Yes, blogs can build communities, foster dialogue where communication was only one-way before, empower the disenfranchised and more -- but that's because blogs are just tools that can be harnessed for many uses.
"Editor: a person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed." Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)
Yes, blogs can build communities, foster dialogue where communication was only one-way before, empower the disenfranchised and more -- but that's because blogs are just tools that can be harnessed for many uses.
'The Insurgents. Who They Are--And Why the Elections Won't Stop Them' (p. 20). Baghdad Bureau Chief Rod Nordland, Baghdad Correspondent Babak Dehghanpisheh and Middle East Regional Editor Christopher Dickey examine the insurgency in Iraq, its tribal and political roots and look at its current strength. Interviews with guerrilla veterans of the Iraqi war, tribal leaders and Baathists as well as American, Coalition and Iraqi officials make it clear this is not one insurgency, but many. The report reveals that Saddam had put aside millions of dollars and enormous weapons caches to support a guerrilla war. Also, an interrogator of a would-be suicide bomber tells Newsweek the bomber claimed that Iraqi police had caught terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah last October, but despite a $25 million award-and perhaps not knowing who they had-they let him go.
The "lead sheet" is the advance PR they do ahead of the newsstand date so that network factototums can know what Fareed Zakaria has got to say this week, with those perfect teeth of his.
Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria writes that no matter how the voting turns out in Iraq, the prospects for genuine democracy are grim. Unless there is a major change in course, Iraq is on track to become another corrupt, oil-rich quasi-democracy, like Russia and Nigeria.
Hey, but it's OUR quasi-democracy! Quite a different story, this forthcoming issue, than the weeper reels of old Iraqi men crawling to the polling places on their bloody stumps, weeping in gratitude, that was being played in heavy rotation on the infotainment channels today for Condi Rice to do her saccharine spiel over.
Only one of the many reporters I heard talking to the anchor today mentioned that her observations should be taken with a grain of salt because you still can't even get around Baghdad if you value your life, much less the rest of the country. One other did mention that reports from outside the Green Zone were based on reports from "stringers." No shots of the platoon of Army Rangers off-camera taking bets on whether the blow-dry crowd was going to catch a mortar shell or not, or dinars changing hands in exchange for a thumbs-up for the camera's sake.
The rest of the time, Kurds dancing in the streets were pretty much treated like a scientific sample of everybody dancing in the streets.
Good thing for the White House that print is no longer a relevant medium. And Medal of Freedom honoree Jerry Bremer is outraged ... OUTRAGED ... at an audit suggesting he presided over a kleptocracy.
Here's today's editorial from Az-Zaman, the Baghdad paper that recently started publishing in English:
How many Iraqis will cast their votes is currently the most important issue for U.S., British and Iraqi politicians and military commanders inside and outside the country. But unfortunately that is not the question of so much interest for many Iraqis. Ordinary Iraqis interviewed by Azzaman correspondents have other worries to care about, namely soaring prices, power and fuel shortages, lack of security and mistrust in the whole system. When asked whether they would go to polls on Sunday, many Iraqis retorted by asking if the authorities intended to compensate them for the food items they did not get as part of their rations for the past few months. Others would simply say if the authorities had any intention of placing a lid on the spiraling rates particularly of essential commodities like sugar, legumes, rice, tea vegetables and fruits. Prices have recently risen to levels unseen since the early 1990s when the country was reeling under U.N. trade sanctions which until 1996 prevented it from exporting any amount oil, the sole hard currency earner. Of the hundreds of Iraqis interviewed by Azzaman, only a few showed an interest in the elections. Their main concern was security and prices. ?I am sixty years old and it is the first time in my life that a kilogram of tomatoes is being sold at 1,000 dinars,? said Jaafar Hussein. Tomatoes, a stable of almost every kitchen in Iraq, have soared recently from 500 dinars per kilogram to 1,000. Lettuce, which used to be the cheapest of vegetables at this time of the year, is currently sold for 750 dinars a kilogram. Many Iraqis said most of those standing for the elections on Sunday are the same personalities that descended on the country with the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003. If the nearly past two years are taken as a measure, only a handful of the hundreds of lists and factions and thousands of candidates would have any appeal to Iraqi electorate. ?We are in a much worse condition than the time of the former regime. There is less electricity, less fuel, prices are dearer. And above all there is no security,? said Sami Mohammed. Gas cylinders, which cost 250 dinars in the 1990s, fetch 10,000 dinars currently. Without cylinders Most Iraqis will not be able to cook. Kerosene, used in both cooking and heating, is hard to obtain and if available is sold at rocketing rates which only a few can afford in the country. A liter of kerosene, worth half a dinar in the 1900s, is now sold for 500 dinars if buyers are lucky to find the product. Transport fees as a result have soared making it hard for Iraqis to travel between and inside cities. Voicing resentment of current conditions was not restricted to a particular region and unrelated to the present insurgency which international media usually associates with Muslim Sunnis. Azzaman reporters? main concern was to gauge whether ordinary Iraqis were happy with their current conditions and if they had any faith in the elections. ?Instead of urging us to vote they (the authorities) should think of a way to add the missing food items to the rations,? said Leith Uraibi. ?We have received no lentils, no sugar, no rice and no legumes for several months,? he said. Prices of the items that went missing from the monthly food rations have skyrocketed in the open market. A kilogram of sugar has climbed to 1,000 dinars from 500 and lentils to 1,000 from 380.
I believe these guys a lot more than I do Wolf Blitzer kissing Condi's ass. I've been reading them in Arabic since they got started.
