A game of wack-a-curmudgeon

Sometime ago, I tried to swear off commenting on linkbait that attacked either blogs or mainstream media. It’s just so tiring. Everything has been said. I feel the same way counteracting arguments against evolution, free speech, and television. I assume you do as well and so I don’t bother with the blog-v-MSM pissing matches. At the conference on networked journalism I’m holding at CUNY on Oct. 10, I’m thinking of having a gong on stage to bang if anyone even starts to head down that road. Enough already. Can we move on? Please?

So I was surprised when Jay Rosen bothered to snap back at Michael Skube’s contrarian-come-lately attack on blogs in the LA Times, just another in the apparently endless series of such screeds that pop up on op-ed pages like worms in the rain. In what was surely Jay’s shortest post ever, he told Skube to just retire: “I’m serious. You’re an embarrassment to my profession, to the university where you teach, and to the craft of reporting you claim to defend. It is time for you to quit, as you’ve clearly called it quits on learning– and reporting.” Here, here. That’s that.

But I should have figured that Jay was up to something bigger; he always is. He then turned around and asked his crowd to help him refute Skube and his crowd (once and for all, one would hope) with examples of these damned bloggers doing what Skube did not do: report. This then yielded a stirring and well-documented defense of bloggers’ journalism — beyond Trent Lott — as part of the Times’ lame new Blowback feature (a very controlling effort to add just a little bit of interactivity to its content, instead of just opening up to the discussion that is already happening all around them — see the post below). Jay ends:

No one owns the practice of reporting or assigns the right to do it. It’s a democratic thing to tell others what’s going on and “show your work.” Some people will not be deterred from doing that. Most of them don’t care what you call them. They do care if their story stands up.

I’ve said it before and I hope we can stop saying it soon, but this is not a matter of ‘or’ but ‘and’: Rather than one tribe of reporters attacking the other, we can and should be working together to report more than ever.

Maybe if we just ignore the linkbaiters they will, like bullies, skulk away. Or maybe they’ll write books and we’ll be dumb enough to debate them and give them more attention. I prefer to just walk away from this game of Wack-a-mole now. I’ll consider Jay’s piece the definitive response to the professional curmudgeons and urge the rest of us to just move on and do something constructive. Like report.

  • I’ll let readers be the judge of whether the L.A. Times’ Blowback feature is “lame,” but I can speak to the accuracy of this:

    (a very controlling effort to add just a little bit of interactivity to its content, instead of just opening up to the discussion that is already happening all around them — see the post below).

    That just ain’t so. I’ll go ahead and bore everybody with the institutional history:

    1) We’d like to open everything Opinion publishes to comments, and in fact we’re heading that way soon. But for tech/bureaucratic reasons, we could not wave that magic wand.
    2) We frequently get responses to our content that doesn’t fit into our severely restricted newspaper-letters format (i.e., 250 words, can’t have published a letter in X amount of time unless you’re directly aggrieved by the piece, etc.).
    And so, 3) We created this new feature to deal with that, *not* as an effort of “control,” but basically the opposite — as a way to expand reader reaction.

    Now, that’s about 5,000 miles short of what the ideal situation would be, but Jeff of all people should know that large media institutions tend to move slowly, so you do what you can.

  • Looks like you’ve laid the groundwork for vigorous discourse at the CUNY conference. I’m looking forward to it!

  • I should also mention — we linked to Skube’s critics & made an opportunity for (moderated) comments the day his piece ran; there are 50 (not very moderated) comments at the bottom of Rosen’s piece, and readers were invited to comment on both Jay and our editor’s note here. And, likely, there will be follow-up on our Opinion L.A. blog.

  • Eric Gauvin

    With regard to your last few previous posts, this isn’t such a great example of the added value of comments from readers:

    –journalist A writes opinion piece
    –respected journalist B responds with insults and fact correction (again with more hatred and anger, painting A as a total failure in life)
    –bloggers agree with each other at length in their attack with more anger and insult

  • Eric Gauvin

    ..continued from previous comment…

    but the best part is that journalist B ends up making a more thoughtful reply through the same mechanism as journalist A

    Jeff, this isn’t working anything like you were describing….

