Monthly Archives: January 2011

Americans are victims of our own geography

merica has never been a very curious nation. Sure, we’ve produced great inventors and entrepreneurs, but you could probably count the great “American philosophers” on one hand (at least one of whom, de Tocqueville, wasn’t even American). Americans are not prone to world travel, evidenced by the fact that only 37% of us own a passport. A lack of curiosity is not the sole blame, obviously it costs us far more to travel abroad than it does for Europeans, with flights so cheap they make Southwest look like a legacy carrier. But in the wake of the 9/11 security changes, lack of a passport means 2/3 of Americans aren’t even flying to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean, destinations which are often cheaper than, say, Florida.

I have long posited that we are victims of our own geography. The vastness and relative emptiness of the North American continent gave the young nation room to grow and flourish, while leaving it free from foreign influence. Immigrants were generally eager to assimilate, as the threat of repeated bodily harm at the hands of nativists would entice you to try and blend in. Europe consisted mainly of poor, repressive backwaters in those days, so most didn’t see much point in holding onto the old ways in a land that gave them an opportunity to reinvent their identities.

As usual, please read the entire post that this snippet comes from.

And then read Richard Longworth’s book, Caught in the Middle:

King of Kong, signed by Wiebe :-)

Advertisers to blame for hateful rhetoric?

Much, if not all, of the commentary on this horrifying event focuses on the culpability of individuals, and overlooks what is really fueling the flame of hate speech in this country. Most Americans don’t realize the power sponsors (i.e. advertisers) have over all broadcast content, even the news. It’s not that advertisers explicitly advocate hate speech, but they tend to support right-leaning content because it’s pro-business, and they support angry rhetoric because it gets great ratings. Now that we have no immediate terrorist threat, that hateful speech is directed at our government, our political candidates, and individual Americans.

The model is simple: Radio and TV networks tell stories and develop programs that please their sponsors, because advertising dollars are their source of revenue. What pleases sponsors programming that get high ratings, and that makes people want to buy things. What doesn’t please sponsors is anything that makes them, or corporate America in general, look bad. And the easiest way to increase ratings is by getting people excited, for example by making them angry. 

What most Americans don’t know is that major sponsors have actual censorship power. For example, a sponsor will call the network executive and tell them to change the “slant” of their programming (with the implied threat that they will stop advertising). On some shows, certain sponsors screen the show before it airs and routinely exercise their power to censor content. As a result, the networks engage in a great deal of self-censorship. For example, news networks and commentary programs air programming that criticizes “big government,” but never “big business.”

Obviously you’ll never hear about direct or indirect corporate censorship from any on-air commentator. When baby-faced Matt Lauer takes a bullet on the Today show, saying “there are no saints in the media either,” he’s supporting the illusion that the decisions about how to speak on-air are in the hands of individual news people. Those “journalists” we see on television do not have the authority to decide what to say or even how to say it. They speak the way they do, or someone else would be hired. Matt Lauer can never admit this, even to himself. How could he?

The obvious question is: if advertisers can (and do) censor programming directly or indirectly, why haven’t they censored the language of hatred? It is obvious that advertisers actively support shows that sponsor hate speech, otherwise such shows would not survive. Therefore it seems also obvious that the way to restore our national discourse is to pressure advertisers to remove their financial support from shows that promote violence, hatred and division among Americans. 

Please also read the great piece that prompted this comment.

As for the comment itself, any thoughts? I know many liberals/progressives who would agree. Do any conservatives concur?

What would the world be like if ALL newsrooms did this?

A key part of The New Newsroom is what we call the Feedback Loop. The New Newsroom is about great talent, but it’s also about access to real-time data and analysis. Right now, each staff writer and contributor has a personal dashboard that details what’s going on in their world, with updates every 15 minutes (editors have a consolidated contributor dashboard). All writers see their traffic (at the moment, unique visitors and page views); popular posts; reader comments on their posts; web sites linking to their posts; what the blogosphere is saying about them and trending topics on Twitter and Google. We’ll supply them with more data and information in the months ahead, all to help them succeed in the new world of media. The data is to help inform their journalism, not rule it.

Would a world like this produce better journalism? I’m going to go ahead and say YES. Do you agree?

Congratulatory cookie. I plan to eat it in tiny increments.

Media is a business. Has anyone told journalists?

I asked my first Quora question recently and got a lot of wonderfully helpful responses. In the comment thread of one of the responses though, something emerged that I found interesting enough to repost here. 

