Waaa Waaa Waaa

Michael Kinsley is whining that the internet doesn’t operate the way he wants it to operate and so he’s taking his marbles and going home. Or something like that.

He’s just acting like the old-media guy he is, wanting to control the medium as they all do. But, of course, that misses the essential point of the internet. It can’t be controled.

The New York Times reports today that Kinsley is going to take some other, unnamed job at the LA Times, this coming only two days after he wrote a column whining about the web and after Dan Gillmor issued him a proper lashing for that. Waaaa:

The nasty parts of the Web are where people are doing what the Founding Surfers intended: expressing themselves and forming communities. Why is the tone of conversation on the Internet, especially about politics, so much lower than in the material world?

This from a guy who spent years on Crossfire — the very show that did to political discourse what Jerry Springer did to daylight? Here’s a man who knows about lowering the tone of conversation about politics; he was an accomplice in the crime!

Then he whines about getting too much email that disagrees with him and thinks it’s something about email and not about him. Waaa:

Or maybe cyberspace just has more than its share of undersocialized geeks, sitting in front of their computers and sharing their bitterness with the world.

Sounds like many a press bar I’ve sat in.


Cyberspace communities — and the cyberspace community at large — often seem to be more energized by rejecting heathens than by embracing soulmates. They love staging inquisitions and anathemas. Having spent a decade working at the devil Microsoft and then at a big “old media” institution, the Los Angeles Times, I am amazed by the hostility that greets any effort to stroll into the clubroom and buy the boys a round of drinks.

But you weren’t trying to do that, Michael. You were trying to get people to talk about what you wanted them to talk about. You were trying to control the conversation. Oh, I know you were trying to do something new; it was just that you didn’t understand and still don’t.

Recently at the Times we tried using a Web innovation called “wiki” — a shared-editing process very much in the cyberian spirit. For two days, thousands of people seemed to be enjoying it. But our e-mail boxes oozed unwelcoming contempt from cyberoids (except for the real innovators of wiki — the founders of the amazing wikipedia.com — who were helpful and sympathetic). Then a guerrilla attack in the middle of the night flooded the site with pornography and we had to take it down.

I went into detail about why this was a well-intentioned but doomed misuse of a tool here. If they’d asked the community for help beforehand — if they’d acknowledged that those undersocialized geeks might know more than those editors about this — they could have succeeded. And rather than trying to get people to talk about what Kinsley wanted to talk about — ‘gather round my editorial, people’ — how much better it would have been just to listen. But that’s not the newspaper way. And that’s why Kinsley’s whining about the club is so ironic. Just try to be a blogger getting past the press club door. Waaaa:

It’s not surprising that cyberians make lousy communitarians, but the ugliest aspects of libertarianism — the me-me-me, the stay-out-of-my-space — have dominated.

Newspaper folks don’t make great communitarians either. But they can learn. Or go home.

I do think Kinsley heart was in the right place. But he couldn’t stop himself from complaining that things didn’t go his way. Welcome to the internet.

: I just opened a press release announcing the Batten Awards and what do I find but Kinsley and Wikipedia’s Jimbo Wales speaking together:

Highlighting the symposium will be a keynote dialogue on participatory news with Michael Kinsley, Editorial and Opinion Editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia, a collaboratively written online encyclopedia, and President of the Wikimedia Foundation, which recently launched WikiNews, collaboratively written online news reports.

  • http://futurewire.blogspot.com Brian

    What surprises (and disheartens) me most about Kinsey's response to his blogging experience is the need he feels to take the well-worn cheap shot at the online community. "Undersocialized geeks"?!?! How lame is that?? Kinsey surely can do better.

    Or perhaps not. At best, Kinsey reveals a ignorance of the online community that's especially shocking for someone who's attempted to make a career out of Internet media. At worst, it shows outright contempt for his audience and his colleagues. Granted, the abuse of the LA Times' wikitorials was disappointing and inexcusable, but if Kinsey and his Times coworkers are such masters of the field, they should have seen that coming.

  • Ed Rusch

    As someone who used to work at Microsoft, Kinsey should known an unsocialized geek when he sees one.

    And you really can't blame him for being upset when he tried to broaden the discussion and all he got was a flood of porn. He's absolutely right.

