White, educated and wealthy = living in a bubble?


Image source


Last night I tweeted this link to PBS’ site. Here’s the gist:

White America is coming apart at the seams.

That’s the thesis Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, puts forth in his new book, “Coming Apart.” In a piece soon to appear on the NewsHour, Murray argues that the super wealthy, super educated and super snobby live in so-called super-ZIPs: cloistered together, with little to no exposure to American culture at large.

Those people, he says, live in a social and cultural bubble. And so he includes this 25-question quiz, covering beer to politics to Avon to “The Big Bang Theory,” to help readers determine how thick their own bubble may be.

I took the quiz and scored a 15 which supposedly puts me in a quite thick bubble. I asked people on Twitter what they scored and of course many people responded, because we all love to wallow in our racial and cultural exceptionalism

Most everyone that responded said they felt their scored were accurate in representing their past and current class status. I’m not sure the same is true for me and here’s why:

  • I was born and raised in a foreign country until the age of 9. The USSR at the time, the Ukraine if you want to be more specific. I think the “rules” for people like me are different, because non-American white cultures are different than American ones.
  • A lot of the questions ask about things you’ve done in the last year. Well, we’ve had a baby in the last year. That means you automatically do fewer things period, whether they’re going to Denny’s or a wine tasting. 
  • The questions ask about you and your spouse, if you have one. What about asking about one’s parents? I see how the questions are supposed to get at that part of your life partially, but not asking about one’s parents today leaves a lot out. A number of my answers would have been different if that was taken into account.
  • You are asked about where you live, but nothing about areas or places you might routinely visit. One may live in a bubble, but is it really bubble living of one regularly leaves the bubble willingly?

There’s more, but you get the idea. Did anyone else feel like the quiz spit out a somewhat inaccurate result? Why or why not?


The techies in journalism are not the problem


Image via Big Think


Ever since the Journatic brouhaha began (and kept going, and going and going), I’ve been bracing myself for a specific type of reaction.

This reaction would come from a big-J journalism person, probably someone working for a print daily or someone who once did. They would say you see, this is what happens when you stop caring about the journalism. This is what happens when profits trump public service. I would be nodding along to all of this. But then they would say: you see, this is what happens when you let the techies into the newsroom. And this is the part where I would stop nodding and start fuming. 

It took a lot longer than I expected (maybe things are changing?) but this reaction finally surfaced last week from Stuart Thomson at the Edmonton Journal. Here’s the key graf:

We have to be wary about listening to tech geeks with no experience in journalism, who see a lot of micro trends but rarely see the big picture. Most of them don’t understand how a newsroom works and they certainly don’t understand how advertising and revenue in general can extend past banner ads. It’s tempting to take what they say as gospel, because they understand the ones and zeroes better than us, and we’re desperate for a saviour.

Oh really? So a world beyond banner ads wasn’t being talked about by techies in 2009? And I can assure you, it was talked about a great deal before that as well. Everyone knows banner ads suck. Everyone. Online advertising still sucks in general, even today. There has actually been little innovation in this space and techies are very upset about it, as should be big-J journalists. But I digress…

Let’s get back to those dirty techies who are on a mission to ruin journalism. I wrote some comments in response to Stuart’s post. One of them read:

“Techies” are not to blame, sorry. Techies don’t run newspaper companies; they are mostly ignored there if they even exist (again, go back to newspaper missing the Internet, missing learning aggregation, linking, a billion other things). You have to blame the people in charge, the people who make these decisions.

To his credit, Stuart responded. But his response is still problematic. For instance, Stuart writes this about his newsroom:

If you asked me what we’re missing in the Journal newsroom right now, I’d say: a writer who work solely on the web (we don’t have a single person who writes for the web instead of the newspaper) and more software people.

If it were even remotely true that newspapers are concerned about the lack of such employees on their staff, they would hire them. While there are a few jobs like this here and there, they are still not the norm in most newspaper newsrooms.

Put your money where your mouth is. You’re either concerned about your organization’s digital future or you’re not. If your only digital person on staff is someone who posts things to Twitter and Facebook, you’re not serious. If your digital people are just shoveling the print stuff online, you’re not serious. If your digital people don’t have a seat at the table in terms of content development and other key decisions, you’re not serious.

Moreover, where are newspapers looking for these hires? They are looking for them in the traditional places. They are looking at j-school grads or people with past journalism experience. Here’s the truth: journalism and ethics can be taught easier than digital know-how and intuitiveness. They can both be taught. But one comes more naturally to more people in my opinion.

If you want people in your newsroom who understand digital, who are native to the medium, you have to look in the right places. You have to look at bloggers for example. No one understands better how to build and keep an audience, I guarantee you. No one understands better how to engage with one’s readers and community. No one knows better how to follow everything else being written on a certain topic. Trust me, I know this from personal exprience. I just might have to write a book called Think Like a Blogger, Act Like a Journalist. You read it here first.

