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The aggregated Times

Relevant to yesterday‘s post about the NYTimes Company’s International Herald Tribune outsourcing part of its business coverage to Reuters, Times Online in London says talks are underway for a deal with Mothership Times as well. Clearly, this would be a way for both to compete with the soon-to-be-invigorated Wall Street Journal.

Keller responds

Bill Keller of the Times responded to my complaint about his speech and characterization of my views about professional, mainstream media and journalism and citizens. I’m glad we’re moving closer together but I still want to correct the record. The exchange. First, from Keller:

* * *

Jeff,

After reading your long response to my Guardian speech, I concede it’s time to push the Refresh button on my summary of the debate. It’s clear that you (and others I used to think of as blog triumphalists) have moved some distance from our 2005 “citizen journalist” exchange and from the day you lectured a New York Times offsite meeting about the certain doom mainstream media faced at the hands of amateur journalists (bloggers) and our own readers (Digg was big on your agenda that night.) I hope it’s clear — from what we’re doing on our website, and from that speech last week — that I’ve moved some distance in your direction. My respect for blogs as a tool of journalism is not the least bit grudging, and my conviction that professional journalists should collaborate with their audience is heartfelt. That’s especially true when you have an audience as educated and engaged as ours.

We may — I’m not really sure — disagree on the relative parts to be played by the amateur and the professional in our journalistic future, or on the pace of change. We don’t disagree on the value of what you call “networked journalism.”

My aim in the speech was not to demonize anyone, but to give heart to the many journalists and consumers of journalism who worry that quality journalism is endangered. For all the many things the new medium has brought, it has not supplanted trained reporters in the field, the discipline of good editors, or the backing of brave and independent journalistic institutions. And many mainstream journalists have proven themselves enthusiastic and agile practitioners of the new forms. The enemy, as I said in the speech, is not disruptive technology, not bloggers, not press-hostile government. It is the despair that derives from an inability to see the enduring value of the old and the promise of the new.

Cheers,
Bill

* * *

My response:

Bill,

Thanks so much for the response. I’m delighted that we’re meeting on the road, even though neither of us is exactly sure where it will lead.

I’m particularly glad to hear you endorse the value of networked journalism and I eagerly await seeing collaborative efforts from the Times and its public. You do, indeed, have a very wise crowd and that is a mighty force waiting to be mobilized to serve journalism and society. If I may suggest, you might even want to ask them for collaborative ideas; I’m sure they will have many good ones.

I’m also eager to push that refresh button and move forward, not back, leaving this tiresome us-v-them debate behind.

But I can’t do so without still correcting the record. I’m afraid you misremember and thus mischaracterize my stand. And considering that I am teaching students bound for professional journalism at CUNY and that I write about this very topic for the Guardian, where you spoke, it’s important to me to be clear on that record.

I’ve never predicted and certainly have not wished for the doom of professional journalism. Quite the contrary, I have been arguing — apparently not clearly or forcefully enough — that collaboration among professionals and citizens is a key not just to survival but growth for journalism.

If you can show me a citation to the contrary, I’ll fess up to it. But I do not find the sentiment you refer to in our 2005 exchange. Neither did I find it in the presentation I gave at the Times offsite. I looked up that Powerpoint and it included these lines:

We live in a post-scarcity era
Q: How do you grow with a citizens’ media world that doubles every 5 months?
A: You share: content, training, tools, promotion, and, yes, revenue.

And this:

The crowd is wise.
How do we enable the people we called our audience to become our partners?

And this:

How do we break free of the shackles of our medium and our history and become enablers… aggregators… connectors… networkers… trainers… vetters… and members of our community?

At the end, I filled a few slides with ideas for collaborative, networked efforts with your wise crowd and ended them with this hope:

This is how we grow.

Bill, that doesn’t sound like the threat of a would-be conquerer or the schadenfreude of a blog triumphalist with a death wish for mainstream media and journalism. Because it’s not. I have been consistent in this: I argue that we need professional journalism and organizations to survive and prosper and I hope that one way, just one way, to help journalism — indeed, to help it grow — is to work collaboratively with the public because now we can. That was the point of my initial hubristic open letter to you that started our exchange. I want to see these worlds come closer together, not move farther apart. That is my constant theme.

So we agree that we need journalists trained and supported in reporting and neither I nor any blogger I read has ever suggested that they should be supplanted. They can, however, be complemented.

