May 31, 2006

Blogging break…

You know what cat picture means, right? All kinds of interesting stuff will happen while I’m on a blogging break.

I need to take a break and spend some quality time with my family before I get down to writing and revising essays this summer.

Now is a good time because I’ve had a little medical problem occur that makes it temporarily difficult to work on the computer. I’m rather dramatically near-sighted. Combine that with middle age and you have a situation in which the vitreous shrinks and begins separating from the retina. That’s not such a big deal except that it sometimes pulls bits of tissue with it creating floaters–big feaking floaters. Two days ago I had one of those dramatic events in which a big piece of the vitreous yanked away and dragged some tissue and blood with it. Now, I have this huge floater right in the middle of my left eye. Man, this just sucks.

The doctor tells me I’ll eventually learn to ignore it. Hmmmmmmm…

The damned thing shows up easily against the glow of the computer screen. It’s annoying as hell. So I’m taking a break. I’ll be back in 10 days.

May 31, 2006


Rem Rieder says in regard to newspapers in a changing media environment: “The critical question isn’t how news is delivered. It’s what is delivered.”

Davis “Buzz” Merritt calls it “newspaper journalism”:

Given the inexorability and pace of technology, we may not need newspapers in our media mix at some point in the future–perhaps sooner than later. But we will need newspaper journalism, because democracy can thrive without newspapers, but it cannot thrive without the sort of journalism that newspapers uniquely provide.

According to Merritt, the qualities of newspaper journalism are:

  • Its content is not shaped by a limiting technology.
  • Its usefulness is based far more on completeness and clarity than immediacy.
  • Its claim on credibility is based on it length and depth, which allow readers to judge the facts behind the story’s headline and opening summary paragraph and then look for internal contradictions.
  • It has intrinsic value and relevance to people rather than merely amusing or entertaining them.
  • Opinions and analysis are labeled as such and are presented separately.

Add to this the idea Tim Porter has been promoting: a newspaper’s franchise is local journalism. Be sure to read his Quality Manifesto.

Finally, check out the entry below to begin discovering how citizen journalists can play the game, too.

BTW, change is nothing new in journalism. For a good history of the American newspaper, read Discovering the News.

May 30, 2006

Bite the big apple…

Who is a journalist? That’s a question I’m attempting to answer, along with Doug McGill and Jeremy Iggers, Minneapolis Star Tribune staff writer and Twin Cities Media
Alliance founder. Our team will participate in the Media Ethics Colloquium to be held in Minneapolis in October. The sponsor is the Journal of Mass Media Ethics. The three of us are considering the phenomenon of citizen journalism, especially as it is driven by technology (background here).

For those of us who believe journalists have First Amendment rights because “we the people” have them first, the recent Apple ruling is good news:

Writing in a 69-page ruling, Justice Conrad Rushing of the 6th District Court of Appeal underlined the legitimacy of bloggers as bona-fide news-gatherers: “In no relevant respect do they appear to differ from a reporter or editor for a traditional business-oriented periodical who solicits or otherwise comes into possession of confidential internal information about a company.”

“We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes ‘legitimate journalism,” he continued.

“The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here,” added Justice Rushing.

Legitimacy is an interesting (modifying) concept in regard to journalism. Does the concept identify a quality of protection for the public, the profession, or something in between? Is it a quality of the journalist, the institution, or something else?

Here’s what Doug and I said earlier (link above):

Boiled way down, here’s what we decided: Commercial news organizations do not get to decide who counts as a journalist; audiences get to decide who counts. So would-be journalists must create legitimacy among the publics they would serve. And we suggest three ways that may be done outside of a traditional newsroom: 1) be loyal to the audience first, 2) make the invisible visible (i.e. cover those people and topics the so-called mainstream media ignore), and 3) operate with a discipline of verification and as a custodian of facts. Do these things and you may properly call yourself a journalist.

In other words, to my way of thinking, what makes journalism legitimate is its socio-political utility for the public(s) it serves (what it does). Rushing separates journalistic practice (what we do) from legitimacy in journalism (what we are) in order, I suppose, to keep the legal focus on behavior associated with exercising First Amendment rights.

May 29, 2006

Thank you…

Memorial Day 2004

To all who serve and have served,

Thank you

May 27, 2006

Still more on Colbert…

Michael Miner considers a spiked column by Charles Madigan about the recent Colbert comedy flap:

“Satire is dangerous because it assumes an audience is smart enough to know it’s satire, first, and not so egocentric that everything said is taken seriously,” Madigan wrote. “It’s not about getting a laugh so much as it is about getting a thought that leads to a laugh. That’s hard. There was no way Colbert could play that room, particularly when he turned his wit on journalism, basically describing it as a compliant scrivener eager to bow to power. Self-importance has a hard time being satirized.”

Too bad this column didn’t run. I like where this analysis appears to be going:

1. It correctly identifies the speech-act as satire. In the revised formula of the illocutionary act, F = a combination of assertives and declaratives. (p) = an observation of a state of affairs that the object of the satire might wish left unobserved or a proposition about the socio-political quality of a state of affairs involving the object of the satire. r includes 1) the disarming power of humor (not necessarily the ha-ha kind) as described by Aristotle and 2) the tropes and schemes employed to blur the boundaries between the assertives and the declaratives.