    Jeffo, a little jealousy here from you? Your headline seems to pretty much confirmed what he says about "undersocialized geeks," which I would now include you in. Way to raise the level of discourse, Jeffo.

  • http://buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Edo: Jealousy? Of what? And who says I was trying to raise his discourse? He's insulting the web and one person on it responds. If he knew what he was doing, he could have dealt with that "flood of porn" (actually, I suspect, a social comment in itself) easily. But he didn't ask for help until too late. And there's the lesson.

  • mm

    "Here’s a man who knows about lowering the tone of conversation about politics"

    And framing your response in this great "conversation" as "WAA WAA WAA" helps how? How are you any different?

  • http://mediaflect.com dorian

    Kinsley didn't get it years ago. Why should he now? http://poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=51

    Letter from 2002 about Kinsley not getting the Web (when he was editor of Slate!).

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~carlsdesk Carl

    “Here’s a man who knows about lowering the tone of conversation about politics”

    And framing your response in this great “conversation” as “WAA WAA WAA” helps how? How are you any different?

    There comes a time when you've got to call whining what it is. Perhaps Jeff's title is a bit, uh, childish sounding. My hunch is that he's doing so to prove a point. It'd be a short post if Jeff wrote "Kinsey whines about the new world."

  • Maureen

    As I posted in another thread, forget "we are not afraid." The MSM are VERY afraid! Or should I say, the liberal-leaning media? Interesting that, for all the bashing they get, you don't see Fox News or the Washington Times in meltdown over the web.

    I was a radio DJ for years, then left to get my degree in MassComm. Radio's history was fascinating in the various permutations it went thru. It had to adapt from being the kingpin of home entertainment to competing with movies, then competing with tv & movies, then competing with a car culture, etc. Interestingly, it's again going thru an adaptation phase of competing with both web & satellite broadcasters. I think radio will survive, but it will be interesting to see what form it takes.

    It's also interesting to think back on when the Betamax (then VHS) came out. Remember the howls from the movie industry? You would have thought we'd never see another film again because evil videotape would mean the ruin of the industry. Despite much frenetic lobbying in Washington, there never were laws passed restricting home taping. The movie industry had a choice–adapt or die. Interesting, isn't it? When faced with that choice, all of a sudden they magically figured out how to survive with videotape, & now in fact survive largely BECAUSE of that once-reviled medium. Film companies really don't care now how long their movies stay in theaters, unless it's a blockbuster–they WANT them out quickly so they can cash in on the (now)DVD & VHS sales they'll make!

    MSM–tv & newspapers–are now facing their own Waterloo. And they're absolutely terrified. I think they'll survive, but I doubt the current crop running them will. A large part of what is at play here, I think, is ego. When I was in college, I was consistently appalled at the attitude of snot-nosed students (in school purely because mommy & daddy were footing the bill) towards "the public"–attitudes encouraged & fostered by their professors (who, of course, had never spent a day in the real world). It was their job to "educate" the public–that amorphous unwashed mass who apparently can't think for themselves unless Junior/Juniorette deign to explain to them what the issues are & how they should view those issues. Sadly, that was simply a reflection of the MSM at the time, run by very similar egos. Egos who for years have been used to pontificating (whether on air or in print) & seeing their talking points become water cooler discussions the next day. The Cronkites, Brinkleys, Kinseys, Dowds, Rathers, Jennings, etc., drove the discourse (backed by the Grahams, Sulzbergers, Turners, etc.) with no input wanted from the public. There were no options short of not buying the paper or watching the tv news, other than an occasional letter to the editor buried on the back page. And, whether they want to admit it or not, those driving egos all had a similar political leaning. No dissension tolerated or allowed.

    Now, all of a sudden, there ARE options. Huge options. Cable channels like Fox News–which people are watching, thus explaining the hysterical reaction from MSM outlets towards it. And even bigger, the web. The web, with access to anyone. That's the scariest thing of all to MSM. After all, they can villify Fox News or Clearchannel–those are outlets with an owner & a face. You can make a "documentary" about evil Fox News & cast rotten ol' Rupert Murdoch as the villian. But who do you blame for blogs? There's no one face to the web. Horror of horrors, now the great unwashed–who are supposed to be "told" what to think by the MSM–have been given their own medium, & it turns out they CAN think for themselves after all! Worse yet, what they think is often at odds with what the MSM outlets have been so carefully trying to force-feed over the years. And they have the temerity to actually express those opinions out loud! Where they can be read by others! Others who agree with them! That absolutely can NOT be allowed! Pontificating to others is supposed to be a privilege reserved for only a select few, carefully chosen by the wealthy pseudo-liberals lucky enough to inherit media outlets from equally super-rich daddy/mommy. It must be truly terrifying to find that we peasants have been given our own outlet to communicate & are managing quite nicely, thank you. How much more terrifying to find that not everyone agrees with the pseudo-liberal pablum they've been trying to spoon-feed us for so long.

