I’m actually kinda down with the new features on the NYTimes’ “Extra” homepage, which essentially lists related blog/web content for each story on the Times homepage. It’s clearly not a full-fledged project, but I think it signals an important transition in the way the NYT does news coverage, becoming a site that sorts and prioritizes other content in a kind of ‘curation’ role. The Times is particularly well suited to trade in on its cachet, large circulation, and status as the ‘paper of record’ for much of the US, turning its good rep into a position as the sorter and curator of record. This is essentially a way for the Times to set the agenda for the rest of the web, and make itself the new record-maker for web journalism.
Tag Archives: blogging
So, the spectacular fall of the Tribune Company is clearly more than the decline of one company – it is the most visible symbol of the tanking print media industry that is swept up in systemic changes that have destroyed business models and jobs nationwide.
For the activist PR person, it also signals a need for innovation. It’s no longer enough to bang out press releases to the AP and hope for the best; even trying to ‘be the media’ is getting tired since everybody is going to be the media soon – for example, Indymedia centers no longer serve the same function when self publishing software means that anyone can be their own media outside of the framework provided by IMCs.
One of the first casualties will be the decline of ‘publicity’ as such – without big-bore media outlets running the news cycle, the sphere of public discourse will become more fragmented and less accessible. Organizers and media people will need to think more in depth about their targets, whose support the targets need, and how to influence those supporters via the specific media channels. I think one point of attack will be via industry conferences, publications and message boards (check Officer.com, a message board for cops for an example). In a way, attacking via these forums will be like a new office-takeover, targeted at a company and its peers/competitors as a way to put on economic pressure.
It was bound to happen. If you think or write about new media long enough, you’re bound to run into Jeff Jarvis, and his blog, BuzzMachine – particularly with all that ‘buzz’ he’s been getting lately.
The difficulty I have with Jarvis’ approach to media has nothing to do with the eroding foundations of the venerated journalistic tradition, but rather his approach to the look and feel of a new newsmedia world.
My main objection to Jarvis’ approach to media is that he collaborates with the owners of corporate media outlets to help them cut their workers’ jobs. Look, this is a guy that deifies the corporate giant Google (his next book is called What Would Google Do?), and that pretty much sets the tone for how he approaches changes in media production. The transition from broadcast centralized media to a link economy does offer incredible opportunities for the development of new knowledge economies, but organizing the transition within the corporate system just lets the folks that ran old media to continue profiting and puts lots of smart folks out of a job. (Google isn’t exactly this, but it does wield an immense amount of power, and I find it irresponsible to commit yourself blindly to its authority)
Treating the workers in a new media economy ethically is the first step to making sure that the new economy supports a more ethical world broadly, and I think any discussion of the creation of new media should consider the role of labor creating content, as well as the content itself. Jarvis seems primarily concerned with the owners and content, and that troubles me.
Got tipped off to a great blog by Rob Hollander of Lower East Side Residents for Responsible Development – the group Civic Center Residents Coalition of NYC started a blog about the impending demolition/reconstruction of Chatham Square in Chinatown. Perhaps as an indication of the poor community outreach done by NYC DoT (or my own ignorance), even though I live right around the corner, I was unaware of the construction project until I heard about it through LESRRD.
And it seems the project has it’s problems: a 3 year construction timeframe for ultimately minor traffic improvements, a project that will cut off water and street traffic to local businesses during a recession, all while surrounding streets undergo their own renovations – meaning that residents will be subject to 5 years or more of local traffic disruption and construction noise.
The local blogging project seems like a great way to challenge the construction (though it may have appeared a little late), especially if it models the excellent Atlantic Yards Report which has done the most consistent and detailed reporting on that particular fiasco.
Folks interested in getting involved contesting the redesign can start by attending a public hearing on the matter this Tuesday. Here are the deets, via Rob:
Public Hearing on Chatham Square Redesign
Tuesday, December 2, 2008, 6pm
(just east of Confucius Plaza/Bowery).
Sign in begins at 5:30pm.
I’m not always convinced of the inherently democratic function of digital communication, but I think that the case of Michelle Bachmann in MN demonstrates some of the contours of how the internet and blogging influences democracy. Today the Congressperson fought back by saying that ‘the media’ (ie the blogs that latched on to her televised idiocy) don’t represent ‘the people’ – and she’s right. The ‘blog-o-shere-a-rama’ doesn’t in fact represent people.
