Conversations with other bloggers.

Election Night Live Blog

Election Night at the Fighting 29th

I will be on CW-16 tomorrow night starting at 9:30 to discuss the election. Exile from The Albany Project will be there, too.

We will be live-blogging with DragonFlyEye. Check back here around 9:30 tomorrow for the live-blog, and I hope anyone interested will join in.

Update: CW-16 is a Rochester TV station affiliated with 13-WHAM. I believe they will simulcast on the Internet at their website here. Tune in to the live blog tomorrow for more information.

13-WHAM Debate Live Blog

Test Live Blog

Testing, please ignore:

Blogversation 4

Exile from Rochesterturning and Evan Dawson have both posted another installment of the Blogversation.  Evan's post is a good round-up of what's been said recently, and he even admits that sometimes, some reporters are lazy.  (Gasp!  Where are my smelling salts, I feel a faint coming on!)  Exile notes that bloggers often can tell hard truths because they're outsiders, and a lot of the press corps (in Washington at least) have become insiders. 

I think we're about ready to wrap up, though I hope we do it again.  In closing, if you think that I'm tough on the D&C and local media, let me direct you to a recent interview with the creator of the Wire, David Simon.  He's a former journalist at the Baltimore Sun, and he focused the final season of his show on his old paper.   However, he did it in a clever way, because the real point of the season was everything that the paper missed:

The main theme is that [...] it's a newspaper that is so eviscerated, so worn, so devoid of veterans, so consumed by the wrong things, and so denied the ability to replenish itself that it singularly misses every single story in the season.
This was a story about a newspaper that now -- on some fundamental basis -- fails to cover its city substantively, and guess what -- between out-of-town ownership, carpetbagging editors, the emphasis on impact journalism or Prize-culture journalism and, of course, the economic preamble that is the arrival of the internet and the resulting loss of revenue and staff, there are a fuck of a lot of newspapers that are failing to cover their cities substantively.
I hope our real media in Rochester is in better shape than the fictional media in the Wire.  Thanks to Evan, Exile and GOP for an interesting conversation.

Blogversation 3

Evan Dawson asks a couple of interesting questions in his latest installment in our Blogversation.  Before getting to those, I'd like to make a couple of comments on installment 2.

GOP gets it right when he notes that there's still a big spot for traditional media in local markets, and that the pre-eminence of blogs as information sources is most evident at the national level.  And I think that Exile made a very important observation here:

In the era of blogs, I don’t think the same old gentleman’s club media ethos really flies anymore.   Given the choice between toothless but high-minded traditional media meanderings and tough, direct (and, yes, maybe rude) blog banter, serious readers will choose the latter.
To expand on this a bit, I think it's more than just the tone that attracts blog readers -- it's the way that content is presented. The McCain-lobbyist story reported by the Times and the US Attorney scandal reported by Talking Points Memo show the contrast.  In the Times story, editors sat on the story until they felt comfortable that all the reporting was done, and then it was disgorged in one big blob.  TPM posted the US Attorney story as they reported it, with periodic "where are we now" summaries.  This approach allowed TPM to break down the story into digestible chunks, and it also gave them the ability to quickly correct mistakes and back out of dead ends.  The Times story fell into a trap where a dead end (mistaken innuendo about a possible affair) overshadowed the rest of the story.  The result is that TPM readers know more about the US Attorney scandal than Times readers know about John McCain's relationship with lobbyists.

This is relevant to Evan's second question: 

Paige writes on Rochester Turning that he would like to see more fact-based reporting -- instead of the "He said, She said" style.  Do you guys agree?
The short answer is "yes", but I understand that it's not easy.  The facts aren't just sitting around for reporters to discover after five minutes on Google.  The FAIR plan, for example, was packaged in a way that makes it extremely difficult for reporters to ferret out the ultimate tax impact of the change.   To unwind the real impact of FAIR would probably require a series of investigative reports by a specialist in taxation.  This kind of deliberate obfuscation is common in today's politics, and it causes reporters to revert to "he said, she said" because they don't have the time to explain the story more fully.

Part of the solution is for reporters to use their blogs as a place for the "deeper read".  If the story is too complex to be fully aired on the on the reporter's main story (whether in print or on TV) , they can backstop it with blog posts that drill into more detail.   Another part of the solution is to post raw documents and video, so readers can catch something that the reporters might have missed.  The WHAM blog is doing some of this now, and I think it's a model for what a lot of local journalism will look like in the future. 

Reporters and the public should continue to demand transparency and full disclosure from government.  There also needs to be attention paid to unnecessary government complexity in New York State.  It's easy to get cynical about simplification efforts like Al Gore's in the 90's, but his now-forgotten effort to simplify was a good start.

