February 28, 2005

Slip-sliding away…

A question occurred to me yesterday while reading a book called Taking Journalism Seriously–a brief, recent history of interdisciplinary academic research in journalism. I found myself wondering if journalism has become absurd.

The interaction between journalism and politics is the focus of this weblog. And much academic research involves studying journalism in regard to its role in civic life. Indeed, many contemporary definitions of journalism include some notion of helping civic and/or political life work in a democracy.

There’s no denying that the press-politics relationship is important. But as I read the Sunday editions of the News-Leader and The New York Times today, I was reminded of something that I often forget: Journalism is about so much more than politics.

Now, another question occurs to me: If we are entering a post-press world (i.e. delegitimation of mainstream journalism–Rosen uses the term “de-certification”), what might this mean for the rest of what journalism does?

Further, what happens if de-certification takes hold in the culture before we complete the metaphor shift from “journalism as lecture” to “journalism as conversation”? This shift in metaphor is by no means inevitable. And while we really do not yet understand what it can or will mean, I believe such a shift is made necessary by advancing technology. I think no such shift can occur if the culture believes that journalism has lost its legitimacy.

Journalism, as we have been practicing it since about 1880, is an expository form of discourse. It is the rhetoric of journalism’s unique form of exposition that creates the feel of a lecture. Further, the epistemology of the profession and its pedagogy in the academy teach young journalists how to understand the world and lecture in regard to it in journalistic ways. As I have said, I think journalism is (was?) the most important discoursive practice in our culture. If the metaphor change fails to occur here it may not occur elsewhere.

Let’s be clear about what I’m claiming: If the metaphor doesn’t shift for journalism it might not shift for the internet. The reason: Despite the possibility of creating online social networks (complex conversations), the internet still exists in the old, expository noetic field. If I am correct about the cultural importance of journalism, then it must shift if other forms of discourse are to shift.

Do you suppose that what you read in the blogosphere is a conversation? I contend that much of it is another form of exposition–a lot of mini lectures from bloggers and readers who respond with lectures of their own. I see very little that actually looks like a conversation (there are notable exceptions among the mass of bloggers). Perhaps it’s time to define this term “conversation.” In order for it to make sense as opposed to a lecture in terms of civic discourse, a conversation must mean that the interlocutors are willing to exchange ideas and learn from that exchange (a noetic field such as this). Those immersed in the propaganda of partisan political struggle are loathe allow ideas to challenge their precious ideologies.

The blogosphere, however, has proven itself to be an excellent venue for the exchange of partisan rants for the purpose of…tell me please, just what is the purpose of all this ranting? It sure isn’t creating understanding, which is the purpose of a conversation.

Journalism could become absurd if delegitimation continues and the metaphor shift fails to complete. We will merely exchange one form of lecture for another one that has none of tradition or craft of the journalistic effort. But the lecture of the internet may fool us with an illusion of conversation. And that means we’ll fall further into the dark.

February 25, 2005


Today on Radio Rhetorica, we’ll be talking about the changing White House press gaggle, the SMS name change and search for president, news and intentionality, and what’s in the local paper. The show begins at 1:30. Just click the “on air” button to the left and then choose audio stream #1.

February 23, 2005

Rhetorica update…

Not to bore you with yet another Rhetorica update, but this one is important. I’ve been thinking about the changes I should make (my hearty thanks to all who gave me suggestions and insight). Here’s what’s happening:

1. Because comment spam is such a time waster, Rhetorica will only accept comments from those readers registered with the TypeKey system. I’m not happy about this. And I promise to stop using TypeKey just as soon as a better solution is found.

2. I will begin cutting back the number of posts over next few weeks. By spring, I will be posting once per day or less.

3. I won’t try to comment on every little thing. Instead, I’ll look for commonality among events and situations.

4. I will begin using Rhetorica more, and more specifically, as public notes on my research. I will give you more details on this research and try to connect it to press-politics issues as they occur.

5. I will do no more than 1 podcast per week.

These are not drastic changes. But they are designed to help Rhetorica help me through the next couple of years as I do the typical academic thing.

February 22, 2005

TEC: Plante interview

Open-source project: The Echo Chamber
Interview: CBS White House Correspondent Bill Plante

This is the first of my analyses of the texts of the interviews for The Echo Chamber project. As such, it will be a bit more sketchy than those to follow because each analysis will build on previous ones. My job is to look for the threads of the thought that create a web of knowledge across all the interviews. No web exists in fact. I will be creating it based on my application of disciplinary knowledge (rhetoric) to the texts. Because this is an open-source project, anyone may analyze the interviews for themselves and create their own webs. Together we will create meaning.

