted to see how this one played out.

At first it appeared to be a geopolitical game-changer, perhaps heralding the arrival of a the next big 21st conflict, like the “Great Game” in 19th century Central Asia between the Russian and British Empires. And maybe it is.

Then, instantly, the story came under fire for overhyping known facts and what looked like too-convenient timing. The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan – set to end next year – is faltering, Hamid Karzai is acting odder than usual, Congress is growing restive. Suddenly, the NYT runs a story quoting David Petraeus saying: Afghanistan has enormous strategic importance. (more…)

Fox News Channel controversies

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Responding to my “death of accountability” post, Shoq says I don’t lay enough blame on the conservative establishment of think tanks and media operations, which exploit traditional media customs of fairness and “objectivity” to advance ideological and/or Republican Party agendas:

I have been railing about the collapse of accountability for years. This article sniffs around the edges of the problem, and makes some important points, but it completely misses the role that right wing think tanks like Heritage, Media Research Center, and of course, Fox News and the broader corporate media have played in the deliberate deconstruction of accountability and social responsibility.

When the public is convinced that there are no empirical facts, and that one version of events is as valid as any other, they become desensitized to the reality of most crimes and their consequences, and are far more compliant and forgiving of those accused of abusing a trust, principle, law, company, office, nation, and population. (more…)

CHICAGO - APRIL 08:  Former Chairman of the Fe...

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A recent Frank Rich column dealt with the almost complete lack of accountability for … well, almost everything. His primary evidence was Alan Greenspan’s retrospective performance evaluation: right 70 percent of the time. Maybe, but that other 30 percent was a killer. Rich continues:

This syndrome is hardly limited to the financial sector. The Vatican hierarchy and its American apologists blame the press, anti-Catholic bigots and “petty gossip” for a decades-long failure to police the church’s widespread criminal culture of child molestation. Michael Steele, the G.O.P. chairman, has tried to duck criticism for his blunders by talking about his “slimmer margin” of error as a black man. New York’s dynamic Democratic duo of political scandal, David Paterson and Charles Rangel, have both attributed their woes to newspapers like The Times, not their own misbehavior.

Rich treats this as a natural consequence of today’s overheated, short attention-span media culture; basically, if you commit a giant screwup, but can spin the media to give you a pass – at least until it moves on to the next crisis, which won’t take long – then you’re in the clear. Your place in history is safe. And this works! (more…)

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