On On the Media

Here’s Bob Garfield’s On the Media report on the Networked Journalism Summit at CUNY.

: LATER: There’s quite the discussion between Jay Rosen and Bob Garfield in the comments. Click on.

  • Here is what I posted at PressThink about this piece.

    NPR’s On The Media did a feature on crowdsourcing built around interviews Bob Garfield did at the Networked Journalism Summit, including one he did with me.

    Unfortunately he got the story–and facts–wrong, misreporting the sequence of what happened in Assignment Zero, probably because he had my part in the narrative all picked out before he did his interview with me.

    Garfield asked me to start off by first telling his tape recorder what went right with Assignment Zero, and then what went wrong. Okay, I said.

    For the “what went right” part I explained what I explained in this PressThink post: “When the editors of Assignment Zero hit upon the idea of asking contributors to pick from a list of key sources and do a single interview, returning the results as a cleaned-up but otherwise raw Q and A, the division of labor clicked with participants and the ‘ask’ worked.” (Those weren’t the words but that was my answer.)

    For the what went wrong part I explained what I told Len Witt in an earlier Q and A: “In the beginning we thought, naively, that people would sort of figure out how to collaborate on parts of the story if we broke the story into parts. Wrong. They didn’t.”

    What I didn’t focus on at the time (though I should have, because it’s happened before with me and him) is that Garfield is one of those journalists who lets his gotcha mind think for him at times. And that’s how he made his goof.

    You see in reflex-driven gotcha journalism, which On The Media allows him to practice, “what went right?” is the PR question, the puff ball, the chance for a source to show off and spout off about the wonderful things he’s been a part of, and the glorious success of his plans and schemes. What went wrong is, of course, the real question, the “journalism” part. That’s where the professional reporter has to exert himself on behalf of the listeners and zero in.

    But gotcha journalists are mindful of the demand to be fair. They know they have to make it sound like the good and the bad, what worked and what failed, have been equally weighed, and so they put into their stories the surface cues that they believe signal fairness, and this is what creates the freedom to blast, to needle, to demolish, to raise that big eyebrow of doubt– and to play gotcha which is more fun than PR.

    So now to Garfield’s goof. The On the Media segment says…

    that failure to finely calibrate expectations, along the lines of remove child before folding stroller, helped sink the highest profile experiment in journalistic crowdsourcing. That was Assignment Zero, the much heralded brainchild of NYU prof and blogger Jay Rosen.

    Actually, AZ wasn’t “much heralded” at all. David Carr and Joel Achenbach wrote about it before launch but that’s about all the press it got. But Garfield needs that for his gotcha moment, coming here…

    That project began auspiciously with participants quickly conducting interviews with 70 stories, then quickly everything unraveled.

    This is where I come in, with the soundbite from Garfield’s second question. “What went wrong?” I ask myself. I am then heard saying we kinda thought that if we divided up our trend stories into smaller parts people would self organize. But they didn’t and so “our scheme fell apart.”

    The problem is it didn’t happen that way. The project didn’t “begin auspiciously with participants quickly conducting interviews with 70 stories,” as Garfield said. It began with… “we kinda thought that if we divided up our trend stories into smaller parts people would self organize.” When that didn’t happen we had to think it through, re-design the site, and rework the project. It was out of that reworking–exactly what is supposed to happen in an experiment–that the (successful) plan for the interviews came.

    Thus the “auspicious beginning” that OnTheMedia reported was actually the conclusion. Because of this error, his “Then quickly everything unraveled…” is a fictional construct. Gotcha Garfield got the sequence wrong. I answered his questions in the order he posed them–PR first, then the real story–and he just adopted that sequence as event chronology without checking. (It’s an error quickly caught by reading my post and clicking a few links, but when Gotcha journalists think they got the goods they stop reporting.)

    For good measure he threw in something else that’s wrong. “Rosen also believed that the nature of the story didn’t lend itself to narrow divisions of labor.” I didn’t say that, and it isn’t correct. If he had asked me that question, I would have said that we didn’t have the division of labor part right at the start but we got closer to it at the end with interview week and the 70+ Q and A’s. This would have saved him from his error.

