The Ten Best Things I Wrote in 2011

My version of a year end review. These are the highlights from my writing and posting life this year. They are in chronological order: earliest to latest. I have included Facebook likes as a rough proxy for reader interest

18 Dec 2011 3:52 pm 8 Comments

1. The “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” Article (PressThink, Feb. 13, 2011) “Almost everyone who cares about such a discussion is excited about the Internet. Almost everyone is a little wary of being fooled by The Amazing and getting carried away. When we nod along with Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators we’re assuring ourselves that our excitement is contained, that we’re being realistic, mature, grown-up about it.”

One of my favorite forms of criticism: the genre analysis. In this case, a genre that drives me up the wall. The context is the Arab Spring and social media’s role in it.

Facebook Likes: 219.

2. They Brought a Tote Bag to a Knife Fight: The Resignation of NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller. (PressThink, March 10, 2011) “The people committed to NPR’s destruction are greatly emboldened, its staff is demoralized, the board has shown that it can be rolled, and as far as I can tell no one with any platform within the public media system is willing to take on the people committed to its destruction.”

Made more significant for me by the fact that later in the year, I faced the same kind of culture war attack, engineered by the same person. (Link.)

Facebook Likes: 476.

3. The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: My Talk at South By Southwest. (PressThink, March 12, 2011) “Disruptions caused by the Internet threaten to expose certain buried conflicts at the heart of modern journalism and a commercialized press. Raging at bloggers is a way to keep these demons at bay. It exports inner conflicts to figures outside the press. Also–and this is important–bloggers and journalists are each other’s ideal ‘other.’”

In this piece I try to explain why the tension between bloggers vs. journalists hasn’t gone away.

Facebook Likes: 209.

4. What I Think I Know About Journalism. (PressThink, April 26, 2011) “It comes down to these four ideas. 1. The more people who participate in the press the stronger it will be. 2. The profession of journalism went awry when it began to adopt the View from Nowhere. 3. The news system will improve when it is made more useful to people. 4. Making facts public does not a public make; information alone will not inform us…”

To mark 25 years of teaching journalism at NYU I decided to write down the four things I think I really know about it.

Facebook Likes: 587.

5. The Internet is Making Journalism Better: Opening Statement. (The Economist, July 12, 2011) “The internet is replacing a system in which a small number of gatekeepers employed by a heavily capitalised industry that tended towards monopoly held almost all the powers of the press. In that system the ‘job’ of the audience was to remain in their seats, atomized and inert, as the professional journalist delivered news, entertainment, politics, sport, understanding, debate: public life in a package.”

Part of a debate I had at The Economist site with skeptic Nicholas Carr. I took the side that the Internet is making journalism better. Carr said: no, worse.

Facebook Likes: not available.

6. Why Political Coverage is Broken. (PressThink, Aug. 26, 2011) “This is what’s so odd about savviness as a political style performed for the public. It tries to split the attentive public off from the rest of the electorate, and get us to join up with the insiders. Under its gaze, other people become objects of political technique. In this sense savviness is an attack on our solidarity with strangers who share the same political space.”

This talk I gave at the Melbourne Writer’s festival is part of the background for the announcement this month of my collaboration with The Guardian to improve campaign coverage. (Link.)

Facebook Likes: 876.

7. We Have No Idea Who’s Right: Criticizing “he said, she said” journalism at NPR. (PressThink, Sep. 15, 2011) “According to this report, NPR has no idea who is right. It cannot provide listeners with any help in sorting through such a dramatic conflict in truth claims. It knows of no way to adjudicate these clashing views. It is simply confused and helpless and the best it can do is pass on that helplessness to listeners of Morning Edition.”

This critique of NPR brought a response from the ombudsman that allowed me to add to my criticisms.

Facebook Likes: 624.

8. “Low information voters” and the political press. (PressThink, Nov. 17, 2011) “What if journalists sense that their work never reaches the voters whose inattentiveness is being exploited? What if they somehow know that voters are getting screwed but they’ve lost faith in their ability to do anything about it?”

Pro journalists don’t have a lot of patience for theory. Which means they if they have a broken theory, they wouldn’t necessarily know it. That’s what this post is about.

Facebook Likes: 87.

9. Occupy PressThink: Tim Pool (Nov. 20, 2011) “Being a livestream he acts as ‘eyes and ears’ for the viewers. Literally. People will tell him to move the camera somewhere and he’ll do it. They’ll ask for interviews with someone, and Tim will go over and do so… The viewers will ask him questions and he won’t rest until he gets them their answers.”

Citizen journalism takes a lot of abuse. But here’s a case where it shines, fulfilling the Max Headroom prophecy. (Link.)

Facebook Likes: 138.

10. News Corp is Bad News (The Drum, Nov. 21, 2011) “News Corp is not a news company at all but a global media empire that employs its newspapers – and in the United States, Fox News – as a lobbying arm and intimidation machine. The logic of holding these ‘press’ properties is to wield influence on behalf of the (much bigger and more profitable) media business and also to satisfy Murdoch’s own power urges or, in the case of Australia, his patrimonial legends.”

Wherein I unfold my theory of why Murdoch’s news properties are so thinly committed to telling the truth.

Facebook Likes: not available.

Bonus links:

* Columbia Journalism Review ran a huge feature on what it called The Future of News gurus: primarily Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky and myself. The article is mostly, though not entirely, critical. See Confidence Game: The limited vision of the news gurus.

* In this 18 minute video, I explain how I follow the news on my “beat” (trends in journalism, press criticism, new media, digital culture) and curate my Twitter feed.

* This video (5:14) is my Ignite talk at Newsfoo 2011 in Phoenix. Ignite is a format where a speaker gets 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds. The title is The Abyss of Observation alone. It’s a kind of parable about the limits of objectivity in journalism, based on an old blog post of the same title.


Pat (Season) says:

Jay, my favorite one of yours was written I think last year and is entitled Why I am Not a Journalist, A True Story. Loved it. I try to imagine you running an Applebee’s and discussing the media with customers.

I have that one bookmarked and this will be also, thanks for combining all the above in one place. Also, your 9/11 essay that you resent out this year is beautiful.

Why have earlier, negative replies been purged? Is that not censorship?

“What an asshole you are, Jay” (and other words to that effect) is not a negative reply. It is a troll comment and if you leave another troll comment it too will be killed.

You’ll be “delighted” to learn your column is drawing all kinds of funny responses elsewhere on Facebook; it may be on the verge of going viral. Naturally, everyone is struck by its ego-centric nature. I, on the other hand recognize your insular, self-appointed, and self-important approach as a natural by-product of academia.

Here is one of my favorite responses I found to a Facebook posting of your column:
“Enough about me: what did YOU think of what I wrote this year? ; )”

Jay, I said you were ego-centric but beyond that no name calling, and absolutely no profanity. But let me not call names. This column SEEMS ego-centric. And your purging of its criticisms SEEMS thin-skinned.

Did you have a formula for breaking ties?

David Cohn says:

My personal favorite was the inside look to the James O’keef incident.