November 3, 2010

The Whole Blogging Thing

As announced recently, the focus of Rhetorica is now on the rhetoric of opinion journalism. It is the topic that has increasingly piqued  my interest. And as I mentioned last week, the next two subjects will be Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof.

I realized something today that I have been blocking or avoiding: I have come to loathe political journalism as practiced in the U.S. today. I’m slogging my way through the election coverage by The New York Times today and hating every moment of it because our so-called newspaper of record is a shining example of how broken this beat is from top to bottom. Political journalism is actually doing more harm than good. It is a failure of craft and ethics on a massive scale.

But I don’t care anymore.

Now, on to more practical matters. Averting my gaze from political journalism means that I can do something that I have been wanting to do: Offer fewer but (I hope) better posts on a particular topic. The whole trying to blog everyday on Rhetorica thing hasn’t been working for a long time now. I’ve finally faced up to why that is: I dislike the original topic, and I’ve had very little (zero?) impact on press-politics

If you’re one of the thousands out there that just absolutely must read something from me almost everyday, then you’ll need to read Carbon Trace, my blog about walking and bicycling for basic transportation 🙂 I’ve come to realize that it is important for my blogging to have an actual impact. This local blog has an actual impact on my world.

I would also encourage you to follow Ozarks News Journal — the local news site for my JRN378 Multimedia Journalism class.

Rhetorica soldiers on. But I’ll be following something like the Jay Rosen model of blogging. Watch for my immediate commentary on Twitter.

October 17, 2010

Of Reporters, Trolls, and Stasis

Springfield News-Leader Executive Editor David Stoeffler announced today that reporters will participate (within certain limits) in online discussions of news articles on the News-Leader web site. I think this is a good move.

I also thought opening the comment system to anonymous users was a good move. I have come to believe that news organizations ought to begin encouraging more civil and thoughtful discussion by offering levels of service that encourage people to participate openly. Don’t eliminate anonymity; marginalize it.

Stoeffler’s announcement prompts me to think about online comments as an interesting rhetorical situation for reporters who are used to dealing with the public in a very particular way. What exigencies will prompt them to respond? What will be their persuasive intentions? What will be there rhetorical strategies?

How will they deal with trolls?

That first list of questions requires some data and analysis to answer (so I’ll be watching closely). But I’ll take a stab at the troll question now because it involves the concept of stasis — the very thing the skilled troll attempts to destroy. And I have plenty of “data” from many years of experience.

(History buffs may wish to check out the story of alt.syntax.tactical — a Usenet group set up to start flame wars. This group is famous for attacking the group alt.rec.cats back in the stone age, aka. the 90s.)

A common tactic of the troll today is to deny stasis, i.e. not allow the point of contention to be agreed upon so that it may be discussed. There are ways to do this both skillful and ham-handed, and we see the entire range on the News-Leader site.

Most commonly it works this way:

  1. Point A is made (either in print or online).
  2. Troll asks a reasonable question regarding point A.
  3. Troll follows up by changing discussion to point B.
  4. Troll follows up by changing discussion to point C.

And so on…

Depending upon the skill of the troll, the conversation can slowly devolve into ranting and nonsense because the troll finds and pushes the emotional buttons of the participants.

So what’s a reporter to do?

Do your job: Your value to the community is your reporting, not your online commenting.

Answer a commenter’s question only once: As the example above demonstrates, a troll wants to sucker you into a longer exchange for their own entertainment. Refuse to play.

Post links to additional information: A good policy in any online discussion.

Limit the scope of your participation: Develop a short disclaimer to append to all your online comments that explains what you will and will not respond to and why.

Identify and share: Did you detect a troll? Share your information with the online community and the newsroom. Post the username. Refuse to acknowledge that username in the future.

Remember: Trolls are NOT civic actors of good will. Their goal is to make your life hell and destroy the quality of discourse in online comments. Don’t let them win.

Also remember: I think most online participants are sincere. Don’t confuse a lack of rhetorical skill with trolling.

UPDATE: In response to an e-mail asking if I’m being a bit traditionalist re: a reporter’s relationship with the community: I am confining my remarks here to dealing with trolls. I think reporters can and should use the comment feature in numerous ways to enhance their reporting. More on this later…

September 3, 2010

Student Blogging at ONJ

The Ozarks News Journal is taking shape.  Students have begun blogging on the site with brief introductions and biographies.

Their first post was simply an easy exercise to make sure everyone is up to speed on the basics of WordPress. So far so good.

Up next: I’m going have them work on a bit of experiential reporting this weekend so they can post next week incorporating a photo, a video, and a simple podcast.

Here are some resources for following the class:

Class textbooks:

ONJ Twitter feed: ozarksnews

The students also have individual Twitter accounts dedicated to the class. You can find their tweets using the #sgf hashtag. And we have a class Twitter list.

News coverage will begin soon.

August 16, 2010

Multimedia Journalism Project Begins Soon

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer designing a new class called JRN378 Multimedia Journalism. The idea is to give our students a solid grounding in web and social media tools for journalism by having them publish an online news magazine called Ozarks News Journal.

