Archives for posts with tag: League of Women Voters

There’s great confusion about what the role of the press in a democracy is. The majority of Americans in a recent poll think the role of the press is as a consumer watchdog. Pew regularly surveys people for their views of the press, and their results are always heartening.

Another scholar stipulates that the news in any country is shaped by four social imperatives: the role of the news in a democracy; the corporate structure of news production; the entertainment imperative of news; and the political behavior of news entities in the United States.
http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/culturalcon.htm

For the sake of clarity, I would like to define the news as the founding fathers saw it — an instrument of knowing so important to the democracy that journalism is the only industry mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Jefferson defined the news very simply. He said, “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is the prize on which, as stories get shorter and shorter, and newspapers disappear, we need to keep our eyes. I’ve previously referred to this as the League of Women Voters value-neutral policy paper model of journalism.

As I am concerned here to define 21st century journalism, without proscribing it, I’d like to stick as close to the original, rather juridical definition of it, as the instrument of an informed electorate bent, pretty much, on revolution, with the truth and nothing else as their legal defense.

One of the many things that people don’t understand about newspaper journalism is how legal standards of evidence — will this stand up in court? — are deployed during the editing of every story that is published.  (Television news is different.) And, given the law’s long history of being argued and re-invented, I think its “interactive” standards of evidence are as close to justice as human beings are going to get. So we have journalism as the peoples’ instrument of knowing, and its bona fide practice based on legal standards of evidence.

Today I’m going to start to examine and review the ideas of two internet entrepeneurs about what the news is. LOL Cats founder Ben Huh has a “re-imagined” news startup, Circa, scheduled for launch this summer.
http://blog.cir.ca/

Huh is promising to re-invent news for the internet. Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell has interesting ideas about the “gamification” of the news and its interactivity (the whole subject of “citizen journalism” – unpaid content provision, Wiki researchers, the HuffPo’s uncompensated bloggers, and curated comment falls under the “gamification” rubric) .

I am taking their thoughts as typical — however unfair that may be — of the definitions that millennial entrepeneurs with agency have for news in the 21st century. It can’t represent the confusion millenials have about what news is, or their significantly good ideas about it. Hopefully the analysis of  Huh’s and Schell’s ideas will serve as the caveat emptor on their ideas, the warning that the majority of Americans thinks the news should be.

Young people think Jon Stewart is the news, that the mashup, hip-hop soundbite, satirical pastiche of events served up by Stewart – the latest in a series of television comedians, from Carson’s monologue through Saturday Night Live’s weekend news update – is what the news is.

They’re not wrong.

But they’re not right either, and I would argue that if making fun of the news alienates voters, which I suspect it does, a correction needs to be made. Comedians need to start registering ten young people to vote for every political joke they tell on national television. Hopefully having a government that represents the comedians’ constituency would put the comedians out of business.

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/829/the-daily-show-journalism-satire-or-just-laughs

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/arts/television/17kaku.html?pagewanted=all

But to bite the news, as the comedians would have it, requires a certain kind of news story. I was recently asked to write a 300-word story a week for the electronic newsletter of a public access television station.  I told the millennial editor in charge I had no access to 300-word stories. She was convinced a 300-word story was the précis of a 1500-word one, or a 13,000 word one (I chose that figure in honor of Norman Lewis, whose 1969 multi-thousand word story, “Genocide in Brazil”, was the longest ever published by the London Sunday Times. It resulted in the founding of Survival International and was later published as The Missionaries: God Against the Indians. You see where this is headed.)

Norman Lewis, journalist, author of The Missionaries: God Against the Indians, and a long-form news story, “Genocide in Brazil”, which helped found Survival International.

The young editor was entirely uninterested in,  and non-comprehending of,  the conceptual parameters of the 300-word story.

It is the crux of 21st century journalism.

News is not the promotion of your music video,  your comedy routine, or any other kind of advocacy. Still, Jon Stewart, Seth Myers, Johnny Carson, every comedian whose daily bread was political commentary is biting the 300-word story – and never the 15,000-word Pulitzer Prize winning series on violence in the Philadelphia public schools.

Among other things, the 300-word story needs to be about someone we all recognize. There is no space to describe and introduce anybody.  For the same reason, this well-known person needs to be in an instantly recognizable setting,  making a gesture – a soundbite isn’t as good – within the context of his celebrity and environment that is also instantly recognizable.  From this instantly comprehensible vignette, the comedians start their riff. Or apply, if you will, their meta political critique.