  • Related: Randall Hoven has been making a mirror list recently, collecting high-profile stories somehow failed to benefit from professional standards of factchecking at commercial storytellers:


  • Jeff: You forgot to give this post a title.

    The idea of Blowback, the way I understood it, is different than what you said.

    Blowback’s editorial logic is independent of comments on articles and other devices that let users speak. It’s to offer equal length, placement and promotion on the site for the blowback version (the voice in reply) which therefore addresses the inequality left over from the old platform, in which 100-word letters are a reply to 1,200 word articles.

    In fact, I asked Matt to make the Blowback version more two-way, by adding forum function to my column and he did.

    To me it’s an interesting feature promoting equality in debate via equal promotion of the reply at the same site that published the original.

  • Matt,
    Sorry but I think the model of people emailing something to the paper that the paper approves is still one-way. The model of putting the original in print and the rebuttal online is also one-way.

    The conversation is happening out here without that process and those limitations — and good on the Times for linking to it in this case. But I don’t know how much value the paper adds by allowing our 700 words to be put online there. Because there’s such great editorial judgment there? That’s the same judgment that selected this tired and sloppy Skube piece and didn’t put the response in the print paper, ill-serving the readers there. Finger in the dike, I think.

    The flood is coming — it’s here — and I don’t buy the arguments that an inch is better than nothing when the 5,000-mile journey is what’s needed to reach dry land. A journey of an inch is actually worse, I’d say, because it convinces people that they’re doing *something*. Something can be worse than nothing.

    I think what’s needed is an utter rethink of edit and op-ed pages. Why not kill them — and hand over that valuable print real estate to reporting — and move the conversation entirely online? Drive your readers and conversationalists there? Won’t get there an inch at a time.

  • That’s all very interesting; I’m just responding to the faulty notion that the Blowback is an attempt to “control” the debate. It’s not.

    Nor is it trying to “convince” anybody of anything — it’s trying to do something, albeit something incremental and wholly insignificant when weighed against what should be done.

    According to your logic, we shouldn’t have run Jay’s piece, because the whole concept is insufficiently revolutionary. Yet Jay’s piece was interesting enough for you to link to and comment on, and to have sparked hundreds of mini-conversations on our site and (especially) elsewhere. My job is to add value to readers, not withhold it in protest of not being able to hand them the keys to my office.

    As for “why not kill” the op-ed pages — I presume you are aware that billion-dollar media companies are not institutionally predisposed toward radicalism. That doesn’t mean people aren’t trying to do radical things, but it does mean that the results will often fall considerably short of the Jarvisian Ideal.

  • They just feel threatened. Eventually we will get to the point where we work together and make each other better.

  • Matt,
    It’s hard to imagine an American news company that is in greater need of dynamite. I am talking with others who are looking at ways to blow up their op-ed pages. A prior regime at the Times started down that path before being derailed himself. It’s not quite as radical as it seems, even. But radical action is what’s needed.
    How about this idea: turn the tables… Publish opinion pieces online first and then let people submit their responses before publication. Then may the best piece win. You can determine what’s best. Your public can. Either way is more open than the current system of envelopes opened on a desk.
    So my logic is not that Jay’s piece should not have been run. It’s that Skube’s piece should not have been run; it was a case of faulty judgment. And some input from the public would have improved that judgment.
    We simply disagree about the degree and definition of control. That control is already gone, whether ceded or not.

  • Jeff,

    If we’re really going to wack the curmudgeons, then at this conference on the 10th, let’s get rid of the stage altogether. Can’t we all discuss at an even horizontal level? We don’t need any more experts, particularly older white men (yes such as yourself and Jay Rosen) preaching to us about what we need to know. Nor do we need young rabble rousers, rebels and disruptors like myself on stage inspiring us with feeling good and remembering how we used to do it. We need equality, acceptance, mutual support and respect. Its going to be hard for all of us to put aside our baggage and ask how we can cooperate and collaborate, and most important of all, leverage our privilege to support the least heard voices. But we have to do it, journalism depends on it. I also believe humanity depends upon it. We could be using web 2.0 for greater human understanding and tolerance, but its not going to happen if even the privileged few can’t communicate in a horizontal manner.