There is nothing to be served by continuing the us-v-them debate. It is unproductive and ultimately damaging and certainly has become boring. Can we mutually call it over? Yes, press that refresh button, please. Let’s talk instead about the new opportunities we have to support journalism — both the activities and the business of journalism — by using new tools, including those of collaboration. As I said in my blog response to your speech, I would very much like to hear your vision for that, your vision for the future we all want journalism to have.

Early next year, I’ll be holding a conference next door at CUNY on new businesses models for news. Let’s discuss it there.

As is my habit, I’ll be blogging this: a coda to our earlier exchange.

Thanks,

- jeff

* * *

LATER: Keller responded to my email and I to his, both below. I don’t intend to make this a Dickensian serial as was our last exchange. But I’ll share the latest. From Keller:

Jeff,
It’s nice to renew the conversation, and thanks for clarifying your views on the coexistence of professionals and amateurs. Whether or not you intended to come across as a blog triumphalist and prophet of mainstream media doom, that’s certainly the way your audience — at that Times event — understood you. Perhaps it was in the ear of the beholders. In any case, I’m happy to be corrected, and will be careful to credit your good sense and good will when this subject comes up again.
Cheers,
Bill

And my reply:

Bill,
Oh, doom is still possible if mainstream stewards do not care for their charges. We agree that the collapse of professional journalism would be tragic. I warn against that. But then, as I demonstrated with the slides I quoted in my last email, I try my best to suggest how that doom might be averted — and I’m glad to see the Times taking some of those steps. Does that make me an advocate of doom? Hardly. A prophet of doom? Not even. An ally in the race against doom? I’d hope so. I think this is a case of what I heard from the natives when I lived in California (and one also hears from veterans of therapy in New York): You and your colleagues may be “projecting.” I suggest that the paper’s management should stop seeing enemies at every corner and start seeing allies, even colleagues. That’s my point.
Onward. I’m eager to hear your ideas for collaboration with citizens and see these ideas in the paper and online.
best
jeff

* * *

Meanwhile, friend Jay Rosen sends this wonderful example of the potential for mobilizing citizens in acts of journalistic collaboration from — cough — the Washington Post and Dan Froomkin, writing at NewAssignment.net, HuffingtonPost, and Neiman Watchdog (now that’s thinking distributed):

Bloggers and other citizen journalists have a new and exciting opportunity to find and shed light on stories the mainstream media are missing – by combing through transcripts of recent Congressional oversight hearings. Without any fanfare, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has started posting preliminary transcripts of many of its hearings on its Web site, giving everyone a chance to pore through testimony and find news the MSM may have overlooked.

After four years during which virtually no administration officials were called to Capitol Hill to explain themselves, the new Democratic majority in January revived the tradition of closely examining Executive branch activities, with House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman leading the charge. But with a few exceptions, you wouldn’t know it from reading the paper or watching the news. One of the dirty little secrets of Washington journalism is that very few news organizations assign staff to cover anything but the most high-profile hearings and debates on Capitol Hill. As a result, few if any reporters show up for oversight hearings – and those who do tend to leave early. . . .

This is a great opportunity for citizen journalists to become Washington reporters. If you find some overlooked news in these or other transcripts, e-mail me your blog posts or your findings, and I’ll try to make sure that they aren’t overlooked as well.

Updating Bill Keller

In a speech in London for the Guardian, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller says this about bloggers and this blogger in particular:

My friend Jeff Jarvis, a blogger of long-standing and professor of journalism at the City University of New York, refers to news bloggers as “citizen journalists”, which has a sweet, idealistic ring to it. Jeff, like many of the most ardent true believers in the blog revolution, suggests that the mainstream media can be largely replaced by a self-regulating democracy of voices, the wisdom of the crowd.

First, I have never said that the crowd of bloggers would replace mainstream media and professional journalism. That’s a red herring that is too often attributed presumptively to bloggers and their advocates. It’s never properly cited because it can’t be. Where’s the link to the quote with me saying that? It’s fiction. I don’t say that. I don’t believe that. Jay Rosen shot that fish in the barrel a year and a half ago when he responded to hearing it again from Keller’s deputy Jon Landman:

Jay Rosen says that no one is saying that news will be decided by poll. Nobody is saying that we don’t need reporters. Nobody is saying that you should stop reporting and just listen. But these things are being said: The audience knows a lot of stuff and if you don’t tap that knowledge you’re not keeping up with your craft. And journalism has become interactive and if you’re not interacting, you’re not keeping up with your craft. And, he says, trust isn’t made the way it was; the trust transaction is different.