2. It correctly characterizes the intended effect of satire on an audience (perlocutionary effect).

3. It offers what I think is one good reason why Colbert’s routine fell flat (judging by the reactions of the audience): bad kairos. But who, really, was Colbert performing for? Yes, he was being paid to entertain the warm bodies in front of him. But I think it is a reasonable interpretation of his material (no different from his material on The Colbert Report) that his audience was the same as the audience for his show–certainly not many of those sitting in that ballroom. Was that bad kairos? It may have been bad manners.

I also found this an interesting bit from Miners’:

Is the Internet ruled by a law that reaction drives out reflection? That might explain why Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House correspondents dinner was pretty much ignored by the print media: bloggers said so much so quickly that newspaper pundits asked themselves, what’s the point? Charles Madigan has a weekly column in the Tribune and intended to say his piece on May 16. But by then Colbert was ancient history, and Madigan spiked what he’d written.

I would argue that a media situation gets old once there’s nothing interesting left to say about it (which means almost nothing gets old for an academic–but that’s not necessarily a comment on the quality and contents of “interesting”). If the blogosphere ages the news quickly, then, perhaps, Madigan should be writing a blog.

And the reaction-reflection dichotomy is a canard.

May 24, 2006

Vote ‘NO’ on Southwest 2…

Rhetorica today takes a rare turn into local politics:

The Springfield News-Leader has endorsed the building of a new coal plant in Springfield. I voted against it in 2004, and I’m voting against it on 6 June.

Here are a few of the points the News-Leader makes today:

“There’s little debate over whether this city needs more power.”


“There’s little debate that coal provides the most efficient, least expensive option.”

Again, yes. But efficiency and cost are certainly not the only (or the most important) considerations, although that’s the way this issue has been played.

“There’s no debating that the modern-day coal plant is much cleaner than its predecessors.”

Certainly. And just as certainly it is still a dirty technology. “Cleaner” does not mean clean or clean in comparison to other options. We in the Ozarks have far too much invested in our streams and lakes to allow them to be fouled by coal.

“There’s no debating that there are cleaner alternatives to coal.”

Yes. And only lip service has been paid by CU to considering these–including conservation programs.

“And there’s no question that consumers appreciate CU’s low rates.”

Cheap does not equal good. If we are not willing to pay for better energy, then we will suffer the consequences.

Click here to follow the issue. The News-Leader has done a good job in providing useful information about the choices.

May 19, 2006

What is English?…

It would be amusing to ask our Senators this question: What is English?

My guess is not one of them could choke out a interesting answer that wasn’t obscured by the fog of partisan politics, the stain of culture war, or the haze of ignorance (depending upon how they interpret the question).

Another amusing question: Which English?

A common standard is implied by the Senators’ assertions that we must have a [common, unifying, official, national] language.

I’m looking forward to the coverage of the split infinitive debate on C-SPAN 🙂

Idea for re-packaging an old product: Give “The Elements of Style” (that “toxic little book of crap“) a red cover (ha! already been done!), add a bald eagle logo, and append a few patriotic documents. It would be a small thing–easy to carry around in one’s pocket for quick reference–much like another little red book.

Need to waste five more minutes? Try this:

Your Linguistic Profile::

55% General American English
20% Dixie
15% Yankee
5% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern

May 16, 2006

Rhetorica Podcast…

Another meeting of the Springfield Bloggers, including a short interview with Tony Messenger of the Springfield News-Leader (our newest member).

Rhetorica Podcast

May 16, 2006

Rhetorica update…

Hmmmmmm…not many posts in the past few days. It’s finals week. Lots of grading to do. And, as usual, lots of interesting things happen when I’m unable to blog (e.g. Tony Snow’s first gaggle and more on Colbert). I have some decompression planned for next week. So it will be two weeks before I get back to daily blogging. This won’t be an official blogging break because I will try to post a little.

Look for another Rhetorica podcast this evening. The Springfield Bloggers are meeting at 7 p.m. We’re expecting a new member: Tony Messenger, the editorial page editor for the News-Leader and the author of Ozarks Messenger.

May 10, 2006

Critical reporting…

Here’s an interesting bit from the Editor & Publisher story about a new study of inaccurate, misleading, or fabricated news:

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they suspected a source was deliberately misleading them; 31% said that they had been misled by a source; 35% learned that one of their published stories had contained false information provided by a source; and 33% had concerns about a source that caused them to review a story with their newspapers’ legal counsel.

The study was conducted at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The URL (not a link!) provided in the story wasn’t working this morning. I’ll link to the study as soon as I’m able.

Sources, anonymous and otherwise, have certainly been known to hose reporters by giving them false or misleading information. But reporters play a role in their own hosing if they fail to practice a discipline of verification.

Among the skills in this discipline is something I call critical reporting–a set of critical questions (a mindset, really) that can help reporters sort fact from fiction. Click here to see a PowerPoint presentation of this method. It’s a work in progress, so let me know if you have ideas for improving it.

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