The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: My Talk at South By Southwest

This is what I said at South by Southwest in Austin, March 12, 2011. It went well.

12 Mar 2011 10:13 pm 54 Comments

Many thanks to Lisa Williams for helping with the tech and the backchannel. You can find a live blog of my presentation here. The audio is posted here. It’s an MP3 and plays on contact. The Guardian’s summary is here. Photo by Rebecca Ambrose.

There’s an old rule among sportswriters: no cheering in the press box. In fact, a few weeks ago a young journalist lost his gig with Sports Illustrated for just that reason: cheering at the conclusion of a thrilling race. Sportswriters could allow themselves to cheer occasionally without it affecting their work, but they don’t. And this rule gets handed down from older to younger members of the group.

So this is a little example of the psychology, not of individual journalists, but of the profession itself. We don’t often talk this way, but we could: “No cheering in the press box” is the superego at work. It’s a psychological thing within the sportswriter’s tribe. You learn to wear the mask if you want to join the club.

Six years ago I wrote an essay called Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over. It was my most well read piece at the time. And it made the points you would expect: This distinction is eroding. This war is absurd. Get over it. Move on. There’s bigger work to be done.

But since then I’ve noticed that while the division–-bloggers as one type, journalists as another–-makes less and less sense, the conflict continues to surface. Why? Well, something must be happening under the surface that expresses itself through bloggers vs. journalists. But what is that subterranean thing? This is my real subject today.

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They Brought a Tote Bag to a Knife Fight: The Resignation of NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller

I feel compelled to share my view of the events that led yesterday to the resignation of Vivian Schiller as CEO of NPR. I don't know if they add up to a coherent response. Maybe not. In these notes I make no attempt to conceal my feelings on the matter, or to neuter myself politically.

10 Mar 2011 12:25 pm 89 Comments

1. As I said at PressThink four months ago: Wake up, public media people! You have no magic exemption from the requirements of political maturity. There are people out there who seek your destruction, and they are not evenly distributed. They reside among culture warriors on the political right. That is a fact, and you are in the business of reporting facts.

2. Among them is James O’Keefe, the trickster who secretly taped NPR executive Ron Schiller ranting about the Tea Party and saying other incendiary things. Like his patron, Andrew Breitbart, who has said he’s “committed to the destruction of the old media guard” (adding, “it’s a very good business model…”) O’Keefe is a performance artist who profits from the public wreckage and institutional panic his media stunts seek to create.

3. To give in to that panic is to cooperate in your own demise. Which is exactly what the NPR board did by demanding that Schiller–a visionary leader who knew where NPR had to go in the digital age–resign immediately, and without a fight. This was a stupid and cowardly act, which will be justified as institutional realism, the price for one too many slip-ups. It is not realism. The decision to let Schiller go originates in a delusion, captured so well by Jon Stewart during the Juan Williams controversy when he told NPR: you brought a tote bag to a knife fight! The delusion is that you can keep doing that and somehow it will all work out in the end.

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Why “Bloggers vs. Journalists” is Still With Us

A pre-conference post. Ideas in motion. These are notes in preparation for my talk at South by Southwest in Austin next week. And you can help me make it better.

4 Mar 2011 1:26 am 117 Comments

I am going to be doing a solo presentation at South by Southwest in Austin this year. The title is Bloggers vs. Journalists: It’s a Psychological Thing. (If you’re at SXSW, come: March 12, 3:30 pm at the Sheraton on E. 11th Street and Sabine Streets.) My pal Lisa Williams, CEO of placeblogger.com, will be moderating, watching the back channel and handling the tech. Here’s the description in the SXSW program:

I wrote my essay, Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over, in 2005. And it should be over. After all, lots of journalists happily blog, lots of bloggers journalize and everyone is trying to figure out what’s sustainable online. But there’s something else going on, and I think I’ve figured out a piece of it: these two Internet types, amateur bloggers and pro journalists, are actually each other’s ideal “other.” A big reason they keep struggling with each other lies at the level of psychology, not in the particulars of the disputes and flare-ups that we continue to see online.

