Thursday, December 03, 2009

Showing my students how to blog

This is a blog post. This is how you link.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We've moved down the block

Blogger was good training wheels for learning how to do this whole blogging thing, but now that I'm re-committed to keeping my blog current, I've moved over to WordPress, which is more powerful and more professional. The WordPress version of this blog is still a work in progress (though that's sort of the definition of a blog anyway) but it's already a better, more readable blog than this one was. And all of the old posts (except for this one) have been ported over there.

So meet me and The Wayward Press Critic 2.0 at:

Monday, July 20, 2009

My personal movie critic

I tweeted a few weeks ago about the New York Observer firing my favorite movie critic, Andrew Sarris, and a week ago, the NY Times ran an article calling him a "survivor of film criticism's heroic age."

But I hardly care about Sarris championing auteur theory or about his rivalry with Pauline Kael (even though I learned all about those things in perhaps the greatest course I've taken at any level of my education, "The Critic as Journalist and Essayist," taught by Mike Janeway at Columbia Journalism). Sarris was more important to me because he somehow seemed to share my movie tastes exactly.

I always feel validated when I see that he likes a movie that I desperately want to like before it comes out (say, Kill Bill vol. 1, which made his top ten list in 2003), and I'm always intrigued when he likes a movie I thought looked like real clunkers (say, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which Sarris and I might be alone in liking). And he picks out little-known ones that I wouldn't have known whether to like or not (Croupier, for instance, which introduced us to Clive Owen).

It's not foolproof. I find choices like A Beautiful Mind vaguely embarrassing, even if they are critically lauded. And I won't stand by him for putting Dr. T & The Women on a top ten list. But on the whole, we agree. And he surveys the field, without snobbery, but with taste, helping me find movies that I'll like, even if they're not the big box office winners. And even sometimes in spite of being big box office winners.

And that's all you can really ask of a critic.

By the way, see The Hurt Locker. If you're curious about it. Deserves the hype.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Similar thoughts from Clay Shirky, who is smarter than I am

I had this article by Clay Shirky up in my browser while writing that last post, but hadn't yet read it. I think it touches on some of the same idea of "value" as my previous post, though Shirky calls it "leverage."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The View from Nowhere," intellectual property, and something called "value"

I hate to cite Mediaite, both because I dislike the word, and also because it's de rigeur these days to either criticize or mock Dan Abrams and his site.

But here goes.

This story exemplifies something I started thinking about last night while listening to Jeff Jarvis's Media Talk USA. In the Mediaite story, Rachel Sklar and Zeke Turner ask why no one gives Sy Hersh credit for breaking the story that the CIA had been running "death squads" and that Dick Cheney had been hiding them from Congress. Hersh had chatted about them in his odd, casual, not-quite-on-the-record way at the University of Minnesota four months ago. Now, when the NY Times "breaks" the story again, they don't give any credit at all to Hersh.

What this brings to my mind is something called "value." And I don't think I mean monetary value when I say that. What I'm trying to get at is more along the lines of the value of a piece of news to a culture. Because clearly, Hersh isn't going to be any wealthier if the Times agrees that yes, Hersh got there first.

In the Media Talk USA podcast, this came up with regard to judge Richard Posner's suggestion that copyright protection be extended to newspapers online. Jarvis and his guests, Gawker's Nick Denton and the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray, summed up Posner's idea this way: put a 24-hour embargo on any piece of news reported in one outlet before any other outlet can pick it up or discuss it.

This is obviously ludicrous for several reasons (some of which Jarvis, Murray and Denton point out). Chief for me, though, is the idea that a single piece of news, in its simplest form (i.e., "event x occurred"), has almost no value anymore. They discuss this in regard to who reported Michael Jackson's death first. They all agree that it was the gossip site TMZ that got there first, but they also note that most "mainstream media" outlets cited the Los Angeles Times instead. Now, these MSM were wrong to do that in exactly the same way that the NY Times was wrong for neglecting to mention Seymour Hersh. But here is why it doesn't matter at the same time as it matters: I'm not going to start trusting TMZ for most information in the same way I'm going to trust the LA Times. Why not? Well, the LA Times has earned something over time, not just with one scoop. And for me, the LA Times is more likely to have the sort of information that I, as an over-educated slightly snobby urban dweller is going to want to read over time. Both outlets eventually added value to this one tidbit. For TMZ, it was intense, sensational detail. For the LA Times (and the NY Times and NPR and on and on) it was more meta-coverage: a detailed obituary; an analysis of his place in American culture; coverage of the coverage.

And this is why I think Posner's idea is so laughable. A piece of news isn't copyrightable. If something happened, it happened. Copyright is about creation. And the opinion and analysis that make up the added value of coverage of Michael Jackson's death are more important to me than where the first word of it came from. That layer of news doesn't seem to have much value anymore--and I think news outlets should cede it. Social networks, citizen journalism and other things we don't know about yet are going to continue to tell us about events that occur. Events that occur shouldn't be the stuff of news organizations anymore. Investigative journalism does. Scrabbling, cynical, ask-the-tough-questions journalism does, too.

I use the phrase "the view from nowhere" in the title of this post. It's Jay Rosen's formulation of the attitude of objectivity that has been traditionally favored by the US MSM for 100+ years. And it's the sort of attitude that works really well for event-that-occurred journalism. But wouldn't there be much more value in analytical journalism in the case of events like this? Because while you can steal a fact, or even steal an idea, the act of creation--which is what copyright protects, after all--isn't something that comes from readily-available news. Michael Jackson died. If TMZ didn't get that, someone would have, and it wouldn't have taken 20 minutes longer to do so. Protect investigative reports. Protect opinion and analysis pieces. But don't protect "news."