Evan asks another question on information quality: 

Elmer writes on The Fighting 29th that blogs offer a real chance to find misinformation.  While that might be true, doesn't it seem that blogs are rising as a form of respected journalism?
Elmer's right that there's a ton of misinformation on the Internet, and a lot of it is on blogs.  On the Internet, the consumer has more responsibility for finding correct information, but it's not that hard to determine whether you're reading good information.  Since everything that's been published on a blog is usually available in its archives, you can read through a good selection of a blogger's work to see if he or she makes sense over time.  Usually blogs are discovered by following links from other blogs, and those recommendations are another way to judge if the information is good.  It's not perfect, but I don't think misinformation is a serious problem for someone who's willing to do some work to vet their information sources.

Finally, I want to address Evan's headline question:  "Does Steve Minarik Run the World?".  I agree with Evan that the primary responsibility of journalists is to examine the decisions of the Brooks administration, no matter who is really calling the shots.  I think that the role of Minarik as the "evil genius" behind the Brooks administration is probably interesting and worth reporting, but, like the role of Karl Rove in the Bush Administration, it can become a distraction.  The real story is what's being done by Brooks and the County administration, no matter who's behind it.  I'd rather have the media focusing on the viability of Renaissance Square rather than digging up Minarik/Brooks dirt.  In other words, follow the money, as they say on the Wire.

Blogversation 3 and The D&C's New Site

Ontario GOP and Exile at Rochesterturning have posted their responses in our continuing blogversation, and Evan Dawson has begun the third part with a lengthy post here.    There's a lot to digest from Evan, and I'll get to that in a later post, but first I want to mention that the D&C has redesigned their site.  Those of you who are interested in my take on it, and how it relates to Joe Klein of all people, can read on after the break.  Anyone tired of watching me mount the D&C hobbyhorse can go read GOP's, Exile and Evan's posts instead.
Site design is a matter of taste and I think the D&C's is a bit of an improvement on their old design to my eye.  It's way, way too much information on a page, and it falls all over itself pimping other Gannett properties, but that's consistent with most newspaper sites. 

What's more significant is that they've junked their old "storychat" comment system, and replaced it with a new system powered by Pluck.  In addition to allowing comments, Pluck gives the D&C some social networking capabilities. Users can maintain profiles, host their own blogs, and call other users "friends".   Pluck looks like a great piece of technology, but it doesn't address the real issue with the D&C's comments section:  they're full of trolls and morons.

Here's an example from today's edition.  As one of the commenters asks, "I am curious how this went from a discussion about an article reporting an alleged crime to name calling and insults and insinuations."   Meet the new D&C forums, same as the old ones.

An Internet forum is governed by laws similar to thermodynamics:  absent any other energy, it moves towards maximum entropy.  The energy that's missing from the D&C's forums is intelligent moderation and participation by D&C editorial staff. If the D&C staff took the time to engage commenters, perhaps accepting corrections or amplifying a point, I think the tone and content of their forums would improve markedly.  Right now, nobody's listening at the D&C forums.  So the participants who like to shout are shouting louder, and thoughtful people who pose intelligent questions go away after nobody answers.

The D&C might think this policy is just OK and what a "real newspaper" ought to do, but I want to point to a "serious journalist" who tried the "I don't have to deal with this" tactic and didn't fare so well.  Time's Joe Klein was absolutely savaged last year by Glenn Greenwald.  Unwilling to concede that he made a basic mistake in reporting, Klein was pushed into saying that he didn't "have time" to figure out who was telling the truth about a relatively simple factual matter.

Klein took a lot of heat from the journalism community for that, and I think the lesson hit home (a little).  Now, instead of ignoring commenters and behaving defensively, he's adopted a little common courtesy.  Here are two examples from this week.  First, in a post on IAEA, he updates twice based on comments, taking a correction gracefully and answering a question.  He says something dumb in public and immediately apologizes, without being prompted. Incidentally, on the same Time blog, Ana Marie Cox takes a "terrific" question from a commenter and asks it at a Clinton press call.   Time is by no means a leader on the Internet, but even they are learning how a conversation between reporters and commenters on their blogs can build community.

In contrast, the D&C blogs remain a walled garden.  They still don't have RSS feeds, and the comments are managed using Blogger, not Pluck, so all of the commenters on blogs are part of a completely different online community. This leads to the following absurdity:  I can create a blog with a D&C address that accepts Pluck comments and has a RSS feed, but the D&C editors can't. 