The perfect 300-word story — a recognizable person making a recognizable gesture —  is the crux of journalism for the 21st century.  (P. S. If Britney can make it through 2007, you can make it through today.)

The 300-word story requires access to celebrities doing stuff.  The medium — 300 words — ensures that celebrity news will probably be the cockroach, or the PVC shopping bag with a biological half-life of 500,000 years, that survives us all.

The only people who can produce 300-word stories are beat reporters – one reason I’m mesmerized by the TMZ paparazzi and their dubious, but incredibly hotttt, SUV enterprise journalism. I don’t blame Britney for falling for Adnan Ghalib. The great chronicler of Britney’s meltdown, Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone, didn’t either:  Ghalib winds up begging Grigoriades to be gentle with the mentally unstable superstar.

The 300-word story is the medium for the 21st century. Our problem is that it is the message too, and that long-form print journalism which ends genocide, or, like the  Philadelphia Inquirer series which recently won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering violence in the public schools, will disappear. Hip-hop soundbite news, the Afro pomo homo pastiche, is the only one which can compete for our internet attention. Our problem is how to package the 50,000 word story in three hundred, or 140 Tweet characters, for such information consumers as Joe Weisenthal, the finance blogger. A recent, 2,887-word profile of Weisenthal suggests him as my prototypical 21st century news consumer . He wakes up at 3:50 a.m. in his apartment just north of the Financial District in New York City and Tweets  What did I miss?
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/joe-weisenthal-vs-the-24-hour-news-cycle.html?pagewanted=all

To summarize the points of reference in the discussion of 21st century journalism, and to make a critical point: how to write the 300-word story, especially for television news, is no big secret. In 1965 they were telling us that the secret of writing a three-minute news story for television was to say what the story was you were about to tell, to say, now I’m telling you the story, and then to say, this is the story I just told you.

This is the story I just told you:

  1. As space for journalism decreases,  confusion about all its roles must be stripped away, and it is up to journalists to make this clear to their consumers.
  2. The role of journalism as government  and institution watchdog, meeting juridical standards of evidence, is the only prize we can afford to keep our eyes on. (Questions of monetization of internet news and truth police fall under this rubric.)
  3. LOL cats founder Ben Huh and Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell will be our models of millennial internet entrepeneurs defining news for the 21st century. They have the power, the motive, the opportunity. Do they have any clue? (The queer theory observation that the founders of TMZ and Gawker both are gay men fearlessly proselytizing gender equality and outing allegedly gay celebs, along with the gossip, the snark, the aggregated news, the curated comments,  falls under this rubric.)
  4. Joe Weisenthal, the 24/7 news vacuum, is our model consumer. (That the rush of megalo information, not just the surfing, is the medium of the 21st century news, and that Internet finance itself as well as finance journalism has created and valorized it, and will skew click-counting journalism values toward capitalism and the white boys, falls under this rubric.)

Joe Weisenthal, finance blogger, our typical 21st century journalism consumer. By Marvin Orellana for The New York Times.

Tomorrow:  Analysis of Ben Huh and Jesse Schell concepts of journalism

http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/cheezburgers-ben-huh-says-news-organizations-should-think-like-teenagers-if-they-want-to-survive/
http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/super-mario-cub-reporter-jesse-schell-on-what-the-game-industry-could-teach-the-news-industry/

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In the 1970s, Sander Vanocur told me something I’ve been thinking about ever since. The political satire in Johnny Carson’s monologue, he said, defined the heartland issues.

So it came as no surprise to me that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are a primary source of news for the young. The people whose knickers get in a twist around that haven’t been paying attention, first of all, to many things about journalism, beginning with the fact that the New Journalism (invented at Esquire magazine in the 1960s), now half a century old, imparted new information about what was then the counterculture in a new way. Talese’ story on Frank Sinatra is considered the first wave of all the dreary j-school classes of what I now think they call creative non-fiction?
http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1003-OCT_SINATRA_rev_

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Sh...

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Show in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t go to j school, was the advice the old reporter gave me when I set out for college. Study philosophy, history, phys ed, pottery. You can learn journalism in six weeks. So can its consumers, and so they do.

People whose knickers get into a twist about Stewart and Colbert being peoples’ primary source of news may or may not be professors of journalism, stuffed shirts, or white boys with a vested interest in the circle-jerk method of covering politics, of which Politico is the successful internet avatar. I think we know who the wedgie ones are:

Venise Wagner, associate chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University, argues with her students over whether “The Daily Show” is real journalism. They think it is; she tells them it isn’t, explaining that journalism involves not just conveying information but also following a set of standards that includes verification, accuracy and balance.