    But that didn’t fit his narrative, “much heralded crowdsourcing journalsm project falls apart in practice.”

  • Bob Garfield

    Wow. I have all the raw tape from the Rosen interview, which I will review at the earliest opportunity. I’m pretty sure he’s entirely wrong, however, and that the tape supports the narrative every which way. Fort instance, on whether the Assignment Zero story choice was suited for the project, I know for sure that my statement was a paraphrase of his words — just as “everything unraveled” was a restatement of his words “everything fell apart.”

    As to his charge that I somehow suckered him into filling a hole in a pre-determined narrative, that is absolutely untrue and bordering on libelous. I will repeat that: what he says is an outrageous lie. He has no idea what was in my head or how I put the piece together. He does not know, for instance, that:
    1) I arrived not being sure if I’d even do a piece. My main goal was book research.
    2) I left the venue with about 90 minutes of tape from seven interviewees for a piece that would turn out to be 7 minutes 30 seconds.
    3) That until a fairly late stage in writing, the “What went right” sequence was in the piece precisely because I was concerned about focusing too much on the negative. I had a conversation with our producer, Nazanin Rafsanjai on that very point. But, for time considerations, I was forced to reduce his 40-second actuality with my construction “began auspiciously.” Who knew that was an insult?
    4) I was many hours into the process of logging tape Thursday before I knew what direction the piece would take. By the way, I thought it was a pretty positive take on crowdsourced journalism overall. I also thought Rosen himself sounded pretty good. If this is supposed to be “gotcha journalism,” I’m Mr. Softee.

    Oh, and NewAssignment.net amnd Assignment Zero weren’t much heralded? Really? I suggest you Google them. What in the world is this guy smoking, and why is he being so petulant?

    Now it’s my turn to impute motives: Could it be that when I interviewed him about Assignment Zero, he stomped out of the studio in a snit, complaining to the producer, Tony Field, that I asked him a bunch of obvious questions about all the things that could go wrong — instead of blowing air kisses about what a visionary he is?
    Here’s the link: http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2006/09/08/04

  • You got your description wrong. What you said happened did not happen in the sequence you said it happened in. I would think this would concern you.

    Why don’t you sue if I libeled you, Bob?

    I didn’t say “began auspiciously” was an insult. I said it was factually incorrect. Check the tapes and it will still be incorrect.

  • Bob Garfield

    You ask me why I don’t SUE?
    Why don’t you just apologize? Wild allegations do not become you, as a teacher or a blogger. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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  • I repeat: your story is wrong. You got the order of events backwards. The reason (I think) you got it backward is that you are gotcha journalist. If you have some other explanation for getting it wrong, do enlighten us. But so far we cannot even get you to see that you made an error. So, first things first.

  • Bob Garfield

    And I repeat: There was no “gotcha,” to begin with, because until you started name-calling, nobody came off badly.

    There is certainly no dispute on the ultimate failure of Assignment Zero, yet the tone of my piece with respect to it is altogether neutral. If I made a mistake in the sequence of events (and I confess you have me confused, as I was working entirely based on your own words), I will correct it. My suspicion is you simply don’t remember what you said to me, but that is neither here nor there.

    Your allegation remains insulting, reckless and above all foolish. You simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe next time you should press think before you press send.

    The tape is in New York and I am in Washington. I’ll listen to it Monday or Tuesday

  • I am going to wrap this up, rather than go defcon six with Mr. Garfield. I posted my original criticism at the OnTheMedia site. Because of the 1500-character limit I had to break it into five posts, and the fifth never made it through the comment system. Nor did any links.

    I probably erred in suggesting that Bob Garfield should acknowledge something or other. It is up to On the Media to decide if it wants to correct a misimpression left by faulty sequencing in its report, which is running this weekend. Since I know they will include Bob in those discussions, I don’t need to continue this engagement.