What it does represent are members of movements, who can work for or against a candidate/proposition and act as force multipliers for candidates, leveraging money, time and intellectual energy to support a cause. Bachmann’s seat became contested because members of a national blogosphere caught on to her comments and made her a cause, pre-empting her media pushback by contextualizing her comments within a broader failing of the GOP message, as well as an old-school McCarthy red scare. They bested her by forming the message ahead of time, and forced the media into covering it. Even if they don’t represent her district in a representative democracy sense, they do have the power to control how members of her district view her – and that means something.
so so exhausted. Reportback and thoughts from the last week in Pinocchio land.
First: I think it’s time to rethink the fundamental units of activism. Creating change might require breaking from organizations that identify as ‘campaigns’ or ‘coalitions’ with their highly structured relationships and instead develop protocols for affiliating more flexibly. Broad networks of individuals with diverse but aligned interests identify with certain points of unity and then work together on particular projects or interventions. For instance, with this campaign, the news cycle moved faster than Pinocchio folks could react, partially because we drew on too small a group of people to work with, owing to the (relative) narrowness of the campaign vs. the scope of the whole election season. The most damaging moments of the election so far came via short-term (and funny…) events: McCain’s “celeb” ads and backlash, Letterman’s soliloquy on McCain, Tina Fey as Palin, the insane shit at McCain/Palin rallies… each of these developed short, punchy narratives that fit into a broader constellation of ideas without ever cohering into a narrative arc per se. The only thing that developed into its own issue this election season was the economy, and that moved so fast few folks had time to react to it – suggesting the usefulness of organizing more generally, and then focusing on rapid, narrower interventions.
Second, working on internet distribution requires a carefully cultivated voice and tone. This isn’t like sending out press releases; effective net-action means a commitment to producing good content and commentary consistently. Obama is winning the media war partially because he’s so personable. People like him, and so blogs (primarily) willingly enlist to his cause and become force multipliers. That’s how smaller operations should strive to work as well – by working to make other blogs willing force-multipliers for a message.
The blog-world (BLOG-O-SPHERE) is an echo chamber, where people link and read other folks that more or less agree with them. Tight knit groups form and ideas travel party through recency and newsworthiness (who gets the breaks first), but moreso by making interesting commentary around the news of the day. Generally, people who write smart things well will become more successful (though doubtless there’s more to it, a method to the madness). This means that groups wanting to put out material via blogs need to consistently build a voice that makes them sound like folks that know what they’re doing – a bit of insider baseball, so to speak. The author of content needs credibility just as the content needs to be credible, and that requires work ahead of time to get things going.
This is why everyone that affiliates with an organization that wants to work blogs should blog themselves – either under the name of the group or under their own name. It allows them to develop an ethos for distribution, and to control the first impressions of work they produce, because it (hopefully) means that people come to you for content. Instead of having to blast out emails about new work press release style, you can rely on the credibility built up over time, or have folks regularly reading your work to the point where they willingly distribute your work for you.
The virtuous circle from Digitaldickinson on Vimeo.
Andy Dickenson made an interesting post on the idea of a ‘virtuous circle’ that animates contemporary news writing – the thesis is that journalists should become better members of a media-community by writing in ways that listen to and benefit the people they write about. Per an amendement from another blogger, this includes making links and engaging the bloggers you write about conversationally, on a personal level.
When I try to tell people about the work I do, I often have to resort to a series of vague or endlessly complex descriptors – I usually say something like: “Well, I’m a journalist/blogger/activist/PR type” or just “Web shit.” For me, the ‘link economy’ means that writers have to become part-time savants, writing as members of a movement or industry, while journalists primarily act as sorters and assemblers of information, with the time to put feet on the ground and pursue official sources.
I think there are two points:
First, that in a world with so much writing done by so many people, creating a fragmented viewership, writers have to become PR agents as well. Writing doesn’t mean anything as such, because it gets lost in the wash of information available on the internet. That means that writers have to do their own promotion – and the best way to do promotion is through ‘loose ties’ and folks that know your relationship yields mutual benefits. Thus the importance of active participation in social movements, and mutual linking – both of these generate loose ties and create connections where both people can benefit from an interaction.
