November 30, 2005

Yes, it’s flawed…

Check this out on PublicEye:

Does that mean the old model for success and competence in journalism–go to a small newspaper, learn the basics, and start climbing up the food chain, hopefully encountering a few crusty, knowledgeable editors along the way–is in some sense flawed? After all, the values of the small town media outlet, which sees itself as part of the community it serves, don’t much square with the impulses of the ambitious green reporter who wants more than anything to afflict the comfortable.

Flawed? You bet!

Also flawed is the stereotypical attitude assigned to new reporters: the desire to afflict the comfortable. Stereotypes often have antecedents based squarely in reality. We who entered this profession following Watergate understand this blatantly political attitude all too well.

But it seems to me the attitude is no longer political (and that’s not to say it is without political effects and/or consequences). Today’s student seems to me to be far more economically oriented. Any desire to “afflict the comfortable” seems to me to be driven by the desire to get a top job in journalism–a position of money and power for the very good or the very lucky.

A fact remains: Most journalism is practiced at local media. And if the local journalists’ heads are not in the local game, then local citizens are the big losers (And the news organizations too! Dreamy-eyed, disengaged journalists are costing publishers money by producing a disengaged product.). That sad situation flouts the ethics of journalism.

We who teach journalism ought to fight the arrogance before it takes root. It begins taking root in our classes when we engage in hero worship–holding up the famous as models of journalistic practice when they represent, in fact, a minority in the practice.

November 30, 2005

Always more to say…

Time is running out! Just tune in to Radio Rhetorica at 9:00 a.m CST. Only two shows left before the end of the semester. Click the “on air” button in the sidebar.

In other Rhetorica news: Things get busy as a semester winds down (or, in some cases, revs up), so blogging will continue to be slow until 12 December. First order of business will be taking care of promises to readers (you know who you are).

November 25, 2005

Profits on the slip!…

Horrors! The Knight Ridder profit margin was only 19.4 percent last year! Gadzooks! Fire some reporters–fast!

Or, how about this instead:

Instead of cutting back at such a crucial time, newspapers need to be investing in their future. As Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism (which, like CJR Daily, is affiliated with the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism) argues, “There is tons of academic research, most of which publishers do not know…that reveals clearly that if you are willing to invest in improving your product by pouring more money in the newsroom and sacrificing profit for a year or two, that over the course of six or seven years, you can not only increase circulation, but you can also increase profit, and also how much you are able to charge for your advertising. The problem is you have to be willing to make that investment and sacrifice your profits initially.”

[wait for it]


November 21, 2005

Hear me, oh center…

“I think it’s a healthy thing in a democracy to have people disagreeing, but if you’re screaming or demonizing, then the very people you want to reach–which is those who don’t agree with you–can’t hear you.” — Bill Clinton

My first thought: Who hears this quote? Certainly not the extreme elements of the left or right. Those folks are too busy trying to win (by keeping the faithful in a frenzy) to worry about who hears them. [Note: “Extreme” in this case encompasses a rather large group of Republicans and Democrats because of the anti-intellectual and knee-jerk nature of what sould be normal, contentious political discourse.]

Clinton is not scolding the right or left because they can’t hear the reasonable or the pragmatic, i.e. the center–that (rhetorical) space in which problems get solved rather than politics get won.

November 17, 2005

Well, umm, like, uhhhh,..

Does the President have something in common with Richard III? I once wrote an essay in which I compared a form of disfluency in President Clinton with a loss of rhetorical power in Richard, i.e. one’s rhetorical abilities degrade as one becomes ever more morally challenged.

I never used the term “diffluent” (because it’s not really a good fit with rhetorical facility). Here’s how I put it in “Now is the Winter of Our Discomfiture Made an Odious Bummer by This Son of Hope”:

But more, Richard III demonstrates that Shakespeare has captured one of the essences of political power (rhetorical skill) and shown its tragic downfall (moral failure). What Shakespeare shows happening to Richard happened to President Bill Clinton.

