February 6, 2013

How to Talk About Journalism

Jay Rosen offers an interesting post on Press Think that is kinda sorta like a prose poem that attempts to create stasis between newsroom traditionalists and the promoters of the brave new world of journalism in the internet age. We can see in this an emerging rhetoric of the new new new journalism.

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January 17, 2013

Linking And Verification

I’ll never stop harping on the discipline of verification — the essential practice of anything we would hope to call journalism.

And, once again, we see what happens when journalists fail to do the most essential and basic thing the practice of journalism demands.

Steve Buttry has much to say, and cogent advice, about the role of linking in verification.

As I tell my multimedia journalism students: “Always be linking.” I’ll also be assigning them to read everything about this current mess (including my media ethics students).

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January 15, 2013

Crisis Actors in the Twilight Zone

In a post-fact world, all you have to do to stir up the rubes is suggest conspiracy. The conspiracy doesn’t have to make any sense at all; it simply needs to conform to ideology. It now appears that the rhetoric of conspiracy today demands a high level of pathetic outrageousness to get attention.

Take the whole “crisis actor” thing as an example. Gene Rosen is caught up in this now because many anti-government gun nuts so want the Sandy Hook massacre to be something other than what it actually is that they are willing to point fingers at parents and other residents. The claim: they are actors working for the government.

You can scratch your head until it bleeds. There’s no making any sense of that.

Here’s what would happen if the government actually tried to use actors to deal with the press: Even in the current sorry state of American reporting (stenography, actually), the press would find out and have a gleefully good time pointing it out after much huffing and puffing about being hoodwinked.

But, obviously, to the anti-government gun nuts, the press is a liberal tool of our socialist president. Nothing — not even a list of biases worse than partisan bias – will change fevered minds.

Crisis actors do exist, but they are far more likely to be employed by public relations firms than government. The case of Nayirah — a person acting as a young nurse giving testimony to the non-governmental Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990 — provides an excellent example.

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December 19, 2012

Rhetorica Update

I’ll be busy with other things over the holidays — the kinds of things we ought to be busy with — so I won’t be posting on the rhetoric of our failing culture until the new semester begins. But I’m sure the recent shootings in Connecticut will play a large role in my first post of the new year.

I hope your holiday season is joyous and unmarred by violence and stupidity.

Good luck with that.

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November 13, 2012

The Whole Content Thing

I’ve written many times on Rhetorica about the differences between stenography and reporting. The essential difference is that stenography (the thing reporters do too often) is the mere passing along of statements made by others, and reporting is the digging into the issues of civic importance to discover the information people need to be free and self-governing.

In a recent blog post about the questionable future of journalism, Robert G. Picard describes the usual stenography:

Most journalists spend the majority of their time reporting what a mayor said in a prepared statement, writing stories about how parents can save money for university tuition, covering the release of the latest versions of popular electronic devices, or finding out if a sports figure’s injury will affect performance in the next match.

Most cover news in a fairly formulaic way, reformatting information released by others: the agenda for the next town council meeting, the half dozen most interesting items from the daily police reports, what performances will take place this weekend, and the quarterly financial results of a local employer. These standard stories are merely aggregations of information supplied by others.

Almost any of my students — people between 18 and 24 years old — can spot the problem immediately. And I’m not talking stenography (although that’s a problem). The problem here is that the kind of information gathered by stenography is, today, easily gathered and disseminated by almost anyone with a bit of gumption and an internet connection.

What Picard suggests — and it’s important — is really just a new way of understanding the traditional job of journalism we call reporting:

To survive, news organizations need to move away from information that is readily available elsewhere; they need to use journalists’ time to seek out the kinds of information less available and to spend time writing stories that put events into context, explain how and why they happened, and prepare the public for future developments.  These value-added journalism approaches are critical to the economic future of news organizations and journalists themselves.

Unfortunately, many journalists do not evidence the skills, critical analytical capacity, or inclination to carry out value-added journalism. News organizations have to start asking themselves whether it is because are hiring the wrong journalists or whether their company practices are inhibiting journalists’ abilities to do so.

Value-added journalism. That should be redundant, but it isn’t because he’s right.

Our culture can no longer afford the luxury of news organizations paying journalists to pass along their stenography. Our culture needs good journalism; it needs good reporting. So by all means let’s be redundant: We need value-added journalism.

