Out on a Limb – Modern Blogger Faces Community’s Scorn

Is a blogger a journalist free to write what they choose? Can some one writing about their own community – the epitome of citizen journalism – write freely without subjecting themselves to resident’s scorn?

Judging by the experience of Daniel Cavanagh who seems to have generated the ire of his Brooklyn New York enclave of Gerritsen Park, the answer is sadly, no. Cavanagh’s copy about local handshake deals and rowdy neighborhood youths has resulted in physical threats, property damage and intimidation. So much for the new era of civility and tolerance, so much for freedom of speech.
The New York Times piece Not Quite a Reporter, but Raking Muck and Reaping Wrath raises serious questions about hyperlocal journalists facing retribution, criticism, scorn and the ire of their friends and neighbors. It posits the question if some one cannot write critically, even if they transgress and write about some thing, one or relationship where they are personally engaged, is that in any way protected?
Hyperlocal is the commercial buzzword these days. There are large companies like AOL and its Patch sites, as well as scores of TV stations and newspapers creating local, multimedia coverage, soliciting local columns and information, posting truly granular data about a specific town or neighborhood. Is there no room for criticism? Is there no room for muckraking? Have we all gone so soft and superficial that we only care about supermarket coupons and yard sales?

Was the question rhetorical?

Just after the carnage in Tucson the airwaves, especially cable and talk radio, seemed filled with hand-wringing and calls for toning down the vitriol in political debate.

There appeared to be a chorus proclaiming a need to return to civility.

In the last 24 hours there has been a turn about – with one network in particular proclaiming that since there is no evidence that harsh words, intemperate thought and anger were at cause for the shootings, then they should not be held responsible nor subject to criticism.

I wonder – if things are so good across this country’s political spectrum, is there is no longer a need for civility?
How did things change so quickly? Did we forget already that regardless of the craziness of the shooter in Tucson, perhaps we all might do better with moderation in thought, anger and speech?

Knee Jerks & Reaction – Free speech or Gun Control?

Whether the tragedy in Arizona was caused by bulls-eyes on web sites or placards or vitriol may never be fully known. But in the response to this tragedy – to say or do something that will make us feel better – we again see a typical American response of “let’s put a band-aid on this” right away. There are already urgent calls for a quick-fix regardless of its long-term implications.

By Sunday there were calls in the media and Congress to restrict what can be said or used in political advertisements. There were calls to limit free speech. There were calls to put limits and penalties on what could be said in a country where it has been our historic right to protect free speech – even when some of what is said is odious.

It seems peculiar that these proponents are seeking to put a fix on free speech instead of looking at the real problem – the absolute proliferation of handguns – semi automatic weapons better suited for war than for sale at a sports store to an individual who will most likely plead an insanity defense for his senseless and selfish actions.

It would be a sad ending to this tragedy that our rights become victims of emotional decisions and knee jerk reaction.

Who’s on Twitter? This data will scare the bejessus out of some of my corporate clients

Quoting Media Bistro reprinting All Twitter, “The anatomy of a Twitter user is interesting stuff: he’s male, between 18 and 29, Hispanic, and lives in an urban area. At least, that’s according to the latest Twitter infographic from FlowTown.”

It continues, “And the type of information that Twitter users are sharing might surprise some people as well. Personal updates are the most-shared pieces of information on Twitter, followed by work updates. The least popular thing to share on Twitter? Your location.”

The article features a graphic illustrating users and usage too.

But my point is – if the most interesting thing to Tweet is one’s location, then it doesn’t say much about content, editorial direction or much that portends to be informational or substantial. If social media is reduced to location, location and location, then it would seem to be of limited, lasting value. I don’t think that’s the case, but it does support the contention that Twitter is like the pet rock

Stupid is as stupid does – again

Sitting in for Sean Hannity on FOX News this week Tucker Carlson called for Michael Vicks execution for pet abuse. Gawker has the clip.
Is this for ratings? Attention? Is it racism? Is it just reality TV?

The question of why the FOX bosses allow this is obvious – cloaked in “free speech” it garners attention and column inches, like these.