February 22, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson, RIP (Revel in Paroxysm)…

Proof that “journalism” accepts modification, e.g. “gonzo.”

Hunter S. Thompson, dead at 67.

I’ll have more to say about Thompson and his influence on journalism in the weeks ahead.

February 21, 2005

Rhetorica update

I have disabled the Blacklist plugin for MovableType. For at least the next few days, all commenters must register with TypeKey.

Rhetorica gets hit with about 1 spam attempt per second. At this rate, the Blacklist log fills to the point of choking and cannot be cleared. I am working on a solution.

February 19, 2005

Academic state of mind…

Jay Rosen’s discussion of Doug McGill’s Glocal Man is worth your time.

But I want to highlight something even more fascinating (to me, anyway) than Rosen’s “explanation” of McGill’s discussion of “truth frames” in regard to the Eason Jordan affair. Read the comments. As Rosen says, some of the commeters appear to equate “explanation” with “excuse.” Rosen writes:

By “explanation” I meant that… an attempt to explain how it happened that Jordan said what he said. That is something I still regard as a mystery, whereas many of you, I gather, do not. You have explanations that serve quite well. To me, none of them serve very well, Jordan’s least of all. So we need as many as we can get.

Anna, also a frequent commeter on Rhetorica, replies:

It’s biology. When people are in a reactive mode, they evaluate others in binary fashion (with us/against us) because it’s adaptive in a fight to be able to make a distinction and make it quickly. Whereas if we’re trying to learn and understand, the black-and-white approach is counterproductive.

I haven’t encountered very many stupid blog readers in nearly three years of writing Rhetorica (now there’s something that would get me to quit!). We certainly suffer our trolls (re: a recent comment here). I think the genre drives the stupid out of the blogosphere–eventually. The genre encourages, however, exactly the kind of thinking Anna identifies (although I’ll state it using some of my terms): adaptive, ideologically-driven, and willfully ignorant (which is not the same thing as stupidity).

There does exist an academic state of mind (an ideology adhered to imperfectly to be sure) that seeks to learn, to discover truth, to understand how things work beyond considerations of binary left-right (or party) politics. Bringing us difficult questions to answer is invigorating (Sisyphus knows how to ask a good question). Bringing us scorn because you think you detect nefarious political motives is tiresome.

February 17, 2005

Jeff Gannon, internet hero…

Frank Rich’s column this Sunday in The New York Times considers the case of Jeff Gannon and what he means to the Bush administration’s information machine. For me, Gannon raises this question: Who gets to be a reporter? (You’ll note that I am not using the terms “journalist” or “journalism” here because I assert that the practices they indicate must include an independent editing process often lacking in the reporting efforts of citizens.)

Anyone who wants to be a reporter gets to be a reporter if they put in the minimum effort. You might not get to make a living at it, but all you have to do to be a legitimate reporter is report and publish. The internet–specifically weblogs–makes this easy and cheap (free in many cases!) to accomplish.

(The concept of legitimacy here is tricky. On the one hand, the citizen reporter finds legitimacy in citizenship. On the other hand, no one is obligated to speak to any reporter–especially those who are less than well connected.)

What does it mean to report? Reporting is the act of gathering and disseminating information (def.: statements about facts in the world). Simple as that. There’s no requirement that reporting be thorough, accurate, contextual, unbiased, truthful, or fair.

There is nothing at all illegitimate about GOPUSA setting up an internet news organization (Talon News) and reporting the news. (They might even be practicing journalism if they operate with a recognizable editorial process.)

That the White House should approve a reporter from such a news organization for daily passes is not at all surprising. But that they approved Gannon/Guckert is. His background is, shall we say, problematic. I’ve been through the White House security procedure. There ain’t no way he’d have been approved unless a very senior official wanted him approved.

I don’t think the White House knew this guy was a problem. He was bought-and-paid-for ideologically, and that apparently was good enough. I have no problem with this.

The character Jeff Gannon may turn out to be an internet hero. Here’s why: Reporting is a craft, not a licensed profession. That’s as it should be in our democratic republic. Until now, you needed a job to be a reporter. You needed a so-called legitimate news organization to cover the highest offices of government. Today, all you need is a web site and the chutzpah to give it a go.