    So what to do? Right now we seem to be in the shrieking hysteria phase. Kind of like the temper tantrums my 11-month-old nephew throws when he can't get his way, so he flops on the floor & throws things until he gets it out of his system. So we get hysterical "documentaries" about Fox News & Clearchannel. Attempts to regulate them out of business in Congress. Name-calling by supposed grownups thinking up every way possible to demean the "pajama clad" bloggers (did you catch the Guardian's major tantrum over the bloggers who outed the terrorist-sympathizer masquerading as an intern there?). The beginnings of efforts to somehow legally quash bloggings that might "offend." The amusing sight of Kinsley & Dowd taking their toys & huffing off to "other pursuits." The sad sight of the editor of "Columbia Journalism Review" fercryinoutloud having his own snit-fit over views he disagrees with. How much more pathetic can it get?

    At some point, MSM is going to have to come to grips with the fact that the web–& blogs– aren't going away. They are viable, accurate, & valuable news resources. They allow for public interaction. Interaction which means occasional disagreement, possibly even unpleasant disagreement. (Geez, hasn't Kinsley ever watched a sesson of "Prime Minister's Questions?" Talk about unpleasant disagreements!) The fact that newspapers are suffering major circulation declines & having to fake numbers, that the networks are suffering disastrous viewership declines (particularly their newscasts) should be telling them something. They can continue to stick their head in the sand & pretend this is a fad, name-calling all they want, while their circulation/viewership spins to nothing. Or, they can realize there is a new force out there & adapt. Radio adapted. Movies adapted. They each are again facing their own new challenges. MSM are going to have to adapt too. Because the cold hard reality is that we, the public, can get along without them. That may be the thing that's scariest of all to them.

  • owl

    Yes to Jeff and Maureen.

    They are scared stiff. They still control most of the message, but occasionally, it does not matter how hard they try….they can't. Prime example was CBS/Rather. Good Lord, did they actually think they could bluff their way through with faked computer documents? I actually received a email from a editor at Columbia, asking how did I know they were not real? Evidently that idiot had never typed on old typewriters. They are use to owning the message and now, they can't always sell it.

    I think Michael Kinsley can NOT understand exactly how this happened. Their message will only sell on the east and west coast. How is this possible, he asks.

    Kinsley and MSM find themselves with double problems. The people that disagreed with the spin they put on their message, now have a way to tell others. Shell shocked, they have finally realized that there are different opinions. Scary stuff.

  • John

    The main thing that really, really annoys people like Kinsley is seeing all you people out there with weblogs cut in line — OK maybe not Jeff per se, since Michael would think he earned his stripes the correct way, by working at Time, Inc. and other mainstream publications for a while. But Kinsley sees the explosion of voices on in the Internet as allowing people who haven't paid their dues to achieve the vaunted level of "pundit" even though they never came through the proper channels and (gasp!) may not even work in the journalism or political fields. In his mind, they're cheating.

    Michael played by the rules, worked hard to get into top editing positions, schmoozed the right people in college and then in the media world, said the right things, hung out with the right people, and made his way into the both the pantheon of major media pundits and as editor of an influetial political magazine at a very tender age. And he did it and at a time when the number of souces of opinion jornalism were few and far between.

    Now, in his mind, any yutz off the street who has the most limited knowledge of the Internet can wind up shaping the political world (if they find the right story) as much as he can, or dissect and critcize those pontificating in the big publications and on the big networks. That's just not the way the world is supposed to work, and he wants the public to shun those interlopers and return things to their natural order.

  • Ed Rusch

    "He’s insulting the web and one person on it responds."

    Don't be silly. He's insulting the whole Web? Because he has Parkinson's and wants to be closer to his wife?

