Monthly Archives: November 2010

Spying is a social good

China spies on the U.S., Russia, France. There are genuine concerns about those powers exfiltrating data. And it’s possibly ethical to combat that process. But spying is also stabilizing to relationships. Your fears about where a country is or is not are always worse than the reality. If you only have a black box, you can put all your fears into it, particularly opportunists in government or private industry who want to address a problem that may not exist. If you know what a government is doing, that can reduce tensions.

One of the many interesting parts in the long interview with Julian Assange. As per usual, I recommend reading all of it.

It’s cold and lonely on the digital side


Image via Obsessable


I’ve been at the new job since November 8 and while I’m absolutely thrilled to have found an editorial gig in this environment, something is already gnawing at the edges. The problem isn’t really a problem per se. It’s just that I’m on the digital side of a print publication and for the first time in my nascent career, I slightly mind not writing for print.

I’ve seen my byline in print before so I know what it feels like. I’ve also greatly enjoyed writing for an online audience. But as a friend who works for a digital-only publication said, a Google Alert isn’t quite as thrilling as a print byline. I ruefully agreed.

As I type these words, I can hardly believe I feel this way. If you know me even a little bit, you know that I’m a huge proponent of digital. I think about print vs. digital media constantly. I can’t even begin to link to all the things I’ve written about this here. Go to the little search box all the way down on the page and search for keywords like “online” “news” “digital” “print” and “media.” You’ll find a lot there. 

And yet… print still feels weightier, more substantial, more meaningful. I don’t want it to feel that way, but it stubbornly does.

I could see another friend nodding along to my complaints when we chatted about this online. She too works on the digital side of a print publication and she is also responsible for their social media efforts. “Sometimes I feel left out of what’s going on,” she said. “And I feel overwhelmed.” Sure, these are the feelings of one person, but I think it means something that it’s precisely how I feel. It’s not approximately how I feel. It’s 100% exact.

Why is this so?

A full year ago, I was already starting to sense this problem and some of the reasons. Print makes more money than the online product and that’s literally and figuratively the bottom line. As long as this continues to be true, print will feel more important and be treated as such within an organization and outside of it. But print revenues are dropping, even for the New York Times. And an exaltation of digital still seems to come at the expense of print, even for the New York Times. I know that there are people looking to the future and working to change the way things are done, but it still seems agonizingly slow. As David Carr recently wrote:

The reason that newspapers put all the white paper out on the street is that we get a lot of green paper back in return.

Don’t misunderstand me by the way. I’m extremely happy at my job. I have autonomy, the full support of my superiors and great co-workers. There are many challenges and I am eager to meet them. There is room for tremendous growth and I look forward to being an integral part of it. This feeling, this slight discomfort is technically no one’s fault. It’s Just The Way Things Are.

Still, I’m trying hard to understand why I have these feelings. Part of it has to do with this. The digital realm is indeed a great equalizer. No one cares if you’re a full-time, paid employee or a lone blogger. What matters is the content. I used to revel in this when I was a blogger and beholden to no one. Now that I’m the former (a full-time staffer), the view is a bit different. I still love that the Internet is very anarchic and wary of authority by its very nature. But I’m suddenly very aware that in that environment it’s a bit more fun (though not as lucrative) to be on the outside. It’s easier to push for change outside of the system than within it. That, I believe, is an iron-clad rule that is true in politics, media and many other areas of human endeavor. 

I’ll tell you what would be really nice. It would be nice if publications were digital-first, whether or not they issued a print product. Right now, we still seem to be farther from that than we should be and I’m far from the only one who’s deeply frustrated. To the detriment of both print and online, the two are still seen as separate products. Organizations seem to lack the workflows and even the vocabulary to make the change to digital-first.

If I’m wrong and someone is doing this really well, please clue me in. The only thing that ever comes to mind for me is The Atlantic. I’m a print subscriber so I see both the print and digital product and I have to say that both are wonderful. One doesn’t infringe on the other and the quality of the work is excellent in both mediums. Still, I don’t necessarily see a linkage between the two. If I saw the website only, would I know that it’s also a print magazine? If I saw only the print edition, would I know they have a website as well? I can tell you that for at least a full year, the answer to the first question for me was no. I had been enjoying the website for quite a while without knowing that this was actually a print magazine. 

Perhaps it’s not surprising that many journalists and writers of the techie persuasion are going to work for, well, tech start-ups or starting their own media companies or news websites. As Dave Winer (one of my favorite people writing online) noted

If you’ve created too complex a world, the next generation will just create a new one that’s simpler. One that they understand and you don’t.

The “complex world” is the current media landscape and the new one that’s being created is all too often not inside established news organizations.


What should I tell aspiring journalists?


Image via

I’m speaking to a UIC (my alma mater :-)) journalism/media writing class on November 30. I of course majored in political science and only took up media two years ago. In any event… I’ve got some ideas for what to tell them, but I’d like to collect yours as well. 

If it matters, this is an undergrad class.

What should they know about the media industry as it looks today, job prospects, how to market oneself, etc? Please leave ideas in the comments, share your own stories of professional successes or failures, etc. Thanks everyone!

This is the way headlines should be written

Tom Dart’s Brother Is Evil and Rich
“Last year alone, Tim Dart, 43, was paid $541,500 to lobby Daley’s staff, the City Council and city agencies on behalf of 15 clients, records filed by the younger Dart with City Hall show,” the Sun-Times reports.