(Note: Critical journalism? Where have you heard that before?)

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November 5, 2012

Re-elect Obama

This is a Rhetorica first — my endorsement of a presidential candidate.

With the new focus of this blog on the rhetoric of a failing culture, I no longer feel the need to avoid dealing openly (although I have always been transparent) with my political desires. I still intend to adhere to the promises I’ve made in my blogging policy. You’ll get the best analysis I am able to muster, but I no longer feel the need to act as if it doesn’t matter to me what the political outcomes are.

I am writing about doom, but I am also fighting it.

I am not necessarily happy about voting for President Obama. I am a liberal. He is not — clearly not. I wanted Guantanamo Bay closed. I wanted a credible, single-payer health care system. I wanted Wall Street held accountable for its behavior. I wanted the rich among us — including my family — to pay more taxes. I wanted out of these two disastrous wars. I wanted real movement on the environment, sustainability, and climate change.

Mitt Romney is not a choice. A credible Green Party candidate might be. But given the realities of this election cycle, I’ll cast a vote for President Obama and then hope that, given the freedom of a lame-duck term, he’ll wake up and do the hopey-changey thing.

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October 24, 2012

Call His Bluff

The President could have some fun with this. So I think he ought to do it — not because Trump has any ground to stand on, but because it would be funny to watch Trump try to wiggle out of giving $5 million to charity :-)

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October 8, 2012

How Things Work

Aristotle pointed it out oh so many years ago: Humans are moved by emotion more than logic or facts. So using pathos as your primary appeal is an entirely legitimate rhetorical strategy. But pathos does not give one ethical permission to take a Machiavellian route to one’s political ends. For example:

Leading the charge of what were quickly dubbed the “B.L.S. truthers” was none other than Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, who posted an assertion on Twitter that the books had been cooked to help President Obama’s re-election campaign. His claim was quickly picked up by right-wing pundits and media personalities.

It was nonsense, of course. Job numbers are prepared by professional civil servants, at an agency that currently hasno political appointees. But then maybe Mr. Welch — under whose leadership G.E. reported remarkably smooth earnings growth, with none of the short-term fluctuations you might have expected (fluctuations that reappeared under his successor) — doesn’t know how hard it would be to cook the jobs data.

Pointing out that this is nonsense is, of course, a form of nonsense in itself given human nature cited above. But it’s a form of nonsense I’ve engaged in myself and will continue to engage in until the end of civilization — sometime around 2020 I think.

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October 2, 2012

Feeling A Bit Gay?

After reading this item in HuffPo and this news article, I thought it possible that the press was getting scammed (similar to the blonds-going-extinct joke that suckered the press in 2002). But I did a (very) little checking with Google and Whois and discovered Children of Mary may be a real, if a bit obscure, organization. So here’s the video:

Call this the rhetoric of nonsense made possible by the ease of amateur video production and publication. And if you’re just crazy enough, well, you’ll get a bit of attention in the press because novelty is a news value — especially in its online iteration.

I feel no need to point out why this is nonsense.

Oh, and if it turns out to be a joke, then … bravo! :-)

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September 14, 2012

Rhetoric of the Post-Fact World

This will be a short post because there’s really not much to analyze. In a post-fact world, argument can be as simple as crossing your arms and refusing to budge after making a post-fact claim. One can also stick one’s fingers in one’s ears and screech “I don’t hear you” a dozen times, but that doesn’t play well on TV.

So, yeah, there’s just not enough evidence of President Obama’s natural-born-citizeniness to suit three “top elected Republicans” in Kansas:

The State Objections Board comprised of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer postponed until Monday action on a complaint filed by a Manhattan resident pending review of a copy of Obama’s birth certificate from Hawaii.

“I don’t think it’s a frivolous objection,” Kobach said. “I do think the factual record could be supplemented.”

Requests were to be sent to officials in Hawaii, Arizona and Mississippi in an attempt to secure copies of the president’s birth records. Obama released a copy of his birth certificate last year, but detractors persist in advancing “birther” arguments that the Democrat lacked standing.

In a culture in which facts have meaning as facts, because, well, they’re facts, this kind of nonsense would be hooted off the civic stage by the people and the press.

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