So can we please can that talk and stop accusing bloggers of wishing to eliminate journalists? The problem is, it serves the narrative Keller wants — and he’s not alone in this: to make us make them the enemy. The image they’re trying to present is that we, the people, are at their door trying to bash it down when, in truth, we’re only knocking and offering to help. Which leads to my second objection:

I have long since recanted the use of the phrase “citizen journalist.” I did, indeed, use it in an email/blog conversation with Keller back in 2005 (read from the bottom up), in which he suggested:

(btw, why “citizens”? Isn’t that a little insensitive to stateless bloggers, or bloggers bearing only green cards? “People’s media” strikes me as more inclusive, and it has a pedigree. Just a thought.)

A year later, I wrote:

I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason. They imply that the actor defines the act and that’s not true in a time when anyone can make journalism. This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism — its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out). In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves — and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

A that moment, I turned to using the phrase “networked journalism” and explained why:

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product. . . .

In networked journalism, the public can get involved in a story before it is reported, contributing facts, questions, and suggestions. The journalists can rely on the public to help report the story; we’ll see more and more of that, I trust. The journalists can and should link to other work on the same story, to source material, and perhaps blog posts from the sources (see: Mark Cuban). After the story is published — online, in print, wherever — the public can continue to contribute corrections, questions, facts, and perspective … not to mention promotion via links. I hope this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as journalists realize that they are less the manufacturers of news than the moderators of conversations that get to the news.

Indeed, this led in a straight line to my application for a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and the hosting of the Networked Journalism Summit, which the aforementioned Jon Landman attended.

But Keller needs to set up his competitive straw man because he wants to calculate his value on what he controls more than what he enables:

It is certainly true that technology has lowered the barriers to entry in the news business. The old joke that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one is now largely inoperative. Freedom of the press now belongs to anyone with an Internet Service Provider. This is all unsettling to the traditional news business, but it is also an opportunity. In an easy-entry business, success goes to those who – and here you must supply those ironic quote marks – move up the value chain. That is, you succeed by offering something of real value that the newcomers cannot match.

As it happens, newspapers have at least two important assets that none of the digital newcomers even pretend to match. One is that we deploy worldwide a corps of trained, skilled reporters to witness events and help our readers understand them. This work is expensive, laborious, sometimes unpopular, and occasionally perilous. . . .

The civic labour performed by journalists on the ground cannot be replicated by legions of bloggers sitting hunched over their computer screens. It cannot be replaced by a search engine. It cannot be supplanted by shouting heads or satirical television shows.

What is absent from the vast array of new media outlets is, first and foremost, the great engine of newsgathering – the people who witness events, ferret out information, supply context and explanation. . . .

And the other is that we have a rigorous set of standards. We have a code of accuracy and fairness we pledge to uphold, a high standard of independence we defend at all costs, and a structure of editorial supervision to enforce our standards.

Again, I hear no one saying he wants that work replicated. But can’t it be complemented? Witnesses to events can now help report what they see and context and explanation can come from both journalists and the experts they quoted who can now also publish. That means more journalism. I see that not as a competitive threat but as a grand opportunity. Knock, knock. Someone’s at the door, Bill. Invite them in. I’ve been suggesting that since 2005. Perhaps you can even teach them about your standards. I’ll offer your my classroom next door at CUNY and I’ll bring the bagels. Perhaps you can leave not just with a mutual understanding and respect but even with some journalism you can do together.

Keller tries to issue a caveat. Some of his best friends are bloggers.

I am a convert to blogs, those live, ad-libbed, interactive monologues that have proliferated by the millions, with an average audience consisting of the blogger and his immediate family. The Times actually produces more than 30 of them, in which our reporters muse on subjects ranging from soccer to health to politics. Blogs can swarm around a subject and turn up fascinating tidbits. They allow you to follow a story as it unfolds. And, yes, there are bloggers who file first-hand reports of their experiences from distant places, including Iraq – and sometimes their work is enlightening or intriguing. But most of the blog world does not even attempt to report. It recycles. It riffs on the news. That’s not bad. It’s just not enough. Not nearly enough.

No one says it’s enough. Point me to the person who does. Cite a quote.

If I were a Times blogger, I’d be insulted by this from my editor. They don’t just muse. They do report. And they dig up more than tidbits; they are writing news that starts online and ends up in the pages of the paper. In just the last week, talking with news executives from other large institutions, I’ve been praising those Times blogs, particularly Saul Hansell’s Bits blog, Virginia Heffernan’s video blog, and the campaign blog, Caucus.