There’s not much to see now — just the basic design. Soon, however, you’ll begin to follow along as these students learn to built a web news organization. My hope is that in addition to producing some fine examples of multimedia journalism, students will also be exploring what it means to be a web-based news organization.

What features of the craft and ethics of traditional print/broadcast journalism ought to be preserved? What new ways of understanding journalism does the web make possible? What will be the craft and ethics traditions of the future? What roles will journalists play in civic discourse, and what will be their relationship to an audience?

It’s their revolution. I hope they discover/create some interesting answers.

Here’s a bonus: The ONJ website will also operate as a converged news product with our ONJ TV program available on Ozarks Public Television and Mediacom 24. You’ll be able to watch the shows on the web, too.

Take a look at the site. And be sure to drop in after school starts (a week from today) to read and comment and … you tell me … what is your role, dear reader?

August 3, 2010

“Corrections” But No Conversation

A long time ago I mentioned an emerging struggle in journalism that I called the rhetoric of lecture versus the rhetoric of conversation following a post by Jay Rosen that was among the first to identify the changing discourse of news. This struggle is not confined to journalism in the internet age. Journalism is just an easy first place to see the effects of electronically-mediated interactivity because it is such an important civic-cultural expression (or, at least, it claims such for itself re: journalism’s theory of democracy; see especially: pp. 55-61).

This is just a fancy way of saying the public can now talk back effectively. It can also produce its own news on its own or in collaboration with mainstream news media.

And, as we have seen, web efforts can also fact-check journalism (and punditry) and its sources.

Here’s an interesting local effort I found: A Springfield Public Schools web page called Corrections and Clarifications dedicated to fact-checking local news media coverage of school issues.

This is not a new idea. That’s not why I’m highlighting it.

I see a problem here.

Where’s the conversation?

Are we merely to assume that the local news media are wrong and the school district is right in its long list of transgressions?

To make this site an advancement for civic information, I think the school district needs to do what journalism has done: open itself to the greater conversation.

April 23, 2010

Ancient History

Eight years ago today I posted the first entry to Rhetorica.

With the discipline of rhetoric as its foundation, Rhetorica began as an examination of press-politics and morphed into an examination of media ethics. That change represented my changing interests and my academic emphasis on media ethics.

Rhetorica has enjoyed periods of high readership and influence. And, at other times (such as now), it has limped along with a handful of loyal readers while making hardly a dent in the greater conversation.

Through it all I have enjoyed writing this blog, and I will continue to do so. Thank you for reading. And — especially — thank you for participating.

January 28, 2010

What the Apple iPad Means

I don’t know. Wait and see.

But a few journalism types speculated yesterday about what the iPad may mean. I found this interesting:

But isn’t it interesting that Apple Senior Vice President Scott Forstall touted the tactile strengths of the device over its technology? “IPad is the best way to browse the Web for the same reasons that it just feels right to hold a book or a magazine or a newspaper as you read them,” he insisted in a video shown as part of the product launch. “It just feels right — to hold the Internet in your hands as you surf it.”

Does this contraption have the charms necessary to drag an ol’ paper hound such as me away from the feel of print? I gotta tell ya, this thing looks seriously cool.

UPDATE: Here’s another guy who thinks he knows what it means before anyone has actually bought the thing.

January 22, 2010


This just seems really dumb to me:

Five journalists will lock themselves away in a French farmhouse with access only to Facebook and Twitter to test the quality of news from the social networking and micro-blogging sites.

Twitter and Facebook’s use as news-breaking tools has been highlighted over the past year, particularly during opposition protests in Iran that many media described as a “twitterised revolution”.

This month, Twitter played a key communications role in quake-hit Haiti, with users sending harrowing personal accounts, heart-rending pictures and cries for help.

But how will the world look if viewed only through the prism of these sites, whose phenomenal growth has been fuelled by smartphones and, for Twitter, online bursts of 140 characters?

Are these social media – which between them have nearly 400 million users – really the serious threat to established media they are often said to be?

OK, this sounds interesting until you get to this part:

They will be relieved of their smartphones and be given mobiles that cannot connect to the internet, and be reminded television, radio and newspapers are banned.

“We will give them five computers with blank hard drives,” said Francoise Dost of the RFP French-language public broadcasters association, which organised the event.

“They have agreed to be linked to the outside world only through Twitter and Facebook. No web surfing is allowed,” Mr Dost said.

I’ll pause while you ROFLMAO.

This “experiment” fundamentally (willfully?) misunderstands how these social media sites work. Let’s agree that, yes, both Facebook and Twitter can and are used by many people for the most trivial nonsense. And that’s OK. But there are people out there (example) publishing interesting and useful information.


None of it means squat without the lowly link. Remember that? It’s the product of something you might have heard of called HTML.

Surely one can report firsthand using both platforms, i.e. “I’m here right now watching this tornado tear apart my town.” But the real value of Twitter is the link that you comment on and share. Facebook allows even more: pictures, sound, and video.

To restrict these journalists to nothing more than Facebook and Twitter — no ability to link out — is to rig the game.

I’ll wait and see, but I’m initially skeptical that much of value will come from this.

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