The relationship is essentially neurotic, on both sides. Bloggers can’t let go of Big Daddy media— the towering figure of the MSM — and still be bloggers. Pro journalists, meanwhile, project fears about the Internet and loss of authority onto the figure of the pajama-wearing blogger. This is a construction of their own and a key part of a whole architecture of denial that has weakened in recent years, but far too slowly. The only way we can finally kill this meme–bloggers vs. journalists–and proceed into a brighter and pro-am future for interactive journalism is to go right at the psychological element in it: the denial, the projection, the neuroses, the narcissism, the grandiosity, the rage, the fears of annihilation: the monsters of the id in the newsroom, and the fantasy of toppling the MSM in the blogosphere.

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The “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” Article

It's a genre that's starting to get a swelled head about itself. Here's why I say that.

13 Feb 2011 1:08 am 72 Comments

I found it! I announced on Twitter yesterday. “It” was the generic Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators article. I said it had everything, meaning: every identifying mark and mandatory cliché needed to lift a mere example to the exalted status of genre-defining classic.

First, let’s be clear about the genre in question.

It’s hard to know how much weight to assign to the Internet and its social media tools–Facebook and Twitter–in recent uprisings like Iran and Moldova in 2009, Tunisia this year and Egypt’s stunning January 25th revolution. Because the tools are still fairly new they naturally draw a lot of attention from analysts, journalists and headline writers looking for a “sexy” newsy sidebar to the main event. And inevitably some people get carried away. But then a strange thing happens. Even more people get worried that everyone is getting carred away. And they decide to bring us all back down to earth. “It’s not that simple!” they cry.

The name I am giving to these cries is Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators, a genre that is starting to get a swelled head about itself. Here it is in condensed form, from a lead-in to an On the Media segment:

Demonstrators flooded the streets in Tunisia this week calling for an end to corruption and ousting President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Many have attributed the wave of protests to the rise of the internet and social media in a country notorious for its censorship but Foreign Policy blogger Marc Lynch says it’s not that simple.

As if we thought it was. Some recent examples of Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators:

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The Politics of the New Huffington Post at AOL

Is ideological innovation possible in online journalism? I think it is. My suggestion: Drop the View from Nowhere and go with transparency throughout the reborn AOL.

9 Feb 2011 6:36 pm 16 Comments

These are the top five questions journalists have been asking about Monday’s announcement that AOL will purchase the Huffington Post and Arianna Huffington will become the editor-in-chief of all AOL properties:

1. Will it work? (Howard Kurtz: “Can a fast-moving, irreverent, and sometimes racy product keep its DNA once transplanted into a very different corporate culture?”)

2. Did AOL overpay? (Yes, they did. No, they made a smart bet.)

3. Will Huffington Post starting paying its bloggers? (Dan Gillmor: They should. Tim Rutten: Picture a slaveship.)

4. Can you imagine Arianna trying to boss around Mike Arrington? (Link.)

5. Will AOL now lean left? (Ken Doctor, for example, or Dana Milbank.)

My top question: Is ideological innovation possible in online journalism, and will we see it from this merger?

Well, is it?

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The Year in PressThink: These are the Ten Best Things I Wrote in 2010.

As a year-end review, I put into one post my best stuff from 2010. (In chronological order.) Naturally I would be grateful for any year-end comments you may have.

18 Dec 2010 12:14 pm 7 Comments

1. The Quest for Innocence and the Loss of Reality in Political Journalism (PressThink, Feb. 21, 2010). “The quest for innocence means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus ‘prove’ in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade. But this can get in the way of describing things! What’s lost is that sense of reality Isaiah Berlin talked about…”

Wherein I finally nail down a key term in my criticism of the political press: its innocence agenda, which interferes with truthtelling.

2. David Gregory: "No, I won't fact check my guests and you guys can't make me…" A Time Line (Public Notebook, April 18, 2010) "David Gregory, the host of NBC's Meet the Press, has painted himself into a strange corner with his assertion that there's no need to fact check what his guests say on the air because viewers can do that 'on their own terms.' His competitor, Jake Tapper of ABC News, disagrees. Tapper has instituted the after-the-show fact check on This Week. I am a participant in the story of how this happened, as you can see from the time line I have constructed."

One of the few instances–maybe the only one–in which an idea I suggested was actually adopted by a journalist in the national press.

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