Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Cargo culture

I got both my degrees from the same college, the University of Wisconsin. There are two student newspapers there, the “official” paper, the Daily Cardinal, and an upstart independent funded by right-wing types the Badger Herald.

Ironically, the “official” paper was constantly assailing the administration and the mainstream of campus culture, while the “alternative” paper was more of a cheerleader for the authorities. But it had some good columnists, and as an undergrad, I gravitated toward the Herald because I was turned off by the mindless leftism I was suddenly surrounded by at college (in high school, I was basically a lefty hippie because I was turned off by the mindless conservatism I was surrounded by there).

So when I went back for my master’s in journalism, I figured I should be at the Herald. That lasted about as long as my first assignment, which involved writing 1 article with 2 previews of upcoming entertainment events, and I was instructed that the “unifying theme” of the article should be “these great events coming to campus.” I headed over to the Cardinal’s office a couple days later, and I’m really glad I did, even though I was surrounded by some people with seriously messed-up politics (I have a lefty-hippie temperament, but I can get impatient with overly simplistic and unrealistic views, and college lefties are full of those).

But I was struck over and over again by the simple fact that the Herald, more often than not, wasn’t so much practicing journalism as imitating it, as best they could. It was cargo-cult journalism, imitating the superficial, surface appearance without understanding what’s supposed to be happening beneath the surface, like the Pacific islanders who built control towers out of sticks and sat in them with headphones made of coconut shells, thinking that would magically bring airplanes bearing cargo, like it did during the war when America was using the islands for transporting materiel for the war effort.

Which brings me to Fox News. If you want to understand why they are the way they are, I think “cargo-cult journalism” pretty much says it all. “The Daily Show” did a nice bit recently (skip to the 4-minute mark).

(Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear sign via Reddit)


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Grand old mags

Kevin Kelly is compiling a list of The Best Magazine Articles Ever. I’m pleased to see he’s including Gene Weingarten’s amazing article on children’s-party clown The Great Zucchini, which really should have won him his Pulitzer instead of the gimmicky stunt piece that did (although that one’s great as well). Seriously, I know an article on a guy who does jokes for kiddies at birthday parties sounds like the last thing you’d ever want to read (at least I hope it does), but you should read it. It’s an amazing piece of reporting and writing. (via Kottke)

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James Fallows’ Atlantic piece on “How To Save The News” is absolutely required reading for anyone who has any interest in an article with such a title.

Lots of journalists distrust or resent Google, whose aggregation engines have sucked up a lot of Web traffic from newspaper websites. But it’s not Google’s fault that it understands how the Internet works — and how the world works — better than the ink-stained wretches do.

And those who care about newspapers, and understand the Internet, should take heart in the knowledge that Google is on the case. Here’s the money quote:

“I am convinced that there is a larger vision for news coming out of Google; that it is not simply a charity effort to buy off critics; and that it has been pushed hard enough by people at the top of the company, especially (CEO Eric) Schmidt, to become an internalized part of the culture in what is arguably the world’s most important media organization.”

(pic via the accompanying slideshow)

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Journalist makes rookie mistake

Hey, if some reporter accosted me in mid-shovel to ask me what I’m doing, I’d probably tell them something similar.

But I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens when you lay off nearly a 10th of your work force.

(Bitter? Who, me?)

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The Poynter Institute, a think tank and training ground for journalists, has a nice article on “The Daily Show” that highlights the program’s take not only on events of the day, but on how journalists cover those events.

And it acknowledges that the show is “establishing itself as a “trusted” news source, even though it doesn’t refer to itself as one.”

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Lots of handwringing in the traditional media lately about the effect Google is having on the field: David Carr laments that because of Google’s aggregation of news content, “a life of occasional excess and prerogative has been replaced by a drum beat of goodbye speeches with sheet cakes and cheap sparkling wine. It’s a wan reminder that all reigns are temporary, that the court of self-appointed media royalty was serving at the pleasure of an advertising economy that itself was built on inefficiency and excess. Google fixed that.”

Ken Auletta wrote a piece in New Yorker about it, but they’ve put the original behind a paywall and I can’t Google it. Auletta’s NY’er piece is a preview of his new book, which  Nicholson Baker reviews, demolishing the notion that Google doesn’t contribute anything of value to society — a claim apparently offered by Auletta in his book.

Meanwhile Google’s Eric Schmidt offers some ideas on how Google can help traditional publishers: “We send online news publishers a billion clicks a month from Google News and more than three billion extra visits from our other services, such as Web Search and iGoogle. That is 100,000 opportunities a minute to win loyal readers and generate revenue—for free.”

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This all-purpose newspaper memo from Columbia Journalism Review is a lot more lighthearted than the last thing from CJR I posted. It’s got “Mad Libs”-style, multiple options for various situations. I especially like this part:

Finally, the issue of copy editors.

It is true that as the right-sizing has gone forward over the last two years or so, a number of veteran copy editors were (reassigned to work on the publisher’s lakeside estate; exiled to strip-mall bureaus out where the buses don’t run; given MapQuest information for finding the community college).

We miss them and we honor their years of service.

Yes, we were upset when (First Lady Michelle Obama was misidentified as talk show host Tyra Banks; we reported that the administration is considering sending 40,000 combat troops to Albania; our daylight saving time “spring forward, fall back” clock thing was off by seven months).

(cartoon via Joe Vince)

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