In the rest of his speech, the meat of it, Keller is meant to talk about the state and future of newspapers. I don’t hear a vision for that future from him. He is confident in print, at least for sometime, at least at The Times. He is proud, with reason, of the paper’s migration of content onto the web. He confesses that he doesn’t know they will get to the Promised Land or what that land is. Instead, he offers his defense of the Times and its verities and value.

That’s the part that scares me. I so want to hear a vision for the future because I, too, am not sure how we’ll get there, but I wish that people in a position to execute their visions were eagerly trying many things to find some way over the void. Says Keller:

And then there is the business of our business. As has been widely reported, many daily newspapers are staggering from an exodus of subscribers, a migration of advertisers to the web, and the rising costs of just about everything. Newspapers are closing bureaus and hollowing out their reporting staffs.

At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, “How are you?” in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.

What I wish they were asking themselves instead is, “What’s new?”

* * *

I’ll leave it to others to dissect Keller’s views in his speech on America today, the Times’ verities, and the Bush White House:

The Bush administration has merely fed a current of public antipathy that has been running against us for a long time, a consequence of our own failings and, perhaps, a tendency to blame the messenger when news is bad.

For those collecting them, here is Keller on the Times and the start of the war in Iraq:

Even with audiences like this one, who are presumed to be well read and world-savvy, I’m constantly surprised by the presumption of bad faith when people talk about our business. That is in some measure the fault of our own shortcomings, the well-publicised examples of journalistic malfeasance, the episodes of credulous reporting in the prelude to the war in Iraq, the retreat of some news organisations from serious news into celebrity gossip, and so on. It also reflects the fact that we live in cynical times, in a clamorous new media world of hyperventilating advocacy. And so I always feel obliged to pause and state what, to me and many of you, is obvious. . . .

At the other end of the culpability scale, I’ve had a few occasions to write mea culpas for my paper after we let down our readers in more important ways, including for some reporting before the war in Iraq that should have dug deeper and been more sceptical about Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction. It’s not fun to take yourself to the woodshed, but it is essential to our credibility, and it is not something all institutions do. Come to think of it, we’re still waiting for the White House mea culpa on those elusive weapons of mass destruction.

: LATER: More comments over at Comment is Free.

Content is free(er)

So Rupert Murdoch finally said it: The Wall Street Journal Online is going free. Here’s the link — and soon you won’t need to curse when you click on it and hit that brick pay wall. (Here‘s the AP version on the Times.)

On WSJ.com, Mr. Murdoch said, “We are studying it and we expect to make [the site] free and, instead of having one million [subscribers], having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth.” He said he believes that a free model, with its increased readership, will attract “large numbers” of big-spending advertisers.

I’ve argued in favor of dropping the wall. Lest I be accused (again) of wanting content to be free, I’m not saying that. I’m saying it already is. That horse has left the barn and has been running free for a decade. The reality of a networked media ecosystem is that free competition is always a click away. And as classified managers have learned trying to deal with Craigslist, free is damned hard to compete with. It just is.

But I think Murdoch’s move is about more than a business model and ad revenue. It is a shot across the bow of the New York Times. Watch out, neighbors, there’s a shootout in town. And it’s going to be damned fun to watch.

Prepare to be boarded

MediaGuardian’s Stephen Brook reports that, as rumored, Times of London editor Robert Thompson is bound for the U.S. to become publisher of the Wall Street Journal once his boss Rupert Murdoch closes the sale. Thompson is smart and respected. I think the Times under his leadership is good and on this trip, reading it more regularly, I think it’s improving. And don’t forget that when he was with teh Financial Times in New York, Thompson exploded its circulation. Add to this Murdoch’s noises about expanding coverage and taking on the New York Times.

And we have a newspaper war. Let’s hope we do. For it would only improve both papers. As always, when I’m in London, I’m struck by the benefit that accrues to all papers from their competitive and innovative fervor. I understand the arguments that Murdoch would be better to stick to business but selfishly, I hope he does give the Times a run. The old, gray lady needs to clear out her arteries.

The devil Drudge

Maybe I’m more aware of this because I’m a Hillary supporter, but it does seem as if the New York Times is taking any opportunity to swipe at her. Yesterday’s page one carried a story that was shocked — shocked, I tell you — that the Clinton campaign might actually be feeding stories to the dreaded Drudge Report.