    You're jealous because he's regarded as a serious journalist and you are best known for founding Entertainment Weekly. That stench pervades everything you do.

  • http://www.mythusmageopines.com/mt Alan Kellogg

    Yo, Kinsley, come on over to the forums at ENWorld. We'll teach you about community and socialization. (You'd be surprised how just the threat of a temporary suspension of access to the forums can correct problem behavior.) Hell, a small segment of the membership got together one time and raised over $13,000 when the place needed help getting a server upgrade.

    And we share news. We share news, opinions, information, advice. We commisserate over tragedies large and small, congratulate the fortunate, and pass on good jokes and bad puns. (Or is bad pun redundent?)

    Or you can check out my place, Mythusmage Opines. There you'll find links to people like John Wick, Mike Mearl (Mearl's Journal), Ken Hite, and Robin Laws. Each with more links to others of like mind, each part of a community that's been around for over 30 years now and composed of people damn well worth listening to, most of the time. (Must confess, my community of choice does tend to the liberal side of things. Then again, creative types aint always known for their good sense. [Witness Mr. Kellogg. Thank you, Emily Bronte-saurus.] :) )

    MK, if they can socialize a middle aged control freak like me, you should be no problem.

  • http://buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Edo: Time for the meds, mate. "That stench"? Hey, you may not like Entertainment Weekly, it may not be The New Yorker, but stench? Issues, you've got issues.

  • http://deleted AnonymousDrivel

    A fine post Mr. Jarvis.

    The web is more organic in nature. Recognizing the inability of some to channel that which they think they can is insightful. Given that the environment has changed and that traditional media's entrenched positions have been opened for wider critical review, a larger audience has a new forum from which to speak and the old guard controls less of not only the responses presented but the questions asked. Yes, it is more rough and tumble and almost bloodsport in some regards. You may attest to that with the Bernie blowback. Conversely, the collective response may be more sincere despite it being course… that could be a plus. In time as more engage, a better etiquette may evolve such the the course is smoothed and the sincerity maintained. Kinsley just doesn't seem to have the genes to adapt.

  • kevin P


    Kinsley's screed against the blogs isn't a balanced look at a new, developing form of communication. It's a one sided, selective bitchfest that only looks at the accurate bad side of the blogs without pointing out the positive end. With millions of blogs it is easy to cherry pick and point out obvious the ridiculous. The times wiki experiment is examined from the perspective that the Times did everything right and since it bombed it is because of the nature of the blogs and not because the Times didn't know what it was doing.

    I have read the L.A. Times everyday for the last 30 years. It has no real competition in the area yet it is bleeding subscribers. Kinsley is getting hamered by Estrich for his recent attempt to broaden it's one sided political slant by including more conservative opinion writers and his recent redesign of the page is getting ripped left and right. In other words Kinsley is getting slapped around from all directions and he decided to vent his spleen against the blogs.

    Kinsley is a smart guy. But his critique came off like a bitter whine from a rejected lover. You can boil it down to "The blogs are ugly and they are written by poo poo heads." It wasn't informitive or particularly accurate. The "meat" analogy was strained and considering the Times reprinted a Guardian op-ed that was written by a "journalist in training" that ended up having ties to a Islamo fascist group the vaunted editors who screen out the nuts,one of the major problems with the blogs if we are to listen to Kinsley isn't working to well.

    The local liberal establishment is calling him an outsider who doesn't have a feel for the city, the corporate bosses are swinging their axes becuse the paper isn't making enough money, so Kinsley is not having a good time these day's and vents his spleen on the blogs. I guess I understand.

  • Mork

    I can't work out whether Jeff's post was designed to rebut Kinsley or prove his point.

  • penny

    Great post, Maureen!

  • http://www.joannejacobs.com Joanne Jacobs

    My corner of the blogosphere is social and civil. The flamers are out there but I don't hang out with them. And, unlike the LA times, I know a bit about the threat of spammers. In fact, in my days in the mainstream media (San Jose Mercury News), I ran online discussions of affirmative action and bilingual education — both hot-button topics. I knew enough not to leave those forums unmonitored.

    I like the bar analogy. There are yuppie bars, biker bars, singles bars, gay bars, etc. If you don't like the bar, try a different one. If you're opening a bar, design it for the crowd you're trying to attract. If you're the LA Times, hire a bouncer.