October 31, 2006

Parsing political parlance proves politicos’ positions

Greg Connors, of The Buffalo News, features Rhetorica in a quick round-up of rhetoric and linguistics blogs that cover language issues in media and politics.

October 28, 2006

Live, election-night blogging

The first regular November meeting of the Springfield Bloggers falls on election night (we meet first and third Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m.). So here’s the plan: A live blogging event from the Patton Alley Pub. Members should bring their laptops and plan on settling in for a night of mass blogging about local, state, and national politics (or any other topic that springs to mind). Don’t have a laptop? We’ll share. Not a blogger? Not a problem. You can watch. Or we can teach you how to blog. Whatever you want.

October 24, 2006

Who won? Who knows?

Dante Chinni says journalists should tell readers/viewers who wins political debates as part of regular news coverage. But he offers no criteria for what constitutes winning and losing a political debate beyond reporting the “indication of the general feeling in the auditorium.”


I think his idea is solid–sometimes there are clear winners and losers, and that should be reported. But I know what I mean by that.

Knowing what I mean by that is not, however, all that’s necessary. I also have to be able state clear criteria based on reasonable critical techniques and recognized definitions of key terms so that my results may be reproduced by other observers. In other words, who wins or loses should not be mere political interpretation.

And it should not merely be a poll of the audience. That’s a whole ‘nother story. 

October 21, 2006

What should journalism try next?

Here’s an interesting bit of on-the-fly analysis about the the CNN website. Like the writer of this post on the Daily KOS, I also have a soft spot for CNN that has more to do with its revolutionary past than its fluffy, ordinary present.

News on cable TV is about fluff and (mindless) contention. There’s no changing it. Pointing out how bad it is is merely an exercise in frustration (although I keep doing it). The badness and dumbness, however, provide an endless supply of material for The Daily Show.

Newspapers have, for the most part, followed USA Today down a similar rat hole. And every year the circulation figures get worse and worse. And every year American journalism tries the same ol’ same ol’ to win new readers and keep old ones–fluff and (mindless) contention.

Here’s a radical idea, a stupid idea, and idea so far out in the ozone as to be thoroughly without merit: Try taking citizens seriously; try treating them as citizens rather than consumers.

It’s the one thing American journalism has yet to try in recent history. Shortening stories didn’t work. More graphics didn’t work. Putting fluff above the flag didn’t work. Targeting free publications to young people didn’t work. Shrinking the news hole didn’t work. Cutting editorial staff didn’t work. Cutting foreign news didn’t work. Running wire fluff didn’t work. Ignoring the poor and working class in favor of the middle class didn’t work. Partnering with the advertising department didn’t work. Speciality publications aimed at the rich didn’t work. Re-design after re-design after re-design didn’t work.

What has worked in the few markets that have tried it: Serious local reporting. (I suspect that interactivity using the web may also work, but that’s a long way off.)

Let’s get serious. It’s the one thing American journalism hasn’t tried in a very long time.

Next week, I’ll discuss details.

October 20, 2006

What it takes to be a big-time pundit

I wrote a semi-serious list of eight rules for modern American TV and radio pundits in June 2003. Jeffrey Zaslow, of the Wall Street Journal, found it a couple of weeks ago and gave me a call to discuss the matter in all seriousness. The results appear in today’s paper.

The article is about minor-league pundits trying to break into the big leagues. While Zaslow doesn’t mention my list of rules specifically, I find it very amusing that what he discovered reporting this article fits my list.

October 18, 2006

A thought as election day nears

Of what value is civil, reasoned civic discourse?

Before answering that question, I have another: How would we know it; what differentiates it from the discourse we now have?

I not not going to attempt an answer to either of those questions yet. Perhaps answers will emerge as we get closer to election day. But I’ve been thinking today about the Ancient Greeks and their democracy. Male citizens could participate in the legislature and the law courts (for a brief history of Greek democracy and the role of rhetoric, click here). They came to understand their democracy as a public trust and participation as a civic duty. But those two things did not always translate into something like civil, reasoned civic discourse. The Greeks were very contentious people. And despite their understanding of rhetoric as a skill of political science (and their intense desire to learn it), they were quite capable of speaking in civic ways that were less than helpful to the polity.

Related to what I’ve been thinking about today is this: The Greeks had a more useful understanding of opinion. We tend to think of opinion as a personal possession. But the Greeks largely considered opinion a community possession. In other words, no opinion a citizen could hold was merely personal; it was created and informed by the citizen’s socio-political situation.

Okay, so what am I getting at? It seems to me at least two things are working against our culture’s ability to deal with the electronically mediated democratic process. We are still operating with the values of Enlightenment Liberalism (not a bad thing, IMO), but we have perhaps lost the ability detect bullshit, spin, fallacies, and propaganda–caught up as we are in the pathos of politics as it appears on television. Or, perhaps, we’re (citizens, the press?) not so willing to point them out in those terms. Whatever the case (and I’m sure I don’t have this nailed down), unlike the Greeks, we have a civic discourse–experienced largely through electronic media–that arises from bullshit, spin, fallacies, and propaganda offered largely without challenge. The contentious Greeks at least valued the political ability to speak well even if they sometimes failed to achieve it. We seem incapable of even desiring it beyond vague notions that something is broken.

In something like the public sphere that I imagine (an idealistic stretch to be sure), it should be impossible, for example, to utter the phrase “cut and run” (applied to a wide range of ideas from the loyal opposition–including some that do fit that label) without being hounded or laughed off the public stage (I could give you liberal examples, but I’m not in the mood).

October 18, 2006

Rhetorica Podcast: 2006 Whalen Symposium

This podcast is a recording of the entire 2006 Whalen Symposium on Media Ethics held on 17 October at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Rhetorica Podcast

October 17, 2006

Rhetorica joins The Spotlight Project

I’m pleased to announce a new feature on Rhetorica. It’s called The Spotlight Project–a way to e-mail individual posts to specific journalists and news media organizations with your own commentary.

At the bottom of each post you’ll see a “Spotlight” link next to the permalink and comment links. Clicking it takes you to The Spotlight Project, which offers you a list of contact information and allows you to forward the post of your choice to specific journalists. I am very proud of the readers who frequent this site. According to our correspondence and my server logs, you are an elite and politically diverse group of students, academics, journalists, and just plain smart people of all kinds. So I really don’t need to caution you about how such a system could be abused. That said, here’s the “but” for the minority of my readers who might not understand:

  • Please be polite and reasonable.
  • Abusing the system could lessen its effectiveness or neutralize it completely.
  • Praise is just as important as informed criticism.
  • If you have any problems, please report them here.

This is an exciting new feature with a lot of promise. I’m sure others in the blogosphere will be watching to see how it goes on its initial test launch here and at other sites. Please take it for a spin, and let me know your impressions in the comments. (This post was adapted from the model posted at firedoglake).

[A note on ideology: I’m participating in this project because I like the idea of making it easier for readers to contact the media and spotlight those issues and conversations springing from the blogosphere that journalists ought to be aware of.]

October 17, 2006

Springfield Bloggers meet tonight

Stop by the meeting tonight–7:00 p.m. at the Patton Alley Pub. I’m out of town, so you’ll have a to carry on (in every sense of that term) without me 🙂

October 16, 2006

Rhetorica Podcast

A short interview with Doug McGill about the Buddhist concept of “right speech” as it might apply in journalism.

Rhetorica Podcast

← Previous Posts