Blogversation 2

Evan Dawson (here and here), and Ontario GOP have posted entries on our discussion concerning journalism and blogs.  (Update:  Exile from Rochesterturning posted here.) Evan asks a follow-up: 

Where do you guys see the traditional media (and more specifically, the traditional local media) evolving?  And perhaps more importantly, where is the traditional media currently failing in its coverage, style, or presentation?
The old model for local media is that print and television provide the passive reader/viewer with a pre-selected set of news.  The new model is an active reader/watcher on the Internet selecting from numerous sources of information.  Though the current local media outlets will remain relevant, we're already seeing the rise of a number of alternatives:

  • Rochester has an active Wiki (community-authored site) that serves as a guide to Rochester.  The restaurant section is very actively edited with lots of comments about new and well-established places.  There's an event calendar that gets some use, and if it were better software, it would get more.  The next generation of sites like RocWiki could replace the current what-to-do, where-to-go guides produced by local free and pay newspapers. 
  • At the neighborhood level, is an example of a community site where neighborhood residents can exchange news, talk about businesses, contribute to an event calendar, and post for-rent and for-sale notices.  I see these community sites replacing the special sections of papers devoted to neighborhoods.
  • As more government information is available on-line, sites will be built to process and present that information.  One example that Rochester sorely needs is a site like ChicagoCrime, which takes electronic police reports and plots them on a Google map.  ChicagoCrime is a much better version of the traditional police blotter that appears in newspapers.
  • Organizations like local PTAs will begin to take over some of the coverage of newspaper staples like school board and city council meetings. 
  • Blogs aren't just for politics - specialists in all areas will increasingly post to the Internet.  Local examples include Jayceland for events, our local Martha Stewart, ljcfyi, food bloggers like RaChaChow and the bikers at RocBike.  All of these niche blogs supplement or supplant local feature coverage in papers and on TV.
Sites like these, and new sites which I can't even imagine, will lessen the impact of traditional newspapers and TV.  But TV and print will remain.  The sites mentioned above are mainly a labor of love, and a lot of the original reporting generated by TV and print is the kind of work that goes beyond what hobbyists can accomplish today.

The problem that I see in the Rochester market at the moment is the brittleness of corporate media.  Gannett, for example, is having a hard time dealing with the fact that their 20%+ profit margins are being eroded.  Their response has been to invest heavily in Internet properties and shrink their traditional newsgathering staff.  This seems like a shortsighted response to me, because their Internet sites are just empty shells without the quality journalism generated by their news staff, but I don't have to answer to Gannett shareholders.  I assume other corporate media will cut staff as soon as margins are threatened.

So, Evan, a question for you.  Video on the Internet, and the rise of Tivo, are probably going to cause advertisers to think twice about WHAM and other local media.  Is this happening yet?  Do you think your job is in danger if it does?

Blogversation 1

Evan Dawson of 13 WHAM has asked a few area bloggers to join in a "blogversation".  Evan blogs at the 13WHAM blog.  Other participants are Exile at Rochesterturning, and Ontario GOP.  To get the ball rolling, Evan has asked the question:  "Do you consider yourselves journalists?"

There are three things that I do here, only one of which is "journalism" in the old-school sense of the term.

The first, and probably most prevalent, is aggregation, which is a fancy word for linking to things on the Internet and elsewhere that are relevant to the 29th district.  This includes news stories, You Tube videos, and items sent by readers.  In this respect, I'm lucky to have a core group of smart, connected readers who send me news stories and other items that I might otherwise overlook.  As an aggregator, I don't edit much.  If the item is about Randy Kuhl, Eric Massa or the 29th district, and it's factual, it will probably make the blog.   I use the category capabilities of my blog software to label these posts as things like "News", "Video", "Votes" or "Money".

The second is analysis, which is trying to interpret what's been said in the local media and on the Internet.  These posts are generally labeled "analysis" or "speculation", and they contain my opinions.  Sometimes I aggregate and comment at the same time, but generally I try to keep these separate.  I would like my blog to be a useful resource for anyone interested in the 29th district, even if they don't share my politics, so I try to treat the news and my reaction to it as separate items.

Third, I do some original reporting.  As someone who has a day job, I'm limited in what I can cover.  For example, when Eric Massa invited me to his weekly press conferences, I started covering them.  This is a lot of work, and I find now that I can only attend a couple per month.  Last year, I also began keeping track of earmarks and "significant votes" in the 29th, creating a new site, congressdb, to track voting.  When Congress chose to combine most of its appropriations for the year into one omnibus budget bill, it kind of made a mockery of the careful earmark and vote tracking that I had been doing.  After I get over my frustration about that, I plan to re-vamp this portion of the site and continue that work in the next month or so. 

I think bloggers will ultimately be the go-to source for reporting that analyzes and interprets data freely available on the Internet.  This is due to a number of factors:  bloggers are often more technically savvy that the average reporter, mining Internet data can occur during off-hours, and a blogger can become a specialist in certain categories of data, while most reporters don't have the luxury of concentrating their attention on one narrow topic.    That's why I'm so interested in government transparency.  The more information that the government has to report on the Internet, the more that bloggers like me can comb through it to find news. 

So, I'm not a journalist in the traditional sense of the word, or even in the Josh Marshall sense of the word, but I do some journalism. 
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