April 29, 2005

“Well I’m not going to leave you alone”…

I’m having Howard Beale feelings. So there’s no telling what might happen today on Radio Rhetorica. Tune it a 1:30 p.m. CDT. Just click the “one air” button in the sidebar. Then choose audio stream #1.

April 28, 2005

Gimme the basics…

I like the sound of this:

Or do the basics of newspaper writing and reporting offer students the necessary foundation for them to succeed in any medium, whether it be print, online, broadcast, wire service, blogs or any other information-distribution system that may be coming down the pike?

There will always be a market for young reporters who know how to gather facts and write them up in a clear, convincing manner. For that, you can’t do much better than showing students in our introductory classes how to craft a killer lede, a well-honed nut graf and an airtight structure.

I’ve just finished a pre-revision review of Telling the Story for Bedford/St. Martin’s. It’s the book I use for JRN270 Introduction to Journalism. One of the things I told them: You’re behind the curve on weblogs and citizen/open-source journalism. Time to catch up. And, also, one other little thing: Continue to help me teach the basics.

April 28, 2005

Book reviews…

Are book reviews published by weblogs useful?

I ask this because I am about to begin reviewing books on Rhetorica. I don’t suppose I will do very many, but these opportunities are beginning to trickle in. And it seems to me this may be a useful addition to Rhetorica.

I have accepted for review Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism is Putting Democracy at Risk, by Davis “Buzz” Merritt. You may recognize Merritt as one of the pioneers of public journalism.

I have added a book review policy to my blogging policy.

April 27, 2005

Indispensable pundits?…

Following this post about recent developments in catching pundits in blatant conflicts of interest, I offered my “pundits are a dime a dozen” crack to my media ethics class. This is a pretty sharp bunch, and they are quite willing and able to challenge me. In a few minutes of discussion, they came up with this list of pundits who they believe cannot simply be replaced:

Dave Barry
Hunter S. Thompson
Jon Stewart

I argued against including Stewart and Barry on the grounds that they fall outside an important parameter. My crack does not include employees of news organizations who must conform to the ethical standards set by their employers. The irony in Stewart’s case makes me smile.

While I admire (and am amused by) their attempts to name an indispensable pundit, I think list helps prove my point. But I did concede that I may be wrong. So, are there any indispensable pundits?

April 26, 2005

What I (still) believe…

I’m working on an academic version of my field theory blog essay. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the entire current version. I was a bit startled by this part of the conclusion:

At the moment, I believe these three points to be true (i.e. statements that have an understanding-based fit to the world):

1- Journalism is the most important discoursive practice in our culture.
2- As such, it is crucially important that journalists understand the power of their craft and the structure of their profession beyond mere grammatical competence and simplistic notions of “objectivity.”
3- Civic journalism is not a fad; it is the leading edge of a new rhetorical paradigm and, thus, a new noetic field for us all.

Number 1 I still believe. Journalism is the most important discoursive practice in our culture. What I didn’t say when I wrote the original essay (because I wasn’t thinking that far ahead) is that this includes all forms of journalism no matter who practices it and no matter what the venue. So I’m also talking about new professional forms such as stand alone journalism and citizen forms such as blogging and open-source webs. While I’ll continue to make this claim in the new essay, I’ll prefer “central cultural practice.” The reason for this: I prefer to avoid certain academic battles until after I’ve made my point (similar to the point of the original blog essay).

Number 2 still seems solid to me.

Number 3 is no longer appropriate because citizen journalism and stand alone journalism have intruded on the old civic model. At the moment, I would assert that the civic model no longer makes sense in the absence of citizen participation in the production and critique of news as part of the dialog civic journalism privileges. Another way to put this: Citizen journalism will finally make civic journalism possible on more than an experimental basis at a handful of news organizations. So I still believe it is the leading edge of a new rhetorical paradigm (conversation versus lecture) and, thus, a new noetic field for us all.

April 25, 2005

Turn me ______…

This is turn-off-the-boob-tube week. Kid Rhetorica is bringing home a contract today from school that we’re all sign if our family chooses to participate.

Long-time Rhetorica readers know that I have a dim view of television as a medium for news. As entertainment, I can take it or leave it depending upon the quality of the shows that year. This year I’m not finding much of interest. The only shows I watch regularly are News Night With Aaron Brown and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

I think a good case can be made that TV is a difficult medium in which to practice journalism. Except for scratching the itch of immediacy, I think any citizen is better off reading the news rather than watching the news. I have no problem with TV as entertainment.

But could TV entertainment be making us smarter instead of dumber as the turn-off crusade would have us believe? Steven Johnson’s article in The New York Times Magazine claims that the public appetite for complex dramas has created a demand for a cognitively rich entertainment environment. So we must be getting smarter. Hmmmmmm…

The theory is interesting as far as it goes. And I have no doubt that more complex plots and ambiguous/witty word play do make the audience think more in order to enjoy these complex dramas. But TV cannot escape its biggest drawbacks to any claim of educational value: TV lacks interactivity, and it moves relentlessly forward without pause for reflection.