Owen Thomas, whose Quora bio says he’s the Executive Editor of Venture Beat, wrote (in response to my saying that promoting their work is anathema to many old-school journos):

Anna, I don’t think it’s anathema: It’s simply not their job. Magazine journalists are used to a structured work environment with a smart division of labor. Other people edit, illustrate, design, distribute, and promote their work, leaving them more time to do their job, which is writing.

I responded thusly:


Owen, to me that “not my job” business is just crazy in my opinion. In the business world for example, there are lots of things that might not be a worker’s stated job, but there is an understanding of being a team player and pitching in to do things that aren’t explicitly one’s job. What’s more, that kind of behavior is usually looked upon very kindly by management and maybe this is a person they will now consider for special projects or a promotion down the road. That’s why ambitious, hard-working people regularly go above and beyond their job descriptions. They do it for its own reward of knowing they contributed more to the business’ success and they also do it to be professionally and financially rewarded down the road.

But you know, I think I’ve hit upon something here in responding to your comment. You think nothing of stating that journalists/writers are just not willing to go beyond their job description. You don’t think it’s lazy or unambitious. You think it’s perfectly normal. Well, I don’t. Imagine if you told the general public (non-journos) this. Go ahead and tell this to people who are all being asked to do more with less in all of their industries. Tell them that writers simply can’t be bothered with that. No, no, that’s too much for them. They’re delicate geniuses whose work will suffer if they have to do extra things outside of their job descriptions. This kind of thing is why many people (perhaps rightly) think of journalism as a privileged, coddled profession. And I’m sure that’s the way many journalists would like to keep it. But not me. What’s more, the changing media landscape demands a higher degree of efficiency and yes, of doing more than one’s stated job description. 

Something else occurs to me. I started out by giving the example of people in business. Well, media is a business just like any other, but for some reasons journalists seem to have been shielded from this “unpleasant” reality for a long time now. This has to end. I firmly believe that it’s possible to be creative and put out good work AND understand how it is that you receive a paycheck for it.

What do you think?

By the way, I’m not implying that using social networks to promote one’s work or any of the other tasks of digital journalism are enough to keep the lights on at one’s publication. But it sure can’t hurt.




They arrived together! Best trip to the mailbox ever.

A Request for Respect

A Request for Respect

Wednesday, September 10, 1997 by Dave Winer.

I’ve been cc’d on a bunch of email from Mac zealots to Steve Jobs.

Brutal unfair stuff. The kind of messages I received earlier this summer. Totally over the line. Rude, graphic, painful stuff. You’d never say these kinds of things to a person’s face. It’s inexcusable stuff.

I’d like to broadcast this message far and wide. Stop it!

Being respectful Permalink to Being respectful

The best way to be heard is to speak with respect. Take the high road.

Please assume everyone is well-intentioned and smart.

If you don’t know what respect is, take a deep breath, and call a friend and listen to carefully and really hear them. The more you don’t want to hear from the person, the deeper the respect you will experience.

No one is wrong, ever. When you think otherwise, imagine what it’s like to be the other person. Then ask a straight question, with no agenda, no expected answer. And listen.

Remember the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. And its corollary: what goes around comes around.

Want to grow? Break a loop. Don’t do what you’d normally do.

Who are you? Permalink to Who are you?

Save everyone some time. Start your empassioned email with a short paragraph on who you are and what you do. Keep it plain.

Say what your job is, talk about your friends if you want. Now write your empassioned plea. I bet it’ll be a lot more respectful.

Keep a balanced perspective. You’re a computer user. Right on!

You are not a martyr.

Whenever I read this stuff from back in the 90’s, it makes me wish I was reading it THEN instead of writing X-Files reviews on some message board and being in Yahoo Groups like Fans of John Malkovich :-) But I guess we were all young once.

All kidding aside, Dave is truly one of our Yodas on the Internets. You don’t have to agree with him but like any good writer and thinker, he will provoke you to carefully consider his viewpoint, if only for a moment.

Did I mention Feder’s readers are hilarious?

This comment, praising your post and saying welcome back and happy new year, is brought to you by the 300 block of North Orleans, and on behalf of my sponsor I’d like to say how streamlined our city streets look now that those ugly parking meters are gone. I’m also available for Tollway events, where I’ll fawn over 65-mph speed limits and list interesting things to do while sitting in construction delays.

This comment is from one Chris Whitehead who is perhaps the same Chris Whitehead who also comments on Chicago Reader stories:…

Chris, if you’re reading this, let’s do lunch.