As for the software people, they aren’t that welcome in newsrooms either. Any coders, developers, etc who work in news organizations are usually working only for large metro dailies or national newspapers like the New York Times. It’s anyone’s guess how much power and influence they wield even in those places (maybe some of them can comment here). Some of the ones that are brilliant and inventive, but don’t work for news organizations are routinely ignored.

So again, to sum up, the techies are not the problem. They are the solution



Journatic bylines possibly changing, a reader criticizes a story

Since I’ve been reporting on Journatic, I’ve been meaning to check how the stories look in my suburb of Northbrook.

This morning the lead story is about some sort of annual survey of private high schools. My guess is “annual” means this is the first year of the “survey,” but if anyone remembers otherwise, please let me know. 

Notice anything interesting about the byline? It’s says “Journatic News Service.” An identical story in Schaumburg says the same. An intrepid Twitter follower sent me a photo of the same story in print. That one still says “Neighborhood News Service” as you can see. What’s going on here?

I spot-checked other Northbrook stories and they all still said “Neighborhood News Service” as well. Perhaps it’s some sort of transition that hasn’t taken full effect yet. But still, how can the Schaumburg story appear one way online and another way in print? More to come on this if and when I find out more.

Back to the Northbrook story and what’s this? There’s a comment at the bottom. One Jim Schufreider writes: 

This article is poorly researched. It has North Shore Country Day west of Glenview when it is actually east of Glenview. It references Notre Dame, but omits Loyola and Regina which are arguably closer to Glenview than Notre Dame. Is no one watching the interns?

While many will recognize the intern line as standard way for readers to complain about a story, I think it illustrates that people care about who’s writing their news and they want it done accurately.

I’m not sure whether Jim’s criticisms are valid or not. I’ve only lived in this area for three years and I’m not sure. I know if I had written this story though, I would now be finding out and then responding to his comment. Let’s see if that happens here.

UPDATE: A Tribune staffer informed me via Twitter that the mistake the reader pointed out was corrected. Was the reader told? Since the only way to let him know would have been to respond to his comment, I must conclude that the answer is no. I don’t see how this way of doing things is supposed to engender the trust of readers. But I guess no one really cares about that.


Have any information for me on this or anything else pertaining to Journatic? Please email me at tooter2 (at) gmail (dot) com. 

I am a media reporter


Image via SPJ

It’s always been a running joke inside my head that I’m a media reporter, it’s just that no one pays me to be one. I even added it to my Twitter bio at one point.

But with this story now out, I might need to change that bio.

Though I’m still not on staff anywhere and maybe never will be, I got paid for this story and will presumably get paid for future ones I do (yes, that means the book isn’t closed on this so stay tuned). 

My story was at the top of Mediagazer for a bit. There was considerable reaction on Twitter. People I deeply respect and consider to be my mentors said I did a good job. Though he may have forgotten it by now, Ira Glass briefly knew my name. My family is also proud. That all makes me feel great and I can’t help but wonder if it also makes me a media reporter. A real one. 

Time for another bio change.

UPDATE: I was on Connecticut’s public radio station on Monday, July 9 discussing the Journatic story. Listen here.


Twitter goes down


Twitter was down for a good 40 minutes today, possibly more. In Twitter time, that might as well be a century.

As I haven’t been on Facebook for over three years now, it allowed me to imagine (for the first time in my Internet life) what things were like before the proliferation of social networks. I was online long before social media of course, but once they came around, it seemed like the most fun thing to do. Even before there was Facebook, I was on Yahoo Groups, X-Files dicussion boards (oh, the shame) and much more. So there was always a social element to much of my online activity.

So when Twitter went down, I admit I found myself a bit… adrift. If I wanted to share something during the outage, I had to do this: blog about it. Now this was only 40 minutes. But it got me thinking about what would happen if Twitter was down for a whole week or a month. How long would be enough to change our online behavior? Would a bunch of people suddenly go back to blogging more or take it up for the first time?


Aside from logistical matters, did anyone else experience a strange, if a bit uncomfortable, state of calm during the outage? It was like being in one of those sensory deprivation tanks. Now, I’ve done this tank thing twice. You go in for an hour. I enjoy the stillness for about 20-30 minutes and the rest of the time, if I haven’t fallen asleep, I start to get antsy. I feel restless and like I’m wasting time when I know I’m suppsed to be relaxing. I know many of you will relate :-) Those that don’t, do you think it’s abnormal to feel this way?

As I was writing this by the way, Twitter went down again. But now I have to feed my baby and at least for a time, my mind will be consumed with other things.

Ignorance is bliss


It all started with this post from infamous Business Insider head honcho, Henry Blodget. You can see in the URL that the original headline was “Why do people hate Jews?” In fact, this is now the #1 Google result for that question, a fact that makes me immesurably sad. I can only hope that people search instead for anti-semitism instead which returns significantly better results.