But is any one thinking of the longer term damage to discourse? Of course, if it is Tucker’s opinion calling for executions of pet abuses, then he’s welcome to it. Maybe he wants his own show again and feels this is the best way to accomplish that goal. But it just doesn’t pass the smell test of reasonableness… So why say it? For effect? For attention? One can only surmise he was motivated by being quote-worthy. He succeeded. But at what price?

What is the price for discourse? What is editorially responsible? Where is the line? Where are the editors? The managers? The grown-ups?

The war we don’t hear (much) about

Arguably the war in Afghanistan drones on into its ninth year with continuing Draconian consequences including the loss of lives (US & Coalition troops and Afghan citizens), a negative effect on US interests and reputation abroad and devastating impact on our national budget, among others. And yet, no one (including, especially the media) seems to pay much attention.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that just 4% of news coverage this year focused on the war and that’s down from the year before when it was a whopping 5%.  According to Afghan War Just a Slice of US Coverage this week, the war just does not merit much editorial interest or coverage.  Is that because the media finds the war uninteresting?  Difficult to cover?  Or is it the impression and/or understanding that the audience doesn’t much care for the story, so why cover something distasteful that’s apt to turn viewers off?  Or, all of the above?

Thinking back to Vietnam when there were thousands of reporters from all over the world covering that war, daily papers and multiple wire services were filled with incisive and comprehensive coverage. Nightly newscasts featured competitive stories. Names like Saigon, Da Nang, Hue, Cam Ranh Bay, Pleiku and so many others were widely known – heard frequently in coverage and by datelines – and discussed. But what of names, places and coverage from Afghanistan? After Kabul what names do come to mind? And could many (any) of us find them on a map?

Whose fault is that? Is it the media? There are fewer than a handful of reporters in country.  Is that because of diminished interest, reduced news budgets? The difficulty (near impossibility) of getting around without the assistance and escort of the US or coalition military? All of the above? But wouldn’t we be better served by more coverage – not just that which is approved by US military and diplomatic handlers?

From the Times’ story, “The low levels of coverage reflect the limitations on news-gathering budgets and, some say, low levels of interest in the war among the public. About a quarter of Americans follow news about Afghanistan closely, according to recent surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

“Inside the United States, you’ve got audiences that are beginning to suffer from war fatigue,” said Tony Maddox, who oversees international coverage for CNN.”

Competition among journalists in Vietnam as well as the wider range of published, conflicting and divergent viewpoints did contribute to the divisive nature of that war as well as to its ultimate peace.

The current crop of Afghan stories – according to what was published in the Times – seems to focus on whether the war is in fact winnable? A fair question – an obvious one at the end of the year and prior to the upcoming new Congress and State of the Union.

But – from a media standpoint – and a critical one – how is it that a war which is sucking resources at an appalling rate only merits 4% of the annual news coverage to begin with? Incidentally this isn’t just the fault of the media, for whatever our many sins might be, we have also become victims of the business culture which seeks to please audiences by giving them news they want, news they will be entertained by – not necessarily the news they need to make sober, serious and informed decisions. Afghan news is deemed to be unpopular unpleasant – it’s certainly foreign – and to be discriminatory or bigoted it is about people and a country we don’t generally think very highly of! There, I said it. From a media management standpoint – though they may not want to admit it – if honest they’d say their audiences don’t understand these people – don’t relate to these people – and don’t believe that our being in country is going to make much of (if any) reasonable difference. We’re marking time until the body county, blood-letting and money loss is so unsupportable that we’ll skulk out having declared a win, proudly asserting we had established a toe hold for democracy and proclaiming a peace. Whatever the hell that will look like.

The real question is this – from a media standpoint – 4%. Is that the best we can do? Is that a measure of how little we really care – and its failing Y2Y.

So as we enter 2011 let’s watch for stories with more bang-bang than politics. And stories about Presidential visits – 3 hours at an US air base – instead of a texture piece on the complexities of the Afghan government. And let’s not minimize the panache of visiting news anchors – Beauties in Bush Jackets – who visit from time to time to do their own ‘in-depth’ personal reporting conducted from the safety of US military escorts. This isn’t reporting. This is white wash. We deserve better… we don’t want to pay for it, we don’t want to be bothered by tough reporting and serious questions… and so instead we wait for Beltway pontificators to fill in what we don’t get from the field — offering platitudes and opinion instead of reportage.  It is however a poor alternative for the real thing.