Sun-Times went with “Dart helped brother by skipping race for mayor.” Now, which one is better? :-)

Hey, we’re smarter than you

The Fix spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about campaign politics.

Given that, we like to think of ourselves as connoisseurs of the political game — we know what’s good, what’s bad and what’s just plain odd.

In case you didn’t catch it, the writers of WaPo’s The Fix want you to know that they’re super savvy about the political process and they know better than you.

Now, I am prepared to accept this kind of thinking on some level. For instance, most of us would agree that a meteorologist knows more about the weather than we do. They have tools that we don’t have and they have a specialized degree which required them to learn all sorts of things about clouds and wind and moisture and currents. Thus if a meteorologist says hey, I’m pretty sure it’s going to rain today, we’re inclined to listen and take them seriously. But when political reporters say, trust us, we understand all this stuff better than you and here’s what’s happening… should you take them seriously?

It all depends on the reporter in question. Is this a reporter that tries to serve ordinary voters as I describe here? If not, then maybe you don’t really need to listen to them.

After all, unlike the meteorologist, a political reporter possesses no special training (and no, journalism school doesn’t count). She is simply good at collection information, doing some analysis and writing about it. Do these sound to you like unique skills that few people possess? Yeah, I didn’t think so.


The new women

This is a sea change in the post-feminist era. These women belong to a new breed of self-promoting opportunists, paving the way for women to escape their image as selfless givers, nurturers by nature. Not for them the Judeo-Christian philosophy, which holds that only by bequeathing much of what one has earned to those less fortunate can one earn it anew and possess it.

Though this piece was about Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, I think we all know it applies to many more ladies.

Personal finance explained on a napkin

Political reporters are often not working for you

More than in any other area of journalism (possibly with the exception of the financial press), political reporters should have a clear allegiance at all times to the citizenry. What does this mean?

This means that the ideal political reporter should have no thought in their minds other than things like this:

  • How can I give my readers the best information on their elected leaders and institutions?
  • How can I best explain what that information means?
  • How can I enhance my readers’ desire for civic participation?
  • How can I best advance the issues my readers care about? 
  • How can I help my readers make sense of what’s happening in their political system?

In other words, political reporters’ primary concerns should not be things like:

  • How can I best enhance my reputation as a political reporter?
  • How can I best enhance the reputation of my newspaper/TV station/etc?
  • How can I best communicate the message of the politicians I cover?
  • How can I best show how savvy and “on the inside” I am in the political arena?

What happens when this all goes awry? I live in the Chicago area so let me give you a local example of what I’m talking about.

The current mayor of Chicago has reigned for over 20 years. He is finally abdicating his throne and, as you can imagine, there are many contenders. One of them is former U.S. Senator from Illinois, Carol Mosely Braun. Recently, she has been telling anyone who would listen that the race’s arguable front-runner, Rahm Emanuel, was directly responsible for the Democrats’ recent mid-term losses and that he abandoned President Obama in his hour of need.

First she told the Sun-Times

Then the local NBC affiliate

I’m sure there were many others which I don’t have the time to round up right now.

Now, if you are a Chicago voter, what have you learned after reading the Sun-Times story and subsequent reports of Ms. Mosley-Braun’s pronouncements? Have you been given any information that will make you a more informed voter? Have you learned anything substantive about either Emanuel or Mosely-Braun? Have you deduced their stance on the issues that matter in this election?

In other words, all this report has done is served as a bright, shining example of horse-race journalism. The voters are not being informed of anything and are therefore further disengaged from the political process. After all, one does not interfere in a horse race or a boxing match or any other contest of that sort. The only people allowed in the ring are professionals (politicians, lobbyist and strategists, political journalists and commentators, etc).

It’s difficult to say how much his type of coverage of politics has damaged the electorate’s desire to participate or to even believe that they can make some sort of difference. So please, let’s all commit to stopping it now.

If you are a reporter, communicate this to your editors.

If you are an editor, communicate this ethos to your reporters.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, if you are a news consumer who feels disappointed by this type of coverage: demand better of your media.

This is why I read Beachwood Reporter’s WTF religiously

Just how lousy a candidate was Bill Brady?

Way lousy. Illinois elected several crazy people Tuesday. Against that grim qualitative standard, Brady still fell below the Mendoza Line.

He not only lost a race almost any normal (breathing regularly) Republican would have won, he does not comprehend that he lost. Nope, he says. I didn’t lose. There are more votes to count.

At this moment, this hard-edged clear-thinking businessman is waiting for results from the outlying Inca precincts because he’s very strong in the dead-700-years-ago Latino demographic. When those write-in votes from Machu Picchu arrive, he’s sure to be over the top. Just be patient.

Be daringly, unflinchingly, unapologetically different

Most people will do exactly as they are told to do, won’t ever question the rules, and will believe that by doing so, they’ll get farther in life.  While this may have once been the case, in a time when assembly lines were hip, the exact opposite is true now. In the age of technology, success awaits only those who are willing to break the rules, stand out from the crowd, and be daringly, unflinchingly, unapologetically DIFFERENT.

All I can say is AMEN. Words to live by (and I have for most of my life thus far).