….But it was a prime example of a development that has surprised much of the political world: Mrs. Clinton is learning to play nice with the Drudge Report and the powerful, elusive and conservative-leaning man behind it. . . .

That people in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign orbit would tip off the Drudge Report to its fund-raising numbers is in part a reflection of her pragmatic approach to dealing with potential enemies, like Newt Gingrich or Rupert Murdoch. . . .

The site is a potent combination of real scoops, gossip and innuendo aimed at Mr. Drudge’s targets of choice — some of it delivered with no apparent effort to determine its truth, as politicians of all stripes have discovered at times.

Would they be equally shocked if Rudy Giuliani or John McCain tried to get good publicity from, oh, the New York Times?

And it’s not as if the Times doesn’t benefit plenty from
Drudge. Last I checked, Drudge was the single largest nonsearch referrer to both the Times and the Washington Post. And I’ve heard executives from major publications and blogs say that they wouldn’t piss off Drudge because he sends them so much traffic.

So why are they so shocked that Clinton might try to get a favorable link? What’s the news there? Or is it an opportunity to slap Hillary while she’s up? Just asking.

Editing the Times

Here’s an exchange between Adam Nagourney of the Times and me over campaign coverage.

On Tuesday, I took out after Nagourney for his Times story presenting the impression that Obama is winning over Iowa youth even though the polls, which he quotes, do not back up that hypothesis. I posted a comment on his story (though it never showed up there) and also crossposted it here. Nagourney responded the next day (though being crazed with the Networked Journalism Summit, I had no time to reply until now). Here is his article and here my criticism (with my comment at the end). Here are his response to me and mine to him:

* * *

Hey Jeff:

Here’s my feeling on this: My job is about getting information out to the public, from what I see and learn on the campaign trail, and trying to put it in as much perspective as possible. In this case, it looks like something MIGHT be going on with Obama and younger voters, based on anecdotal evidence (turn-out at his rallies, conversations with younger voters, the make-up of his campaign staff), but also because his campaign is clearly trying to work it (the Iowa High School program is pretty neat.) To me, journalistically, I want to make sure I get that information out to readers – but with all the statistical and historical information that makes clear that this remains very speculative right now.. (Also, keep in mind, I wrote that for one of our Web columns, where we have more flexibility in voice and tone – hence the phrase, ‘polls aside.” — which was important I think in communicating to readers that this is not some breathless announcement story.)

The alternative would have been not to write anything at all, and sit back and feel like a jerk if Obama, say, sweeps through Iowa and New Hampshire and exit polls show it’s because it was because of a sudden surge of under-30 voters.

Hope that answers your question.

Adam

* * *

Adam,

Thanks so much for the reply.

Of course, it’s your job to get information out to the public. But it’s also your job to judge that information. You had an impression. But the polls simply didn’t back up that impression. So is that impression information? Is it news, worthy of running in the Times? And is covering your flank — so you don’t feel like a jerk, as you say — sufficient cause to shove this round peg into that square hole?

In any case, this remains a horse-race story and I’m among those who are tired of them and, indeed, think they can be a perilous addiction. For they are too much about betting, entertainment, and ego: covering one’s rear in hopes of being the one who called it right. But what value does that really give us? What does that tell us about the candidate? What knowledge or news does that provide to help us vote? Not much, I’d say.

I’d point you to this post, inspired by a Politico blog item that noted the syncopation between the polls and the media’s narrative: Clinton was ahead in the polls but Politico had the impression that national media’s narrative gave Obama the mo’. Now that all this coverage is digital and searchable, it’s not hard to test that hypothesis as I did here. Note also the six-month candidate coverage chart on Daylife (where, full disclosure, I am a partner); the service gathers and analyzes coverage from thousands of news sources. It shows that Clinton’s coverage has not broken away from Obama’s until last month. Media impression is only now catching up to voter reality.

So return to your story. Without the facts — and polls are about as close as we get — one is left (I was left) with the question: Why did you do the story? Seeking your motive is a reasonable question since you’re the guy who controls that news hole into which was shoved this dubious peg.

So if writing in a web column gives you more flexibility in voice and tone, then I say run with it. Be transparent. Bloggy, even. If Obama impresses you, say so. If you think his high-school program is really neat, then print that. Make that the reason for the story. For without that, we are left to wonder: Is this wishful thinking? Please tell us.

