January 31, 2006

When worlds collide…

Henry at Crooked Timber understands that a big part of the difference between journalists and bloggers has to do with issues of language use: a journalistic rhetoric of authority and finality versus a blogospheric rhetoric of contingency and conversation.

The rhetoric and epistemology of journalism, springing from objectivist foundations, cannot admit to errors of a fundamental sort without also admitting that the entire enterprise (and its product) is open to debate. Journalism attempts to arrive at something like the truth (re: correspondence theory) and then relay that truth in language allows an audience to perceive truth correctly (reality as it is).

The blogosphere represents a space in which the truth is up for grabs. Journalism represents a space in which the truth is discovered and then set in words as if in stone.

That’s a stark difference that I do not think accurately represents how many individual journalists feel (think) about reality and truth. But they work in an industrial system with old epistemological and rhetorical tools trying to grind out a news product that comes to feel out of touch to a growing legion of citizens who are coming to expect to talk back–to critique the industrial product and have that critique taken seriously.

January 31, 2006

Needs a big one tonight…

Unlike the pundits and other bloviators, Rhetorica will not offer a snap judgement of the President’s State of the Union address. You may have to wait a day or two.

Until then, you can catch up on the SOTUs at The American Presidency Project. One interesting note: The Constitution does not mandate an address delivered in person. The message to Congress was delivered as a written report for much of presidential history. But the SOTU has become a crucial event in presidential theater–a rhetorical performance that has us eggheads itching with anticipation.

Something to watch for: It is typical for later SOTUs to become elegiac in tone–especially so after the mid-term election of a second term. But I seriously doubt we’ll hear anything like this tonight.

For the most part, I think Bush has done a good job in his SOTUs. I expect another solid performance. Here’s the “but”: The pressure is on like never before because of his sagging poll numbers and a looming mid-term election.

January 30, 2006

Talk on the street…

Street Talk is coming! Look for it on Mediacom channel 14 this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. CST. Ron Davis will host the show. For more information, read what Doc Larry has to say. The first guests will be Vincent David Jericho, morning-drive host on KSGF, and Joe Hadsall, editor of the Nixa News-Enterprise. For those of you who live elsewhere, the show will have a blog and a podcast. I’ll post that information as soon as I get it.

January 30, 2006

Still amusing ourselves…

I assigned Amusing Ourselves to Death and Building a Bridge to the 18th Century in my English classes at Park University. After reading the new introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of Amusing Ourselves to Death, written by Neil Postman’s son and posted on PressThink, I’m wondering if I need to have my journalism students at Missouri State read them.

Well, I mean, there’s really nothing to wonder about except how to integrate them into the curriculum. That’s no big trick. The benefits to the students outweigh the burdens of extra reading. Plus, they might then be able to recognize cogent media analysis when they hear it, e.g.:

When Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, goes on CNN’s Crossfire to make this very point–that serious news and show business ought to be distinguishable, for the sake of public discourse and the republic–the hosts seem incapable even of understanding the words coming out of his mouth.

January 26, 2006

A light blub flickers on…

Mark Patinkin has discovered the dark side of the narrative bias. Good for him. But what I find exasperating about his discovery is that it should come so late in a career (Or is this just more writerly drama?). It just points up for me how inadequate is the knowledge of far too many journalists regarding the powerful weapon they wield–language (and the epistemology of the profession’s rhetorical choices).

January 25, 2006

Horn tooting…

Check out the new crop of student j-bloggers at Bang It Out! Plus, new student media ethics bloggers will be posting by Friday at The Golden Mean.

Also, to toot my own horn just a bit more (because one who doesn’t toot own horn doesn’t get horn tooted), check out my essay in the new edition of The Forum.

January 24, 2006

Noise in the system…

Tune in to Radio Rhetorica today at 4:00 p.m. CST on The Growl. Just click the “on air” button in the sidebar.

January 20, 2006


Here’s something on the importance of being a custodian of facts and of practicing a discipline of verification. Two interesting moments among many stand out for me:

Ironically, old-media pundits have been complaining for years that blogs and wikis and such, lacking editorial oversight, are not factually reliable. This was never true, in my experience — bloggers who know their areas are more reliable, on average, than journalists are. But what seems to be happening now is that Tech Review is aiming for the immediacy of blogging and other new media, in a way that really does degrade factual reliability rather than improving it.

These are small points, which I wouldn’t care much about if I didn’t have a personal connection to the work. I mean, 1992, 2005, what’s 13 years in the grand tapestry of human history? In some ways, Greene’s story is a step up from the July 2003 NYT story on an earlier DARPA MT evaluation — which didn’t mention DARPA at all, or the LDC for that matter, though it did track statistical MT back to 1999 or so. And I’m impressed that Tech Review allows comments on its online articles, so that readers can offer corrections.

However, it bothers me to think that when I read an article in Tech Review, I have to allow for the possibility that its “facts” are plainly and simply false, in ways that anyone can discover in a few seconds of research on the web. I don’t have the time to check all the facts in every article that I read, so I like to think that in a reputable and well-edited publication like Tech Review, someone will have done that for me, at least to a first order.


January 20, 2006

Small victory for the ignorant…

There’s no getting around a few simple facts of the discourse of internet comments:

1. There are many wingnuts, ding-dongs, bumpkins, and yahoos out there just itching to scorch a good discussion with their flamethrowers.

2. It takes time to build an online community.

The yahoos have won the day at the Washington Post.

I completely understand the Post’s position. I’m sympathetic. Here’s the “but”: Would the Post, or any other credible news organization, give up on its letters to the editor because they get a bunch of unpublishable crap? Do they not spend a significant amount of time reading and rejecting letters?

(I’m proud of my local paper. The editorial page editor, Robert Leger, is unafraid to publish the wingnuts. The News-Leader offers several online comment sections. And, obviously, the Ozark’s ding-dongs show up to spit and cuss. I hope the editors tough it out until a community forms.)

It seems to me there must be a technological patch for this problem. That’s waaaaay out of my area of expertise. This, however, isn’t: The technology exists to allow the public to interact with the media. The public is coming to expect an instant connection (i.e. a conversation between equals) with the media. The people are rapidly becoming content providers and expect to be content providers.

This ain’t goin’ away.

January 19, 2006

The Plame problem…

Timothy M. Phelps asks: “But as a result of this case and others in the pipeline, the question now is, Can we honestly promise our sources anything?” His essay also raises some uncomfortable questions about bias.

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