Comparisons of Stewart to Murrow & Cronkite are misplaced

Today’s New York Times story portraying comedian Jon Stewart’s advocacy role in support of 9/11 responders to that of CBS news icons Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite seem out of proportion to history, to journalism and to impact.
Mr. Stewart – though both popular and persuasive – does not merit comparison for his remarks on a single show or position compared to the risks that Murrow for instance took when he spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy or the Army hearings; nor that of Cronkite when he editorialized about the long-term future of the Vietnam war. Stewart – to his credit – did speak out using his platform and popularity to ridicule what he felt was happening in Congress, but in doing so he did not risk nor face the same consequences as Murrow or Cronkite.
In our rush to make comparisons to the past – all of us – journalists, professors, every one must be more careful to make more apt, thoughtful comparisons than what is offered today by both the Times and a quote from a professor of popular TV culture at Syracuse.

Is doing enough actually enough?

Joshua-Michéle Ross who writes a nifty column Opposable Planets on social media has written Be Committed but Not Attached offering a phrase “be committed to the work that you do, the purpose you have, the intentions and integrity of your actions. Don’t be too attached to the results.”

I’ve been pondering this for the last few days.

Applied to the work: media – especially the challenged world of multimedia communications today – is just being committed enough? In times of tumult – of change – of business challenges while one cannot live daily on the edge, doesn’t one have to be committed to results? Is there any other way that is as rewarding?

20% of the audience is gone in the first 10 seconds

20% of the audience clicks OFF a video in the first 10 seconds; 40% is gone at 1 minute and 60% has tuned out at the minute thirty mark.
Distressing?
I think this is a near fatal blow in recognizing audiences don’t even give many programs a chance before they’re clicked off. For corporate clients… for news producers… for any one who produces content this is a sad set of numbers produced by Benchmarking Viewer Abandonment in Online Video which “looked at how viewers watched and ultimately abandoned over 40 million unique video clips, which, in aggregate, have received nearly 7 billion views.”

Blink taught us people make judgments about one another in the first 3 seconds of a conversation, but even at 10 seconds this study gives me little reason for optimism. What does this say for our concentrations? What does this say for our quick-trigger response about what interests us, or what we want to give time to, invest ourselves in?
For clients who produce videos in the hope of delivering messages this will be positively frightening. For my students who flit about from story to story with little regard for depth or concentration, this just gives weight to their argument that if a piece isn’t interesting (quickly) they just wont watch it at all.

10 seconds is hardly justification for ignorance.

The whole world is in a terrible state of crisis, and we dont hear much about it.

The foreign correspondent has become a casualty of the economy.  The days of the dashing foreign correspondent, trench-coated and adorned on top with a fedora are long-gone. 

Newspapers which prided themselves on their overseas commitment and the breadth and depth of their coverage have long since shuttered their news bureaux overseas.  So too have networks preferring to import pictures of breaking stories to London to be voiced there before being re-transmitted to New York.

So what’s lost?  The foreign correspondent is dead. Long live the foreign correspondent piece in today’s Guardian by Timothy Garton Ash is a thoughtful, insightful view as to what’s lost when we no longer care (or are willing to pay) to find the news ourselves.

His closing graphs, “For all my experience cries out to me: there is nothing to compare with being there. However many thousands of fantastic clips, blogs and online transcripts you have, there is nothing to compare with being there…

The unique value added by the 20th-century foreign correspondent consisted, at best, in the combination in one person’s experience over time, the considered throughput in a single mind and sensibility, of all three elements: witnessing, deciphering, interpreting. If we can somehow preserve that, in the journalism of our day, then we may yet achieve both more and better foreign news.”

The Guardian story is worth a look…not so much because it breaks a headline about the dearth of competent foreign journalism as much as it is a reminder of what we have lost… and to think about the consequences of our ignorance, a lack of awareness or interpretive appreciation and an absence of understanding.

In 1924 Sean O’Casey ended Juno & the Paycock with the admonition “”th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis”. Never did it seem that was more true than today.

Long live the foreign correspondent.