One last thought, as an adjunct to this. Don't protect summaries of other people's work on this, either. For example, I'll tell you this: Frank Bruni was a bulimic when he was a kid. Did I just ruin this Sunday's NY Times Magazine cover story for you? No. For the same reason that story, an excerpt from Bruni's memoir, didn't ruin the memoir. If you don't know who Frank Bruni is, you won't click (unless the phrase "baby bulimic" intrigues you regardless of the author). If you know who he is, but don't care, you've absorbed a tiny piece of information about Bruni, and you probably wouldn't have rushed to your newsstand on Sunday to buy a copy anyway. If you do care, you probably already clicked on the link, and I just brought the Times another reader rather than stole one from them.

And since this post is all about giving credit where credit is due, let me note that my views on intellectual property are strongly influenced by Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture, and my views on the role of media in the national conversation of a representative democracy operate in the shadow of the life work of the late scholar James Carey.

A more reasoned look at j-schools

C.W. Anderson posted a version of a talk he gave recently on the future of j-schools. While I don't necessarily agree with every point, this is a person I could have a reasonable discussion with--unlike the boobery of the kill-j-school-now crowd. A brief excerpt of his argument:

A paradox of the current media moment is that, while journalism jobs are disappearing, j-school enrollment is up? Why? I believe its because people are curious about the media, practically oriented, and fundamentally want to both understand and contribute meaningfully to the world around them. Over the next decade, fewer people may become “journalists” than ever before, but more people than ever will commit “acts of journalism.” To thrive, j-school must understand this and embrace it. Journalism school will stay relevant by training students to produce publicly meaningful content in a world of rampant media making, DIY content, and fragmentation.

Anderson gives some of his talk over to the differences between grad school in journalism and undergrad journalism. He suggests turning the basic reporting and writing class (RW1, at Columbia) into a required course for all incoming freshmen, not for journalism master's students. Not a terrible idea, though I think for most of those undergrads, a media consumption course would be much more important than a media production course. Or just give them all a copy of my favorite book.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Two web comments about J-schools (one an editor's choice!)

I haven't been blogging much on my own blog, but in the last few months, I've come across two articles/blog posts on other sites that got my dander up enough for me to comment.

Herewith, those two responses. First one was a response to an article on New York Magazine's Daily Intel site. The article, by Erica Orden, is called "Columbia J-School's Existential Crisis," and dealt with Columbia's integration of technology into their curriculum.

I can't find a way to link directly to my response, so I'm copying and pasting it here:

.... I happen to be in the middle of week devoted to writing my doctoral qualifying exams: a 20-page paper devoted to the "profession" of journalism, and another 20-pager on the history of journalism education. (I'm also a Columbia J-School grad, and a former professor of one of The Local's interns).

J-schools have long been too tied to the idea that they are training people for jobs in "the profession," which was a slightly disingenuous premise anyway, since journalism has long been less of a profession and more of an industry. Reporters are, for the most part, employees, with a veneer of professionalism.

But what [previous commenter] TIFFANYB2 gets exactly right is that the core practices and premises of journalism are much more important than learning about the 21st-century equivalent of the typesetting and stenography courses that the first j-programs taught.

The industry seems to be collapsing, but the practice of journalism will survive, and delinking the practitioners from the industry will only be to the benefit of the former and of the public at large. This is a HUGE opportunity for leading J-schools like Columbia and CUNY and NYU to reopen the dialogue between people who actually DO journalism and the people who are paid to think about it. Yes, there are some drunk-with-Didion profs there, but there are also terrifically experienced working journalists (who STILL work) and first-rate scholars like Schudson and Gitlin and the late James Carey. Through conversation, they can help reshape the practice of journalism in the face of these generational changes.

And sure, they can Twitter about it as they do--if it helps the conversation; technology is a tool.

Read Pulitzer's defense of the J-school in the 1904 North American Review. It's actually quite noble.

BY KLERNER on 03/12/2009 at 2:02am

The second article came this morning, and riled me up enough to sign up for a Huffington Post username so that I could respond. That post was called "Close the J-Schools." It rehashed all of the tired arguments against journalism school that I analyzed in a 40+ page paper that I finished recently. I had so much to say in response to it that I had to edit down to exactly the maximum word count for a HuffPo comment.

And I'm proud to say that of the 78 (and counting) comments on the original post, mine is the only "HuffPosts's Pick" among them. You can link directly to my comment here or read it, pasted below.

This article--like dozens before it--is ill considered, reactionary, and intellectually lazy. But let me grant you a few points:

First, you're right that business schools are more likely to come up with business models than j-schools. But shouldn't that be? J-schools should be more interested in developing models for gathering and distributing information.

Second, you're right that *most* j-schools now are overly focused on training students for the *trade* of journalism. If they continue to devote energy to rinkydink news services and classes on how to use current technologies, then they will always be training second-rate journalists and will always be a step behind.

But huge enrollments are an opportunity, not a reason to close schools and save ill-advised potential journalists from themselves. Journalism schools need to rethink their mission, which should be just what you dismiss out of hand as obviously useless: "mandatory classes in media history, communications theory or journalism philosophy." These are not courses that justify journalism as an academic subject, but instead are the sort of courses that can turn the most promising aspiring journalists into critical and creative thinkers with an understanding of the foundations and principles of their calling--not just flinty, curmudgeonly cynics.

So delink journalism schools from the industry and use the best professors to guide the best students toward new solutions that will advance the cause of journalism without regard to the lumbering and dying industry that has supported it for 180 years.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

This article has never appeared in print

The NY Times has started, in the last week or so, to note when an article on has appeared in print. It gives the date, the section, and the page number.

I don't know what prompted this change, or what good it does, unless you're trying to put together a bibliography for an academic paper and still think the print edition holds more authority than the web version.

Maybe the Times still thinks that way, too.