January 17, 2009

Rhetorica Update Re: Inaugural

Tuesday I’ll be planted in front of my TV and my laptop to “cover” the inaugural. Be sure to keep Rhetorica in mind as you’re surfing for news and commentary.

I’ll also be posting about the inaugural at Carbon Trace, my bicycle-commuting blog. Check there if you’re interested in issues such as active transportation and public transportation.

January 1, 2009

Onward and Upward

December 25, 2008


December 12, 2008

Failure is an Option

A couple of years ago, I’m not sure exactly when, I made this remark (paraphrased): Losing The New York Times would not be a disaster; losing the Springfield News-Leader would be a disaster.

I was trying to make a point about local journalism, i.e. we’ll always have national coverage of some sort, but perhaps we won’t always have local coverage. And local is the big thing. It’s what people want.

I was wrong.

I was wrong (or failed to be right, or failed to consider, or failed to understand) in several senses:

1. Citizen journalism is getting better. Here in Springfield we have a small but active cit-j community that covers many topics of local importance. Some of that coverage is as useful as (although not exactly the same as) what we find in the News-Leader — a Gannett product that the corporate vampire is sucking dry of every last bit of life. Citizens will pick up the ball that professional journalism drops because they have no choice but to do so.

2. National news is just as important as local news; sometimes local news is national. And, in any case, the local is not disconnected from the national and the global. We need effective journalism that covers our entire world. Doug McGill’s concept of “glocal” journalism offers a better way to understand this. We need stories that connect us to the world and to our local neighbors. Sometimes these stories begin with journalistic efforts by media products such as The New York Times. Sometimes these stories begin with citizens (albeit highly trained) such as Doug McGill. Sometimes these stories begin with interested bloggers.

3. The death of a paper is a disaster if it has been fulfilling the primary purpose of journalism: to to give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing. If a paper fails in this primary purpose, then what’s lost are the comics, the TV listings, celebrity gossip, local ranting, and the shopping diva. But you can find this stuff elsewhere.

4. Not all newspaper companies are created equal. Some still cling to some tiny little vestige of the idea that they have a mission beyond simply making money. Of the two under discussion — New York Times Company and Gannett — which has shown it still tries to cling to the primary purpose of journalism?

So I will now reverse myself. Losing The New York Times would be a disaster; losing the Springfield News-Leader would not. We the citizens of Springfield can pick up the ball — already have in some cases because we’ve already had to. (I reserve the right at some later date to decide that both positions are wrong and that the truth may be found somewhere in the middle.)

News flash: The news about the MSM business model of journalism is bad these days. Just scan the headlines on Romenesko. What’s going to happen? I have no idea. But creeping into my mind these days is a dark thought: I think I’d like to see a company such as Gannett fail — utterly fail. I’d like to see it sell all its papers. And I’d like to see those papers purchased by local buyers.

Local ownership is no guarantee of anything except that each paper might then have a slim chance — with active citizens keeping a sharp eye out — to be something its community wants and needs.

December 10, 2008

Rhetorica Update

It’s the last week of classes at MSU. I’m now writing my final exams and doing other end-of-the-semester odds and ends. But, as usual, when things get busy at school things also get really interesting in the world of press-politics. So check back Friday. I should be back in the blogging saddle then.

November 27, 2008

Over the River, Through the Woods

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2008

Sailing to Arcadia

Deborah Howell, ombudsman for the Washington Post, writes about what makes a good reporter:

Good reporters are the heart of news gathering. If it’s news, they have to know it. Without them, the public wouldn’t have the news and information essential to running a democracy — or our lives. Whether the story is local, national or foreign, it has to be gathered on the ground by a reporter.

This is romanticism. But journalists have been prone to seeing themselves and their mission in such terms for much of the last 100 years. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to speak about journalists this way. What does it say about reporters and editors, then, when they fail to live up to this ideal? And it’s for sure they fail sometimes. Upon such failure do we hear the kind of contrition that we might expect to follow from what amounts to letting down an “essential” component of our democracy — our very lives even?

The romanticism continues:

Retired Post executive editor Ben Bradlee thinks a reporter’s most important quality is energy: “They’ve got to love what they’re doing; they’ve got to be serious about turning over rocks, opening doors. The story drives you. It’s part of your soul.”

So why do news organizations work so hard to crush the souls of their reporters with shrinking budgets (caused mainly by obscene profit margins), Draconian layoffs, faster and faster deadlines, and a constant parade of faddish band aids for the whole sorry mess?

But not to worry. A good reporter is able to overcome such things and patiently, doggedly uncover the story:

Bob Woodward, The Post’s most renowned reporter, believes that good reporters do not let speed and impatience hinder them. They have the discipline to go to multiple sources at all levels of a story and get meticulous documentation — notes, calendars, memos. “You go down lots of holes that don’t lead anywhere,” but “in the end, what always matters is information that is authentic and can be analyzed and documented.”

The reward, of course, is in doing one’s duty to journalism’s primary purpose — even at a cost to one’s personal life. This sounds like a movie treatment:

A reporter’s first commitment is getting the story for readers; it trumps almost everything. That’s the reason they sometimes miss their wedding anniversaries or their children’s birthday parties and keep on reporting until they are wheeled into surgery (see Shadid) or delivery rooms.

Reporting is a calling. If reporters didn’t have it (along with good editors), how would you know what was going on in your communities, the nation and the world?

Is this a (sick) joke?

I ask that question because I want to believe all this romantic nonsense (except the absurd part about how only journalists know what’s going on in the world — geez). But when you look at the working conditions under which most news is produced, it’s a wonder anything good at all comes from it.

On top of everything else, Howell lays what amounts to a guilt trip on America’s reporters.

Let me suggest another focus for this column: A good reporter is a person who acts as a custodian of facts and operates with a discipline of verification despite working for news organizations that, as profit making businesses, all too often fail the primary purpose of journalism. A good reporter doesn’t let the MSM news organization strangle his good work and then sit on his ethical shoulders to take the credit for it. He finds a job in the new media instead.

October 9, 2008

Oh, Baby! It’s Finished

Not the election. My tenure application and dossier 🙂

The day of freedom has arrived! I can actually start thinking about the election.

September 25, 2008

Rhetorica Will Return Soon Better Than Ever

The process of switching from MovableType to WordPress is almost complete thanks to the good folks at CodingSquad. Everything seems to be working. And you’ll see a new style soon.

The RSS and ATOM feeds are different now. So you’ll want to make that change. I understand the CodingSquard folks are trying to make some of those changes automatic.

I’m itching to get back to business. It seems like lots of interesting things happen all at once when I’m not blogging.

September 23, 2008

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

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