But she says “The Daily Show” does manage to make information relevant in a way that traditional news organizations often do not, and freedom from “balance” shapes its success. “‘The Daily Show’ doesn’t have to worry about balance. They don’t have to worry about accuracy, even. They can just sort of get at the essence of something, so it gives them much more latitude to play around with the information, to make it more engaging,” Wagner says.
http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4329

I have no stats on this, but my nose for news tells me the boys-on-the-bus coverage is alienating to voters, and assists the unscrupulous right in its 40 year mission to keep voter turnout low, so they can win, by defining single issues like abortion or same-sex marriage as political matters, which they’re not. I submit to you not that women know better, but that what real political coverage is, is what the League of Women Voters does. The League of Women Voters writes non-partisan policy papers delineating issues without prejudice. I am not familiar enough with their work to say whether or not they add a one-sentence value neutral assessment of what place this issue takes in bona fide conservative (not party) philosophy, and in bona fide liberal philosophy. I suspect they avoid this. I think respectful attention to non-partisan political philosophy is central to the democracy, to political issues, and to what people want to know about the news.

The parsing of the political news for its real meaning is what Stewart and Colbert do. This is what political coverage of 21st century news should be doing, League of Women Voters issues analysis in a cellphone screen-sized format. Naturally Stewart and Colbert parse stories with LULZ value, and this is the bias of their news coverage. I learned from the hordes of people of every color watching Jerry Springer that yeah, people like freaks, geeks, and catfights. But they are absolute junkies for adjudication. The developmental psychiatrist Kohlberg based an entire sexist male template on little boys’ penchant for adjudication — you could say it was arguing over whether or not the ball was inside or outside.

Adjudication is a spectator sport.

Concentration camp survivors say the observation of injustice, of all the things one can suffer in extremity, is extremity’s most corrosive experiece. Primo Levi writes, in The Reawakening, of what has been called metaphysical guilt:

…the shame a just man experiences…at another man’s crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have prevailed in defense.

Having our noses rubbed in the shameless injustice of politics as practiced for the cameras and for Politico, for the jockeying social aspirations and tin soldier power plays of editors from Wauchula, causes the metaphysical guilt which keeps us from voting.

In any case, adjudication seems nearly instinctual, and the feral, thug-life version of it still forms the way newspapers, online and elsewhere, still cover politics. The competition between politicians is of no interest to us. We like competitive sports — I am noting the importance of soccer players and fandom in the Islamist Algerian wars and in the Egyptian spring uprising — we like freaks and geeks, but covering politics like sports keeps us away from the polls and empowers the heartlessly cynical new right puppetmeisters of the racist hegemony of the last 40 years. One old hippie I know says he doesn’t even think they’re racist. They just use it as a tactic. I respect a racist more.

The New Journalism method of covering these political issues would be to find somebody whose story illustrates the problem, and do a profile of that person. So what you’d have is not a horserace story about the cross-talk between loathsome selfish ideologues shutting down the government on the specious Grover Norquist no-taxes pledge, but, rather, a talk with Grover. A discussion about the tactics one guy uses every day to be powerful enough to single-handedly close down the U.S. government. Grover is the beat, all the rest of those people are ants on his melon.

Grover Norquist at a political conference in O...

Grover Norquist at a political conference in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You say Grover doesn’t talk to the media? I refer you to the Talese Sinatra story, a masterpiece of how to write a story about somebody who won’t talk to you. The political journalism lesson of Watergate that everyone seems to have forgotten is that the White House news does not exist at the White House.

Newspapers get all caught up in that basically because provincial editors want to be invited to the White House correspondents’ dinner and check out Lindsay Lohan’s, or Tim Geithner’s,  tits.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/27/AR2009042700891_pf.html

To have One’s Own Reporter at the White House is the mark of the publisher’s influence either on national policy or society; the reporter is not so secretly viewed as being the publisher’s lobbyist. And the game is on,  the game of political journalism in which news coverage is seen both as a prize and a critique. It leads to such perfectly logical apotheoses as the politician John Edwards’ consulting the actor Sean Penn and movie director Paul Haggis on how to spin his bimbo eruption. That essential rats-in-a-bottle perversion of politics was the other lesson of Watergate, in All the President’s Men — that Washington was Hollywood and Hollywood was Washington.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/features/dcmovies/postinfilm.htm

So, how to cover politics for the 21st century is no secret. The tools have been here for 50 years, whether you call it the New Journalism, Johnny Carson’s monologue, or the Jon Stewart effect.

End political journalism as we know it. It is literally destroying our world.

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