In a way, it’s too bad about the whole gay porn thing. That’s a red herring that keeps us from seeing what’s important here. Let me enumerate it:

1. Citizens journalism has arrived and will only get bolder and stronger (re: changing noetic field).
2. A news organization is any collection of individuals who report and disseminate information.
3. Political factions have a right to operate news organizations (welcome to 1776).
4. Any presidential administration must make skilled use of the current (and changing) media paradigm.


5. As a result, we are drenched in free speech and drowning in propaganda.

February 17, 2005

The facts-values dichotomy…

Dichotomies make the world easy to understand in a yin-yang sort of way, i.e. we understand a thing in terms of its opposite–indeed, the opposite is necessary for differentiation to occur in this view.

For the sake of understanding, I have discussed objectivity in journalism as a choice between stance (objective idealism) and procedure (journalistic practice). This allows me to separate and highlight what has been important to understanding and practicing objective journalism since the late 1800s. We cannot experience the world as it is, we can only understand it as we are built to experience it with our human senses. And we understand sense data–consciously or not–filtered through human culture.

Accepting this helps us bracket objective idealism out of the argument over what objective journalism should be. We may now deal with objectivity as procedure without all that nonsense about it being an “impossible but worthy goal” (the impossible can’t be evaluated as worthy because it is impossible and, therefore, unknowable). The problem has been that, for many reasons (an objectivist epistemology mostly), many journalists can’t seem to make this step. We continue to see a blurring of the dichotomy’s boundary in discussions of journalistic objectivity.

There is another way to discuss it–a way that creates another dichotomy: between “facts” and “values.”

I have avoided discussing this dichotomy because I think it creates confusion about objectivity precisely because the terms of the dichotomy are not precise, i.e. we can’t agree on what they indicate. At first it may seem that the two dichotomies are related because “facts” appear to correspond to stance. The epistemology of journalism understands something called “facts” to be aspects of the world. We merely have to look. And “values” appear to correspond to procedure, which is a human reaction to the world as it is. The problem is that both facts and values are human constructs, and they are difficult to separate as we move to levels of complexity and abstraction above mere measuring.

For a pragmatic practice such as journalism, this facts-values dichotomy works in the sense that it fits the epistemology. But it allows–and even encourages–fuzzy-headed notions of “worthy but impossible” goals in regard to objectivity. In other words, fighting the good fight between facts and values is supposed to lead us to the impossible. It leads us, instead, further from understanding.

I contend our noetic field (the epistemology/rhetoric of a culture) is changing. We may see this change in the beginnings of a metaphor shift from “journalism as lecture” to “journalism as conversation.” This is no small deal. Journalism is, I would argue, the most important discoursive practice in our culture. Now that citizens may speak back (blogs, i-net) and force a conversation, the epistemology and rhetoric–the noetic field–must change.

February 16, 2005

You cannot be serious!…

Some bloggers have all the luck.

The Tulsa World is threatening a blogger for linking to the newspaper’s content and for reproducing portions of that content as part of fair use criticism. A letter from TW vice-president John R. Bair reads in part:

The Tulsa World copyrights its entire newspaper and specifically each of the articles and/or editorials at issue. The reproduction of any articles and/or editorials (in whole or in part) on your website or linking your website to Tulsa World content is without the permission of the Tulsa World and constitutes an intentional infringement of the Tulsa World’s copyright and other rights to the exclusive use and distribution of the copyrighted materials.

This is nonsense, of course. And it’s made worse by the fact that newspapers such as the TW do the same thing every day, i.e. comment on published material. So one can only suppose the management of the TW supposes First Amendment and “fair use” rights belong to professional journalists alone. Perhaps Bair needs a refresher on the Bill of Rights.

I called the TW and spoke to Bair’s secretary. She was unable to confirm this letter. Executive Editor Joe Worley did conform that a letter was sent to Michael Bates, the author of BatesLine.

What’s stunning about this letter? Take your pick. But I’m fascinated to know if Bair et. al. thought this would be a simple, under-the-radar attack on a pj-clad nobody? Is the management of the TW really this clueless? Perhaps. This ought to tell you something: You have to pay for much of the content on the TW web site.

The TW will lose. Bates will win. And that’s exactly as it should be.

UPDATE (11:25 a.m.): See this post by Outside the Beltway for relevant links about copyright law and fair use. Check here for 14 copyright tips for bloggers.

UPDATE (4:50 p.m.): TW responds.

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