What makes Richard such a compelling character, indeed a compelling monster, McDonald claims, is his verbal skill. He is a virtuoso at using words as weapons to defeat enemies and lovers alike. A large measure of our enjoyment of this play, I believe, comes directly from Richard’s verbal skill, his rhetorical power. McDonald would agree. Several scenes early in the play illustrate McDonald’s claim, including: Richard’s “wooing” of Lady Anne and Richard’s disputes with Rivers and Queen Margaret in act one. The scene with Lady Anne sets the early tone of the play and demonstrates Richard’s skill against a worthy opponent.

As Richard’s deeds become ever more ghastly–the murders of his nephews following the murders of his brothers–his verbal skills begin to fade as if his deeds, his moral failings, undercut his rhetoric. McDonald points out that “failing verbal skills mark Richard’s fall” (473).

And, like the argument about the meaning of “is,” Clinton appears like a feeble Richard. Even in his downfall, Shakespeare allows Richard at least some rhetorical dignity. He is never reduced to such quibbling as Clinton displays. Still further, since the release of the deposition video tapes (on sale for $19.95 from MSNBC!), the term “Clintonesque” has surfaced internationally as a trope for one who attempts to use crass double talk in politics.

Richard III is a play about (a) character. As McDonald claims, it is “not too much to say that discourse itself, especially in its relation to power politics, is one of the players’, and the play’s, main subjects” (466). But further, it is a play about the “triumph of virtue over virtuosity.” The end, however, “remains theatrically problematic exactly because of this triumph because we must relinquish brilliant words for proper politics. In this play, at least, Shakespeare is “more interested in language than he is in history” (McDonald 479). And it is exactly in this interest in language, in the rhetoric of power, that modern audiences find political relevance. As long as a few men lead and most men follow, how leaders speak, what they say, how they say it, will be crucially important, and sometimes even entertaining, to the body politic.

Methinks it’s time to update this essay 🙂

November 17, 2005

Windfall profits, how sad…

Profits are healthy (i.e. obscene compared to other industries), but newsroom cuts still need to be made apparently.

Let’s see. We need to keep 20+ percent margins–so let’s cut the people who produce what it is readers want!

Yep–makes perfect sense to me.

November 16, 2005

We talk TV ‘n stuff…

Another way cool evening with the Springfield Bloggers.

Rhetorica Podcast

November 16, 2005

Can’t shut up…

For your listening pleasure today:

1. Radio Rhetorica at 9:00 a.m. CST. Just click the “on air” button in the sidebar.

2. Springfield Bloggers meeting at 7:00 p.m. Podcast by 9:00 p.m.

November 11, 2005

A new journalist-blogger…

Mike Brothers, of the Springfield News-Leader, may start a weblog. Mike, Paul Katona (my Radio Rhetorica co-host), and I have a conversation about it at the Springfield Bloggers meetin’ place–the Patton Alley Pub.

Rhetorica Podcast

November 11, 2005

Them no ‘counts…

Charles Cooper wonders about the effects of blogs on newspapers:

But there’s a shift under way in which authority is being transferred to authors with no accountability other than to themselves and their readership. Does it matter? Should it matter? The mainstream media can look down its nose at the blogosphere, but the numbers tell a different story. More people than ever are reading blogs because of shared affinities and it’s coming at the expense of print newspapers.

I’m wondering about journalistic sentiments such as: “authors with no accountability” and “because of shared affinities.” This seems a bit too simplistic. 1) It forgets history, i.e. the vaunted place in journalism history of pamphleteers writing during the revolutionary period. One could make similar claims about Franklin and Paine (but no journalist ever does). 2) It doesn’t reflect experience. Many of Rhetorica’s readers, for example, disagree with me politically (and academically). Yet they keep reading and commenting. Why? Because they, and the ones with “shared affinities,” apparently are able to use their independent judgment to discover something of value here. I’ll bet my experience is not unique.

To make these canards more than simple gasps of journalistic arrogance, I suggest that what we need is a dose discipline common to all who practice journalism for a paycheck. Combine that discipline with an enlightened view of news competition, glocalism, and the rhetoric of conversation and you just might have the formula to “save” newspapers (delivered by any means).

Cooper is right: The wake-up call has arrived. [Actually, the alarm clock has been going off for too long. Someone, please, smack that thing and wake up.]

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