Why did Blodget do it? Linkbait? Genuine curiousity? It’s hard to believe that the latter could be true of a grown man living in New York City. I could perhaps understand the question if it came from a resident of some backwards small town, but not a cosmopolian New Yorker.

In case you missed this insanity when it first happened by the way, Daily Dot has a good Storify here and, incidentally, a screen grab of the original post’s headline and lead image which you can see was not originally Natalie Portman.

Today, these tweets started coming out of the suddenly popular Sweden Twitter account:

There were others, but the point is made. Apparently a lot of people are confused about why Jews are hated by some. I say this with absolutely sincerity. While I don’t think Henry Blodget and Sonja have much in common, it is notable that they share this exact same lack of understanding, little to no knowledge of history, religion and sheer ignorance of their, well, ignorance.

I wish I could say this is a limited phenomenon, but I don’t believe it is. I’m reminded of an incident in a computer lab at UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) in the basement of the Behavioral Sciences Building.

A fellow student sitting next to me was having some problems with her computer. I helped her. She was grateful and we struck up a conversation. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but she asked me what religion I practiced. I said I was Jewish. She looked confused. I thought that was just a culture, not a religion, she said. Taken aback, I asked her what religion she adhered to. She was a born-again Christian as it turned out and she was in the process of studying the Bible. I didn’t get into it with her, but you may have heard us Jews are in there too 😉

Flash forward 3 years or so and I’m working at the corporate headqurters of True Value, the hardware store cooperative. I’m the Coordinator (read: glorified secretary) of the Appliances & Electronics department. The girl who’s the Coordinator of the Hardware department goes on an excursion with myself and another coworker to Devon Ave, the area of Rogers Park in Chicago that’s home to Indians, Pakistanis, Russians and Jews, many of them Orthodox. She looks quizzically out the window at the Hassidim and wonderd why people around here wear those dark coats and hats. Are they Amish or something? she asks.

I have more stories like these, some even more incredible, but you get the picture.

I tell these stories not to gleefully point out that idiots are all around us, that ignorance is everywhere. I tell them to illustrate the point that what ignorance actually is is incredibly easy. It doesn’t take much to be ignorant. It doesn’t take any effort at all. On the other hand, it takes effort to be intellectually curious, well-read, etc.

This to me is the worst part about Blodget’s post, Sonja’s questions and anyone else who has wondered aloud about this topic. The worst part isn’t that they’re ignorant, but that they don’t care that they’re ignorant. They think it’s acceptable and everyone who seriously answers them endorses it.

In which I argued with David Simon and neither of us won

Apologies to those of you who have already seen me tweet about this a bazillion times. Who knew you actually pay attention to what I tweet? 😉 And several days in a row to boot!

I don’t ever want to forget this so I’m saving the link here. I went from thinking Simon is an obstinate Luddite to really understanding him and where he’s coming from. Mostly because I went and read things he’s written on his site. I get him now and I hope he gets me.

By the way this, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty and promise of online discussion. It really can facilitate understanding between people. Don’t believe the hype. 

UPDATE: Howard Owens wrote a response to David Simon. Another epic commenting thread ensued and David was again in the fray. He is now writing yet another response to Howard which may or may not be published by CJR. He talked about that and more on his own site. CJR, for their part, seems to delight in refereeing this brouhaha, despite some people’s feelings that perhaps they’re just adding fuel to an unnecessary fire.

UPDATE PART DEUX: CJR’s Ryan Chittum has written a riposte to Howard’s post. OY. Anyway, here it is.

Is fear holding you back?

We need more scientists in America

Are journalists contributing to “societal idiocy?”

From this morning’s Muck Rack Daily regarding the recent controversial TIME magazine cover:

“The ridiculous and sensationalist magazine covers selected by the editors…are little more than glossy representations of a disturbing trend away from quality ‘Fourth Estate’ reporting, toward attention-grabbing gutter journalism – focusing less on thoughtfully objective coverage, and more on controversial grandstanding. It’s bad enough that the private individual is still caught up in the insecure desire to garner Twitter followers and Facebook fans, regardless the source or durability of said acquisitions. Now that journalists (some accredited, others self-anointed) are fighting for the same short-term attention, instead of working toward long-term acknowledgment, our entropic descent toward societal idiocy is all but assured. When you suck at a bitter teat, the milk is guaranteed to curdle in your stomach.” – Nicholas De Wolff, freelance writer

Oh really? I don’t disagree with the knock against the cheap sensationalism on display on that cover, but what exactly is wrong with a journalist accruing Twitter followers, Facebook fans, etc?

Do some people do it solely to boost their egos? Yes. Do some also do it to spread an important message, educate others, etc? Yes and yes. At its best, this is actually what reporters do. And this being the 21st century, they know that their audiences might not be seeking them out. So they have to seek out their audiences. And while social media can definitely be a place for attention whores and sycophants, let’s not conflate the medium with its users. We use the technology, it does not use us.