    For a world without podiums…


  • Brian,
    I’m a big believer in the unconference and — this is a story I’ve told before — I blew up the panel I was working at the first Bloggercon when Dave Winer told me forcefully that the room is the panel. I’ve been a big evangelist and practitioner of the model since.

    In this case, though, I want us to share best practices with some order. So we are having people with representative experience share their practices and lessons before the conference so this can turn into a discussion at the first minute. And then everyone will work together to come up with next steps; that’s close to an unconference. There’s no preaching. Who said there was going to be preaching? Why are you assuming that? There’s going to be sharing. And I hope there’s going to be action. That’s what matters most: moving forward.

    And, please, let’s not make assumptions about anyone because they are white or not, young or not, blogger or not. Enough with those us v them labels. That is the whole point of this silly discussion around Skube’s screed. Enough already. Let’s work together and figure out what’s next and then do it.

    I suggest you come with a list of things that you want from others to help you move to the next level. And think about how you can help others get to that level thanks to your experience.

  • Jeff,

    Sorry, I am a bit of a hothead, and I think I came off way wrong. As you may or may not be aware, I just came back from an “unconference” where I struggled to create a dialogue, not a lecture with questions, and it was essentially impossible. Sometimes the unconferences need unconferencing. People were more interested in hearing about Alive in Baghdad than opening their minds to how they could do exactly what we do, whether in their backyards and communities, or in Bogota, Rome, TImbuktu, or Saigon. And this has happened repeatedly, we each have roles and sometimes we too quickly fall into them.

    I completely agree that there needs to be a best practices section, and I sincerely hope this will be a dialogue, but my major point is simply that I hope we can all step outside ourselves. Just like I need to step outside my own combative “kick the tables over” mentality.

    I am not meaning to be insultive, I’m just realizing that the unconference needs active unconferencing and a prepared and active attitude of open-ness.

    I will bring my list and a sense of faith and trust in our capabilities to put great minds toward great things.

  • Thanks, Brian. With your best practices and your dreams and if you end up helping others do what you do…. it’ll be a great day.

  • Eric Gauvin


    I’m not sure if I would consider “blowing things up” as a best practice. I think you must realize that you and many other bloggers exacerbate an adversarial relationship between msm and the blogosphere. I think the first objective should be to eliminate that. However, the problem as I see it is that you and others feed off of that adversarial relationship.

  • Eric,
    That’s why I say I generally ignore such efforts at linkbait and will try to do so in the future. Remember, though, that this started with Skube calling us all worthless bozos. I don’t like playing schoolyard he-started-it either but that should be acknowledged. And Skube got valuable real estate in the LA Times; no opposition to his viewpoint did. I’m with Jay on this.

  • Eric Gauvin

    That’s a good policy, but my impression is that the mantra from many bloggers (including you) is “scrap the old and look forward to the yet undefined future with optimism.” There needs to be more constructive criticism (with real-world, specific ideas) in order to overcome this huge hurdle of bad blood between msm and blogggers that already exists.

  • Eric Gauvin

    I guess this conversation’s over…

  • Eric,

    Will you be at this conference on Oct 10? I’d love to talk to you more about this. I am probably one of the younger folks in this audience(ok maybe not anymore, I turned 27 last month), but I find too often we are grabbing at the desires often reserved for the dreams of youth “scrapping the old” etc. Would love to chat more about other perhaps more reserved options.

    I tend to think the best way to find innovation is to understand the steps that led us to here, and to look for ways to change and influence contemporary networks, while also utilizing technology to grasp oppotunities not attainable to our forebears…

  • Eric Gauvin


    Not planning on going to the conference. I wouldn’t mind talking with you anytime, but not sure if it would yield much more than you get out of my comments here. I’m not involved in journalism in any way other than reading newspapers and watching new media developments unfold.

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