Complex dramas may encourage us to think more, but they cannot encourage us to think in more complex ways. We’re still just sitting there watching. No action is ever required of us. The only action possible is action that individual viewers may initiate for themselves, e.g. a discussion following a drama. I wonder how many such “water cooler” discussions involve, say, considerations of socio-political commentary rather than gossip regarding the characters as if they were real people.

Not that such entertainment and gossip is bad. It’s not. It’s entertainment. But is it making us smarter? I have my doubts.

Gimme that contract. I’ll sign.

April 22, 2005

Change, it be a comin’…

Stop what you’re doing, and go read The Mood of the Newsroom on Tim Porter’s First Draft.

I’m trying not to produce more nostalgic journalists in my own teaching. Part of what that means is teaching them the history of journalism with an emphasis on change. I teach to the fact that we are all part of one of the most important and sweeping moments of change that journalism has experienced since 1880. I want them to embrace change and prepare themselves to be a part of an important future in journalism.

Porter offers a list of “what-ifs” (my comments included):

What if…we exploded our newsrooms rebuilt them from scratch? (If someone gave you XXX number of journalists and $XX millions–add you own newsroom numbers–and said, here, make any type of news organization you want, would you build the same newspaper you have today?)

Perhaps we wouldn’t even build a newsroom. Perhaps what we would do is build an information infrastructure that frees individual reporters from the old industrial model with its ponderous and soul-crushing hierarchy of power and authority. We might actually be able to get them to do something nostalgic again: wear out shoe leather on the streets of their communities in search of important local stories that intra-connect and inter-connect the community to the larger world.

What if…we could cover anything we wanted? Would we go to the same meetings, call the cops as much, fill the paper with so many stories about institutions?

What if we learned to tell a different story?

What if…we stopped writing about things even journalists don’t read? Let’s be honest: Many journalists don’t read their own newspapers because they find them boring. Why continue feeding that stuff to the public?

Eliminating the boring would mean, among other things, re-thinking what news is, where it comes from, and who gets to say. Technology encourages exactly this re-thinking as citizens begin to answer these questions for themselves.

What if…every journalist believed in the Power of One? As Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow says: “You have one life, one career, you might as well shoot for the stars.” Be dogged, follow truth, think big.

What if mankind lived this way?

What if…we stopped worrying about the Web and instead embraced it by writing for it first and the paper second, but digitizing our interviews, by displaying our source material, by inviting readers to contribute, comment and confront?

Yes. The medium is the message. Print is a second-day medium. The web is print-plus. The print edition is not, then, adjunct. Instead, print is a medium of reflection and thought that adds civic substance to the participation that happens online and in the carbon-based world.

Related to all of this is Porter’s recent examination of news values.

Another good read today: A look at moonbats and wingnuts by Sisyphus.

April 22, 2005


Haven’t heard any good environmental rants lately? Then tune in to Radio Rhetorica today. Paul and I will be discussing the national energy bill, which includes an extension of daylight savings time. I’ll probably yammer about the virtues of riding a bicycle in our flat city. Sound like fun? You bet! The party begins at 1:30 CDT. Just click the “one air” button in the sidebar. Then choose audio stream #1.

April 21, 2005

Response to Rosen re: Coleman…

Jay Rosen sent e-mail yesterday afternoon calling my attention to this post (which was unnecessary, Jay, because your blog is required reading). He thought I would appreciate this passage:

They’re on opposite sides of course, but Nick Coleman really reminds me of David Horowitz. Some practices common to both: the instant demonization of others, the personalizing of all disputes (“nor do I remember you defending me….”); the masochism in saying what you intuitively know will get you ripped; the comical self-image as the baddest, bravest truthteller of them all; generating side issues (like the “unauthorized” publication of Coleman’s note) in case the main one flags; the use of politics for narcissistic self-display, and the quality of seeming “unhinged” in public debate.

And he’s right. I sent this response (with the alert that I would also be posting it here after a bit more tinkering):

The rhetorical maneuvers are similar, right and left, as Rosen points out. I believe these to be cultural choices that transcend ideology. All seven that he mentions have a common cultural source.

America is the land of individuals who hold individual opinions. The ancient Greek rhetoricians had a better understanding of opinion (because their culture had a better understanding). Opinions in the Greek understanding belong to communities not individuals. If opinions belong to the individual, then fighting for them is fighting for self. And so what Rosen identifies as personalization, masochism, etc. all become a form of heroism for one’s cause, which is no different in the American sense from one’s self.

This cultural tendency makes discussing just about anything terribly difficult because Americans tend to “take it personally.” And by taking it personally, we open the door to rhetorical tactics that isolate the opposition into salient exemplars. To make a case for de-certification of the press, then, becomes an attack on individual journalists who choose to feel attacked personally and then return personal attacks.

April 20, 2005

Academic dis(s)course…

Now this is funny 🙂

Commentary here, here, and here.

Reminds me of this.

You can read my essay here.

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