    To recap, this part was incorrect: “That project began auspiciously with participants quickly conducting interviews with 70 sources, then quickly everything unraveled….”

    Actually, the project began inauspiciously with several wrong guesses and started coming together at the end, with participants quickly conducting interviews with 70 key sources. The idea for simultaneous interviewing came out of earlier misfires in the pro-am methods we were testing. It was learning on the fly. That’s why the order of events matters.

    In the correct sequence, you still have lots of failures, wrong turns and bad guesses but the story is different. It involves learning to cut the work into parts people can and will complete. The trajectory is not: good beginning, fell apart. Rather, Initial AZ schemes collapsed on contact with reality. Better plans emerged from that.

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  • Hubbard Sands

    The accounts of Jay Rosen and Bob Garfield concerning the failure of the Assignment Zero project are almost identical. Even if the sequence of events was altered the ultimate point of Garfield’s story remains valid. Professor Rosen is not saying that AZ was a success, he simply seems to arguing about the sequence of its failure. Is that really worth all the ink he gives OTM’s coverage? Word to the wise Professor Rosen, sometimes sources don’t like how journalist’s stories portray them. You are the one who decided to spend 90 minutes with Bob Garfield and his tape recorder. If he such a ‘gotcha’ journalist, why did you grant him the interview? Please. Are you a respected academic, journalist and writer, or a four year old in a sandbox? Believe me, if Bob Garfield wanted to GET you Professor, you woulda’ been GOT.

  • Bob Garfield

    I have gone back and reviewed the raw tape from the interview. It appears as the sequencing mistake is just as you describe it: I assumed the “whole thing fell apart” part followed the “what went right” part. If any error could be deemed a natural one, this would seem to be it. Naturally, I am very sorry I got the order of things incorrect. In my 30-year career, the number of such mistakes I’ve made can be counted on Antonio Alfonseca’s two hands.

    Now then:

    1) As another commenter observes, there is no “gotcha,” because the incorrect sequence has little or no bearing on the overall discussion. If I had properly understood the sequence of events, my script would have been slightly different, but the thrust of the section on AssignmentZero would have been he same.
    2) There is no “gotcha” because the tone of this section is not especially negative or judgmental, much less confrontational or gloating.
    3) Your behavior remains disgraceful. On the basis of an unfortunate but utterly understandable chronology mistake, you have publicly attacked my integrity. I await your apology.
    4) Your principal accusation, that I am a “gotcha” journalist, is partly correct. Sometimes I am an explanatory journalist, as in the piece in question. Sometimes I am a satirical journalist. Sometimes I am a purely objective reporter. And sometimes, as a watchdog and critic, I indeed aim to catch others in their trespasses. Gotcha.

  • Tim

    [cross-posted from Pressthink]

    I call BS on Garfield’s #1. Prove it. Provide the different script with the same thrust.

    I’ll help, this part is now an admitted falsehood:

    That project began auspiciously with participants quickly conducting interviews with 70 stories, then quickly everything unraveled.

    This was never true:

    that failure to finely calibrate expectations, along the lines of remove child before folding stroller, helped sink the highest profile experiment in journalistic crowdsourcing. That was Assignment Zero, the much heralded brainchild of NYU prof and blogger Jay Rosen.

    My understanding has always been that it not contributor expectations that caused the early stumbling at AZ, but rather because there wasn’t an “encyclopedia, right!” understanding to pro-am crowdsource reporting.

    I’ve already called BS on Garfield’s #2 [at PressThink].

    So what does the new script look like, without the wrong sequence … and without the complete misunderstanding of what caused AZ to stumble in the beginning and what learning took place … and arriving at a non-judgmental, neutral explanation of AZ’s results?

    [Added for Buzzmachine]

    If your point, Bob, is that using Assignment Zero as a contrasting monumental failure [drama] — misrepresenting its buildup, debut and results (what went right) — in your story with a quote from Jay is not gotcha, then … what do you call it? Narrative bias?