Now please allow me to speak more as a former editor than as a blogger and say that there are plenty of ways I think you could have attacked this story that wouldn’t have required the taffy stretching. A few ideas:

You could have focused in solely on that high-school program and reported the hell out of it, talking with the strategists who created it, the operatives who facilitated it, and the students who followed this Pied Piper and those who didn’t. Then I still would have seen the Obama campaign’s dogged pursuit of youth. I’d still like to know about the programs of the other candidates, though.

Or you could have gone to rallies for Obama and Clinton and done a census of age. It’s even something you could have crowdsourced: Get volunteers to ask 100 random, truly random people their age. Get a fact. Contrast that with the polls. Talk with the young people in both places. Tell me why they like either candidate. Why they don’t like the other. Let me hear them speak.

Or go to a mall and find 100 random youth yourself. Ask them for whom they’re voting and why and whether any actions of the campaigns have influenced them.

Or do a statistical analysis of past campaigns and show how much impact the youth vote had on victory since, say, 18-year-olds got the vote. Then look at the relative support of Clinton and Obama and explain why it is or isn’t wise for the Obama campaign to be going after youth.

Or poll young people about the issues and stands that matter to them — if, indeed, youth speak at all monolithically — and analyze the candidates’ stands next to that to see who should be more appealing (this approach having the fringe benefit of actually discussing a few issues in addition to the obvious, Iraq).

And if Iowa’s caucuses are, as you report, unlikely to be affected by the youth since they swing so old, then maybe picking another state might be more productive.

Journalistically, to paraphrase you, doesn’t replacing reportorial generalities and rhetorical questions with reported facts get more information out to readers and voters?

I’ll be blogging this, too. I don’t know why my comment didn’t end up attached to your story. If you with to reply, I’d hope you’d do so in one or the other of our comments.

- Jeff

[I should have added in my reply to him -- in the interest of transparency -- that I am likely to vote for Clinton.]

The Peter Pan of politics

Here is another example of either lazy or agenda-laded — or both — political reporting in the Times: Adam Nagourney’s exercise in apparent wishful thinking as he muses on Barack Obama attracting young voters. On Obama:

He has clearly struck a chord among younger voters. And his campaign has made what seems to be the most sophisticated effort of any of the Democrats to reach out to them, taking steps like sending recruiting teams to Iowa high schools and trying to ensure that New Hampshire college students who might be out of state on primary day get absentee ballots.

What will this mean in the end?

Now that’s a rhetorical question. Clearly, Nagorney doesn’t know and so one wonders why the story was done. The impression was certainly out there that Obama had younger supporters and that’s the premise of the story. But Nagourney’s first fact belies that:

The truth of the matter is that every four years – as sure as a sunset – stories appear about a surge of interest among younger voters in presidential politics, typically predicting a jump in turn-out that will benefit one campaign or another. It rarely turns out to be true: the percentage of voters under 30 in the total electorate was basically unchanged between 2000 and 2004– 17 percent, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls. Polls taken by The Times and CBS News last month suggest that there is no difference in the level of support between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton among younger Democratic voters, though they view Mr. Obama slightly more favorably.

One wonders again why the story was done, then. But Nagourney goes on to sell his now-questionable premise:

But could this finally be the year – and this the candidate – that produces the ever-expected burst of interest among younger voters? Polls aside, the kind of crowds Mr. Obama is drawing – and a walk through his campaign headquarters in Des Moines – certainly suggest that some young people have taken a strong interest in his candidacy.

Polls aside. Facts aside. History aside. Damnit, he’s determined to write this story, to push the image of Obama as the political Pied Piper. He moves to meaningless observations:

At 46, Mr. Obama has just the slightest streak of gray hair, no creases in his face and works out every day to keep trim. Democrats may debate whether his youthfulness makes it tough for him to come across as presidential; at the least, it means that he does not come across as parental, at least not to the newly voting age crowd.

The story is utterly uninformative. And I have to wonder whether there is an agenda here: another slap at frontrunner Clinton or an effort to boster the flagging Obama. In either case, I wish that we could have a dialogue with Nagourney over this story to ferret out the motive and method behind stories such as this.

I posted this comment on the story:

In one breath, you quote polls saying that there is essentially no difference between Obama and Clinton in youth’s support of them.

In the next breath, you try to argue that Obama is the youth candidate with little more to back up your contention — is it a wishful one? — than your vague, generalized observations about his hair and fitness and tactics, still unproven.

Why was this story written? What is the news here?