Second, the idea of ‘journalistic magic.’ I’m sure this has a more specific, fleshed out meaning, but I’d like to propose one way to think about the ‘magic’ that might be useful for people designing new media-products. What people lack more than anything is time, and it is time that makes good writing possible – editing, revisions, pursuing sources, etc. The difference between original, effective content and the wash of blather is a division of labor, where some writers can afford to make the time to take their writing seriously, and others can’t. The best way to make original content that stands out from the mileu is to pay people enough that they take their writing seriously – it doesn’t have to be a huge sum, but just enough for them to take a few hours to work over a post, make some phone calls, etc.
So, in my mind, an effective ‘new newspaper’ would be based around a specific location or institution, making small payments to part time writers that engage that place/institution as something other than merely writers. A motley crew of writers, bloggers, and editors that build a brand around one idea or place, rather than around the idea of news as such.
OK, so here’s a little foot in mouth: in my earlier post about net activism and the Obama I was perhaps overzealous in dismissing some of the potential relevance of net/blog activism.
First, some nuance: Eduwonkette is an anonymously written blog piggybacking a major print publication’s website (Education Week, a regular serial for the k-12 educators set). They write as an expert (savant?), to a specific audience and to a specific purpose. This is an effort clearly directed at a single, narrow goal. It is not a citizen’s movement.
Posts such as this one (about the policies of a particular New York Department of Education admin) play rhetorical and political hardball, instead of sermonizing on the righteousness of webroots democracy in action (as many netizens are aught to do). The anonymous blogger names names and doesn’t hesitate to play up beefs with individuals, as long as sound theoretical evidence supports those beefs.
The point is this: blogging can take an activist bent when working with a specific audience that has a good chance of reading and understanding the shit someone puts online. It allows for a blogger (and maybe a group of bloggers – I like the blog Crooked Timber for higher ed in this case, or the blog Daily Gotham for NYC Democratic politics – though it sways a bit more towards the overzealous netizen style that I find a bit silly) to wield power within a particular bureaucratic environment, influencing specific people on particular policies.
Blogging can target the personalized nature of bureaucracy (those who get ahead do it by knowing the right people), because it allows anonymity and personalization. In the same way that Perez Hilton stages takedowns of celebrities he doesn’t like, certain bloggers in the right environment can stage takedowns of the folks that wield power in that environment. It provides an alternative to bureaucracy by giving folks at the top of the pile something to fear.
The DoE example in this case shows that a blog, persuasively written and widely distributed, produces an alternative point of power that weighs against the otherwise unchecked authority of bureaucratic higher-ups. Regular folks get shit done because Eduwonkette writes about it – that’s an important thing.
But it’s not the only thing that matters. (To the Obama-folks: just keep posting, maybe something will change! Or maybe not.)
from blmurch’s flickr
Obama’s telecom immunity flip-flop earned him some new press and a online ‘movement’ of 15,000 or so people petitioning him via his website to reject immunity. Almost simultaneously, folks in charge of the DNC announced their policy towards other, more unruly types of protest by basically telling protesters in Denver to go fuck themselves.
On the one hand, this episode shows a potential benefit of candidate internet-openness – Obama was forced to respond to an complaint raised solely by his supporters, changing his agenda and forcing him off message. In a sense, that demonstrates a type of power wielded by net-activists: they can raise issues, reset political agendas, and press candidates on their image. (The case of Trent Lott in 2003 was a particularly telling, if almost cliche example of this type of ‘gotcha’ politics played by bloggers)
On the other hand, it shows the danger of organizing and activism online. The internet, social networking technologies like Facebook, and blogs have a certain, sexy appeal. They make political expression easy, personally rewarding and visible. Folks like Markos Moulitsas become netizen celebrities off the power of their blogging opinions, you can connect with literally millions of people and get them to join petition-groups on Facebook, etc. etc.
But all this seduces more than it produces a viable independent movement that challenges the power of political parties, governments, and corporations. The DNC article from above is vastly more important than the Obama one: it reveals the fundamental disregard American political parties have for their purported constituents. It shows that the freedom of net protest remains only a freedom to express yourself, and not to act in any other capacities. Yes, Obama gave a blog-reply to the petition, but not much else. We don’t necessarily need a revolution to make substantive change, but police/party practices like the one announced by the DNC makes near impossible any movement independent of the state or political parties capable of challenging them on the serious issues that will define our future. And that is a dangerous thing.