  • The system ate my reply to Bob Garfield, so I tried again with an edited version, and then that didn’t work, so I posted the edited version at PressThink. Go here, if you are interested.

  • Bob Garfield

    I was interested, so I checked it out. It would be funny if it weren’t so very sad.

    My God, but what a Jay-Rosen-centric worldview you have. This explains a lot, because your scenario for my thinking and how I go about my business presumes that I get up in the morning wondering how I might diminish Jay Rosen and his projects.

    But I don’t. It so happens, I’m a big advocate of distributed journalism in various forms, and I think your work is interesting and in some respects promising. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be devoting a book chapter to crowdsourced journalism, and I surely wouldn’t have left a sickbed to shlep around the conference for 11 hours and pull a 16-hour day the next day to produce a piece which we hadn’t even planned for the week’s show.
    It’s true, I believed last year and believe now that your experiment was too divorced from the real world to be much of a model for the future. That’s why I asked you a number of challenging questions in our previous interview (which is, by the way, not called “gotcha journalism.” It’s called “journalism.”)
    However — I know this will be difficult for you to grasp, but take a deep breath — since then I hadn’t given you or your project much thought. I’ve been pretty much absorbed in about 300 other subjects across the whole breadth of media, marketing and government. That’s right, Professor. While you are obviously at the center of the solar syste, you just not all that important to me.
    But then, Wednesday morning, there you were at CUNY, up at the podium holding forth on Assignment Zero. And what was the subject? Oh, I know: all the things you would have done differently.
    So you see, the notion that AssignmentZero wasn’t a riproaring success wasn’t my construct.
    It was yours.
    And since all the planets revolve around you, who am I to argue?
    — since over there in the Ivory Tower nobody ever bothered to show you how journalism is actually conducted, and
    — since you continue to make bizarre, defamatory and pathologically self-involved accusations about how I conduct my business, and
    — since I obviously am never going to get an apology from you for your childish and boorish behavior, might I just just suggest that you grow up, and shut up?

  • Bob Garfield

    Oops, a bad transition in my post. Just to be clear, my book chapter is about crowdsourced journalism, NOT about AssignmentZero.

  • While I know this is rather unpleasant for Mr. Rosen and Mr Garfield, I am having a blast watching the carnage. So there is a silver lining. Great entertainment! Best of luck to both of you in your continued projects.

  • Lon

    Perhaps Tim and Jay Rosen will have a moment to read this as soon as they return from services at the Church of Its All About Me….

    Until I read Rosen’s comments in onthemedia.org, I honestly didn’t think of AZ as a failure in the crowdsourcing experiment. I didn’t think the piece slammed AZ, Rosen, crowdsourcing. Like much of Garfield’s work, it collects points all around the story, you decide for yourself.

    The attacks are pathetic, illogical, full of strawmen and irrelevant details. I like the idea of crowdsourcing, but given that the founding father seems to be a bottom feeder, I’m having trouble separating the ad from the hominem .

  • Peter Fisk

    If Mr. Rosen’s venomous, paranoiac tantrum was aimed at garnering sympathy and respect, it certainly failed, in both form and substance. If he wants people to take him and his projects seriously, he needs to first start acting like a responsible grown-up. Mr. Rosen had a valid clarification to assert regarding the sequence of his project’s demise, but that is lost in the darkness of his bizarre accusation that Mr. Garfield was out to “get” him.

  • Ben Curties

    All I got from the piece was that Project Zero was an ealry foray into crowdsourcing that showed promise but ultimately didn’t work, for reasons that can be taken into account in the next foray into crowdsourcing. That is, it was an important experimental stepping stone in an important new media phenomenon. I saw no attempt by Garfield to “get” anyone. And ultimately, whether it started well but didn’t ultimately work out or it started poorly, got better but didn’t ultimately work out is irrelevant. I don’t blame Rosen for wanting a correction — something OTM has proven perfectly willing to give — but he approached it with the kind of venom, self-importance and paranoia that erodes the credibility of far to many bloggers.