At the crossroads of journalism and technology.

Jaded Eye

Think all we do at J.Net is surf the Web and watch bad movies? Well in our copious spare time we bash old media. And we have the e-mail logs to prove it!

And as any good newspaper we also have movie reviews!

Here it is guys, the beginning of an e-mail discussion about the New Yorker article I photocopied for everyone. Your name, colon, two spaces, and your comments --- humor me, ok? I think it'll look better like this. grad students...

Jean: Like Tom said before, you wouldn't think to read about new media in a magazine like the New Yorker. But, I think this article presents a viewpoint we should take into account. From my admittedly biased viewpoint, this article represents the attitude of the journalism establishment: professional editorial control good, amateurs mouthing off bad. The concept of professional journalism rests on the belief that professionals are better at figuring out what information is important. "All the news that's fit to print?" More like, "all the news WE think is fit to print." The author of this article, James Wolcott, complains that "interactivity" (in this instance, viewer phone calls) allows amateurs to rant, yet he loves how radio show host, Don Imus rants. The important difference it appears is whether or not you get paid for what you do. (wonder what he thinks about prostitution) Anyhow, this attitude can affect the development of free journalism on the net. How will media organizations try to assert their editorial control in an environment where The Unabomber Daily is as accessible as the New York Times? Can they still wield any kind of influence on what is "the news of the day?" And, how will they maintain their credibility?

Tom: I particularly liked the fact that I was mentioned in the first paragraph and so I am replying first. It is now some time since I read the article so it's a bit hazy. However I do remember thinking that here was a stuffy old reporter in the New Yorker (England's equivalent magazine for young fogeys is the Spectator) complaining about the fact that amateuars were putting stuff up on the web. However I have little faith in the professionals. Whenever I read something in a generalist publication about something I know a lot about then I find it full of flaws. Presumably this is also true of things I don't know much about too. So what is the difference between amateurs and professionals? However I'd still rather get my news from the London Times than the Unabomber Times.

From the poison pen of Brian:

Jean could you e-mail the article details like issue, title, author etc. Partially because people might want to actually go read it themselves and also because slackers like me can't seem to find their copy and may have to go Xerox it again.

In any event, the biggest problem I had with the article (as I remember it) was the definition of "interactivity". Screened phone callers is interactive? Shyeah right. First, you have to get past the call screeners, the folks who are supposed to weed out the wackos and make sure your call is on topic. Then you actually have to wait on hold forever and if some pompous ass chews up all the time well tough luck. Don't have the ill fortune to run up against a commercial or you'll have to reduce your contribution to a 15 second sound bite. Finally, if you actually do get to talk, you're still at the whim of the host shouting you down, cutting you off, or making fun of your points after you've been summarily dismissed. This is like putting people in straight jackets and claiming that they now can make fashion statements. I think both Jean's and Tom's points are well taken and one I agree with. The old media is scared shitless that mere peons will take some/any control of content generation. That The New Yorker would consider Larry King Live to be an example of "new media" just tells me that the dinosaurs are sinking into the La Brea tar pits and haven't realized it yet.

"Only Disconnect: of Cranky Callers, Instant Polling, and MSNBC's New Old-Fashioned News" An article in "The New Yorker" by James Wolcott, Sept. 16, 1996, page 104-6.

Jean: This is kind of a tangent, but since Brian mentioned it ... I had to call radio talk shows for a class once. One call, I said one 5 second sentence and then the guy "muted" me. For the other, where I was supposed to be a nutcase, I think I was the longest call-in. I was ranting about how there was a conspiracy by the oil companies to fund anti-nuclear groups (who else would profit from the limits on nuclear power?) and the host let me go on and on until I just ran out of stuff to say. He even said I should call again some time because I was so articulate! So from my own experiences, nutcases are encouraged by talk show hosts and anyone who wants to say something sane and thoughtful gets the ax. It was an interesting experience. If you haven't called in to a radio show before, I'd suggest you try it. Give a fake name, I did.

* "Only Disconnect: of Cranky Callers, Instant Polling, and MSNBC's * New Old-Fashioned News" * An article in "The New Yorker" by James Wolcott, Sept. 16, 1996, * page 104-6.

Remzi: My 2 cents on the New Yorker "article". When I first read the article, I think I had the same reaction as most of you: the reporter's examples of interactivity (callers to radio talk shows) were lame, and based on that, he decided that the internet and the whole concept of interactivity was lame. He ended up giving me the feeling "hey, leave this stuff to the professionals!", which of course irked, irritated, and down-right bothered me.

Of course, it also had the effect of getting me to think: whom do I want information from? Well, come to think of it, it is from the pros. Of course, professionals in this case are the people who create the information, not those who deliver it. Today, journalists serve as information middle-men**; they are to information what Williams & Sonoma is to kitchen supplies. What the internet will allow is the bypassing of these "information brokers", connecting the information consumer to the information inventor, allowing us to avoid watered down summaries for the masses.

As the old proverb goes, "be careful what you ask for; you just might get it." The journalist in the New Yorker asks us to leave information to the pros; with the power of the internet, we just might do that.

** o.k., middle-people, it just doesn't sound as good.

Seung-Hoon: I generally agree that interactivity itself is desirable and inevitable, especially in the coming world of Internet. I also think amateurism has to be encouraged for the free flow of ideas and information. As Remzi said, this guy's example of interactivity-phone callers to the talk show- is lame and is enough to mislead the whole point. If he wanted to talk about those talk shows and news programs on TV, he should have stopped there. If he had done so, I might have agreed that there are surely a lot of weird phone calls which cut the natural stream of topic.