The Politico Opens the Kimono. And then Pretends it Never Happened.

"Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to 'burn bridges' with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down."

24 Jun 2010 1:48 am Comments Off on The Politico Opens the Kimono. And then Pretends it Never Happened.

As everyone who pays attention to the news knows by now, an article appeared in Rolling Stone this week by freelance reporter Michael Hastings that wound up forcing the resignation of General Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of American troops in Afghanistan. Invited to hang out with McChrystal and his staff, Hastings was witness to their contempt for the civilian side of the war effort, which he then reported on. It was a shock to everyone in Washington that McChrystal would make such a blunder, and the press began immediately to dissect it.

The Politico was so hopped up about the story that it took the extraordinary step of posting on its site a PDF of Rolling Stone’s article because Rolling Stone had not put it online fast enough. In one of the many articles The Politico ran about the episode the following observation was made by reporters Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee:

McChrystal, an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.

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Fixing The Ideology Problem in Our Political Press: A Reply to The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder

"If your job is to make the case, win the negotiations, decide what the community should do, or maintain morale, that is one kind of work. If your job is to tell people what's going on, and equip them to participate without illusions, that is a very different kind of work."

22 Jun 2010 1:02 am Comments Off on Fixing The Ideology Problem in Our Political Press: A Reply to The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder

After I published my last post, Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press, the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, a political journalist who consults for CBS News in addition to his reporting and writing for the Atlantic, said my piece was provocative and worth reading but it left some important questions unanswered:

If the ideologies he identifies — the pathologies, actually — are the sum total of the media, what would Jay Rosen, if he were running the world, have us do? Is there a distinction between journalism and ideological argument? Is it methodological? Are there times when, given the difficulty of discovering a truth, journalists can and should adopt a disinterested or disembodied stance? His criticism applies largely to political journalism, and so I anticipate his answer.

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Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press

That it's easy to describe the ideology of the press is a point on which the left, the right and the profession of journalism converge. I disagree. I think it's tricky. So tricky, I've had to invent my own language for discussing it.

14 Jun 2010 6:26 pm Comments Off on Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press

What is the actual ideology of our political press? There are two camps on this question: one is huge and includes almost everyone who has declared a position. The other is tiny; it includes almost no one. I’m in the tiny camp, not completely alone but— well, there aren’t too many of us. (And if you’re one, raise a hand in the comments.)

The big camp includes everyone who thinks it’s easy to describe the ideology of the political press in the United States. Most on the progressive left, most on the conservative right, and almost all of the people in the press itself think this way. Of course, they would describe that ideology very differently, but that it can be done in a sentence or two… about this they have little doubt.

(Now I’m generalizing here, okay? This means I’m aware that there are exceptions and that I am overlooking certain nuances that divide observers within camps.)

The left says: Look, it’s very simple. The political press ultimately serves the interests of the people who own it— the corporate capitalists, the ones with money and power and “access” to politicians, the people who run things and always have. Those who are unwilling to make peace with this fact don’t make it very far in political journalism.

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What CNN Should Do With Itself in Prime-Time

A media beat reporter asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. Just so happens I do. Ditch the View from Nowhere but don't go aping your rivals. Here's my alt line-up for CNN from 7 to 11 pm.

31 Mar 2010 1:57 pm Comments Off on What CNN Should Do With Itself in Prime-Time

Noting that I had some suggestions for the Sunday morning shows, a media beat reporter recently asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. (See How to Fix CNN by The Politico’s Michael Calderone.)

The occasion for asking was this report, CNN Fails to Stop Fall in Ratings. “CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.” Anderson Cooper, currently the face of the brand, sometimes loses in the ratings to re-runs of MSNBC’s “Countdown.”

And yet, “CNN executives have steadfastly said that they will not change their approach to prime-time programs, which are led by hosts not aligned with any partisan point of view.”

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How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists

The bar's been raised. Use of the backchannel--years ago it was IRC, today it's Twitter--lets the audience compare notes and pool their dissatisfaction if the program misfires. Here's what we did to avoid that at SXSW.

17 Mar 2010 11:17 pm Comments Off on How the Backchannel Has Changed the Game for Conference Panelists

If you follow me on Twitter, you will occasionally hear me mention “audience atomization overcome.” I’ve been using this phrase to describe something that has changed in our world because of the internet.

Audience Atomization Overcome The people formerly known as the audience, once connected up to big institutions and centers of power, but not across to one another, have overcome their own atomization, which was a normal condition during the age of mass media. With the rise of social media and mobile devices they are now connected horizontally, peer to peer, at the same time as they connect vertically: to the news, the program, the speaker, the spectacle. Simple example: Tweeting during the Academy Awards. More intricate example: Pet lovers find each other on affinity sites when the major media isn’t attentive to their concerns.

The horizontal flow changes the situation for speakers and producers in any communication setting that retains the trappings of one-to-many. The change is especially dramatic in an arena I know well: the professional conference where I might sit on a panel or attend a presentation. The popularity of the backchannel—years ago it was IRC, today it’s Twitter—has empowered those in the audience to compare notes and pool their dissatisfaction during a performance that misfires. Audience atomization has been definitively overcome, raising the bar and increasing the risk for speakers who walk in unprepared.

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News Without the Narrative Needed to Make Sense of the News: What I Will Say at South by Southwest

These are my notes. You can help advance the discussion by reading them over and commenting.

7 Mar 2010 5:00 pm Comments Off on News Without the Narrative Needed to Make Sense of the News: What I Will Say at South by Southwest

Suppose your laptop continually received updates to software that was never installed on your laptop. If you can imagine a situation that absurd, then you are ready to partake in the Future of Context panel that I’ll be part of at the South by Southwest festival in Austin next week.

Here are some of my ideas, questions and puzzlers in advance of that event. I am posting them today in hopes of generating a discussion I can use to improve my performance in Austin. (It’s already happening, see the comments.)

1. Why are we serving people the news without the background narrative necessary to make sense of the news? I first became interested in this problem after listening to The Giant Pool of Money, the awesomely effective one-hour This American Life episode that finally explained to me what the mortgage banking crisis was, how it happened and why it implicated… well, just about everyone. I was grateful, because up to that moment I had absorbed many hundreds of reports about “subprime lenders in trouble” but had not understood a single one of them.

It wasn’t that these reports were uninformative. Rather, I was not informable because I lacked the necessary background knowledge to grasp what was being sent to me as news. On the other hand there was no easy way for me to get that background and make myself informable because the way our news system works, it’s like the updates to the program arrive whether you have the program installed or not! Which is rather messed up. But what do we do about it? The first thing I did is write my 2008 post, National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News. So if you want to help me out, start there.

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