HERE is the 5th installment of my monthly posts for the Nieman Lab on the future of journalism. More on partnerships…
Monthly Archives: July 2010
One Hack’s Response to ‘ProtoBlogger’ Dave Winer: The War is Over…And You Won (but we’re still here)
One of the things I love about Twitter is that it has finally connected me with some of the best blog posts out there…different topics, voices, lengths, frequencies. The atomized output of these one-man, one-woman information/expression machines are dropped into the stream alongside links to MSM articles, news flashes, op-ed pieces, and other, er, branded stuff…and of course the breakfast updates and bad jokes.
Within the confines of the magic 140 characters and hierarchylessness of the platform, there’s often no way of knowing which type of content source we will be routed to by that hyperlink. For various reasons, this is a good thing. But to start with, Twitter’s flat stream is simply an accurate expression of the times, that the passing flash of information is ever more its own marquee. Before I quickly get too far ahead of myself: let’s just say this is both the central point of this post…and an introduction to its subject.
Dave Winer is one of those digital names-in-light I’ve discovered via Twitter. He has a way of explaining our coming world of connectivity that is true to his visionary hacker origins…and written in the kind of stripped-away fashion that allows even us old world luddites to absorb (if not always full comprehend) it all. Indeed he may be most useful for those who get paid to communicate because of the form itself of his communication. He is both prolific and concise. He shares what is on his mind now with rounded thoughts that manage to seem both off-the-cuff and thoroughly reasoned. Typically circa 500 words, they are like prose screen grabs of whatever happens to be sizzling in his brain at the moment. For all that, and because he’s been doing it since 1997, the NYT tagged Winer the “protoblogger.”
As I already feel myself failing at the blogger’s need for both spontaneity and brevity (and the reporter’s vow to cozy up to no one)…let me just say Winer’s musings last week on why he doesn’t give interviews to reporters pissed me off in a major way. And that is the subject of this post.
Of course Winer has no obligation to speak to anyone, or give any professional category a free pass. He is free to share and even shout his opinions about what is broken in the ways the news has traditionally been gathered and spread. There’s plenty to say on these fronts. But this piece wasn’t really about that, was it? It was instead your basic roundhouse slap at those (and the numbers are indeed dwindling) who make a living reporting and writing traditional news stories.
From his experience, reporters are “almost always” misquoting, manipulating, unprepared wannabe Woodward-and-Bernsteins, as self-important as we are perpetually misinformed. This time that state-of-mind screen grab of his looked both filled with animus and rather intellectually lazy, with the air of score settling from some distant past. This is rebooting the news in the sense of another Timberland to the groin. But this post is not about protecting/defending myself and my colleagues, and the work we’ve done in the past, but rather it’s about the future.
Of course when he writes of how having a blog liberated him from the need to spread his ideas/products through interviews, he is reminding us of a very basic shift in how access to the means of production of information is being forever transformed by the internet. But we already knew that. There has been a basic shift over the past few years even inside the deepest caverns of the MSM that, taken as a whole, this revolution will wind up a net win for the cause of democracy, economic development and creativity. And most of all, ain’t nothin’ gonna stop it…
So when Winer lumps “almost all” reporters into the same shit pile he is simply resuscitating what even a newbie to the digital space like me had considered a moot point, dusting off a dichotomy between bloggers and reporters –between blogging and journalism — that is yesterday’s news indeed.
Sure, large media companies — and even a few of my colleagues still holding on to their jobs — will do everything they can to sit on as much of playground kickball as they can. But all of us know that the game has changed forever. Or put another way: the real message to our esteemed Protoblogger is “Please come out from behind your screen: the war is over…and you won!” The sniping that continues — bloggers calling journos lazy shill=masters, journos taking cracks at bloggers’ for their pajamas and lack of gumshoe reporting — is usually just the by now rusty artillery to fight the same old personal feuds and battles that opinionated people have been and will always be fighting.
The real news that the Dave Weigel affair reminds us of is that smart young reporters who claw for access to the influential and ache for a wide audience, see blogs as the obvious fastest path to, eh, journalistic success.
The fight over terrain and resources is friendly fire, folks. We all seem to agree that being more informed, more accurate, faster, freer is the best formula for both better solo bloggers and newspaper staffers. The differences in the approaches and objectives of the different forms can only help to improve the work on one, and the other platform–and indeed, they are often the same person.
In general, we might say that the blogger benefits/suffers from the lack of a built-in structure looking over her, the journo benefits/suffers from having it. How can knowing that help them both? Instead, the real problem is that the brass upstairs is convinced by a wrongheaded conventional wisdom that calls for meat cleaver costs cuts…and more meat cleaver cost cuts…as the only short or long term solution for economic viability of whatever information is being produced. (And who can really blame them…until an alternative emerges?)
It’s telling that all the hemming and hawing from the fallout of Rolling Stone’s McChrystal article misses the fact that the article itself was the result of a major investment of time and money by the publication, and some damn good reporting by the reporter. And yes Mr. Winer, for all the breakdowns from McChrystal and his entourage, and debates about whether beat reporters shield their sources, producing that revealing an article required that Hastings ask lots of questions. (I don’t think McChrystal was sharing his thoughts on a blog…even if he had one, eh?) Is it the exception that proves the rule? Maybe. But how about some reflection on the exception to help improve the coverage by all.
Ok..if you are still with me, it is clear that I suck at this platform: too long, long-winded, meandering in my thoughts. And not quite opinionated enough. I needed to write it the minute after I read Winer’s original post last Tuesday. I was pissed off then, thinking about the good faith, if necessarily flawed, attempts I’d made over the years trying to figure something out on the fly by asking smarter, better informed people about it. Press interviews can take any number of forms, but they are also one of the fundamental tools out there to keep information flowing in a democracy. Even the face time (as we saw in McChrystal story) is often necessary, not Kabuki theater, as David Carr, a great reporter (who relies on sources all the time) chimed in on Twitter. Did he read the post?
But I waited, and my initial anger faded…even more so after I heard Winer talking about his post with Jay Rosen on Rebooting the News. On radio, Winer was less absolutist, less bitter, and I remembered as I listened that the written blog platform….and maybe my beloved Twitter too…have inherited from the news business a tendency toward sensationalism. “Some journalists” become “Almost all journalists…” Or maybe, he just needs an editor? Or maybe the point is the provocation? It is the right time, place, and platform to shake things up.
And indeed, the final revealing tidbit in all this is how, in the end, I wound up writing this post. I saw this Jay Rosen tweet last night, saying it was time to put a fork in the journos v bloggers debate, as referenced to a Joe Klein-Glenn Greenwald spat. (actually they are both both…). I responded with a dig at his “buddy” Winer. Two tweets later the protoblogger was encouraging this distracted hack to blog about it. That was last night. Maybe I ought to call him now….to ask out about the programming parameters necessary to keep my thoughts below 500 words/24 hours…or at least to drop this far-too-heavy hyperlink in his Twitter stream.