New York Times: Under Pressure, Qatar May Sell Jazeera Station.
Administration officials have been nervous to talk about the station, being sensitive to charges that they are trying to suppress free expression. Officials at the State and Defense Departments and at the embassy in Qatar were reluctant to comment. However, some administration officials acknowledged that the well-publicized American pressure on the station highlighted when Qatar was not invited to a summit meeting on the future of democracy in the Middle East last summer in Georgia has drawn charges of hypocrisy, especially in light of President Bush's repeated calls for greater freedoms and democracy in the region.
And also in light of the administration's willingness to buy journalists with public funds to promote its agenda--a practice that fits the legal definition of "government propaganda," which is forbidden by law, rather neatly.
I personally think it would fair to say that these people nervous about having known that they are trying to suppress freedom of expression--and not exactly behaving like free-market fundamentalists, either.
If you have ever followed my blog from my previous career as a translator, you know I follow al-Jazeera carefully--I read and understand Arabic moderately well. It's pretty comparable to MSNBC in terms of its balance to bias ratio on the news side. Not a stellar standard, but, hey, we let FOX get away with all the crap it gets away with, right? I notice that they have finally started translating some of the "vox populi" sort of programming as well: Meet Dr. Kareem, the Qatari Dr. Phil.
I have never seen a credible charge that those Jazeerites have reported untruths. That's not a standard we consistently hold our own media to, although in most cases it will hold itself to that standard. They mainly object to its broadcasting truths our government would rather downplay, like civilian corpses and the fact that public opinion is strongly against them. But hey, if you want to sell ads to Arabs, you have to speak to your viewership, right? We broadcast tasteful memorials to young dead Marines, they broadcast dead Iraqis getting shoveled out of bomb craters onto carts. C'est la guerre. All news is local.
Do a Technorati: Search for http://theredactor.blogspot.com, ranked by "authority." It's great: I can see who my friends are, discovering new ones and seeing which ones are the most worth knowing. Right? Wrong!
I have a standard rant I do from time to time about Technorati's habit of equating "authority" with the number of inbound links. It's like timing the lunch hours of traders as a way of indexing the performance of the New York Stock Exchange.
Let me just put it this way: The publication I work for is a genuine authority on the subject it covers. Really, I'm not just saying that because the marketing guys told me to. You just won't read detailed coverage of the financial services technical standards bodies or analysis of the minutiae of trading algorithms in very many other publications, and we are proud to see once in a while that one of the big boys like the WSJ or the FT has cribbed our coverage of an issue as background to their reporting for a much wider general audience.
Not everyone can subscribe to us because we make a living knowing who are readers are and selling ad space on a "highly qualified" basis: You know when you advertise with us that Joe Sohenso of the X Corporation is pretty likely to see it. Not that different from the relevant eyeballs that AdSense says it can deliver.
Authorities are people with special interests and deep knowledge who are usually too freaking absorbed in incredibly boring, arcane shit for any sane general reader's tastes.
Authorities are the folks you turn to when the plate tectonics of the Indian Ocean suddenly become relevant. It's the macrogeology geek's moment to shine!
Does Technorati help you to do this kind of search? No. It directs you to the most recent or the most "authoritative" source on a given keyword, but there is no measure of relevance. By those lights, the publication I work for, with a small certified subscriber base that you can look up in the usual places, means nothing at all. If you want to know about the fine points of engineering better BBO on the intermarket trading system, don't read us, noooo. Read the WSJ, with its gazillion subscribers, which will tell you all about it once every few months from a non-specialist point of view that will mean very little to you. I'm not criticizing the WSJ, God bless 'em. That's just not the nature of their job over there.
Sure, everybody was talking about e-typography during Rathergate, but how many of them were bona fide expert-bloggers on the subject? it was just a noise machine amplifying rumor and racking up hits as you jumped from blog to blog trying to find who might be worth believing on those technical points. If blogs are going to do the work of the news media, they have to point you straight to the nitty gritty instead of wasting your freaking time. This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this is a life too short in the big freaking city.
At work, I--to take an example I supposedly know a lot about--want to be able to find other people who know a lot about contemporary grammar and punctuation, newsroom management, ethics, headline and lead graf writing, and issues affecting my industry. I like to think I'm one of those experts, and that my blogroll should yield some extractable data that hints at that fact. I don't have time to waste plowing through every idiot who has an opinion on the subject. If I did, I would gladly do so because I get a kick out of reading blogs. But I don't.
I call this process karass discovery, and submit that it is the unfulfilled promise of what the Bloggercons are fond of calling "the blogging industry." To be fair, guys like Ross Mayfield are all over this design parameter, which may still be a bit futuristic, but then they are not targeting the general marketplace of half-baked ideas. Might make a good project for those creative folks at Google now that they have all that market capital to play with!
I am voice crying out in the wilderness. Won't anyone hear my please, pleas?
Assinine Blog of the Week: The World Economic Forum Weblog.
Actually, Barney Frank's contribution are refreshingly off-the-cuff, and there are some other appealing voices here, but this post from self-appointed, grant-supported, ex-CNN producing blog apostle Rebecca McKinnon is the putrid apple that poisons the whole barrel.
Of course, many (probably most) bloggers are not trying to be journalists or to produce "news." Instead, they're sharing a conversation about what they find important with whoever might be interested. Take this Forumblog for instance. It's not a "news site" or newswire about the Davos Annual meeting. You can get the official news here. The blog is where you go for a sense of the meeting's "personality." It's a place for participants and a few WEF staff to share their own personal thoughts, impressions, and opinions about the sessions they've been attending. We want to share these things with the rest of the "blogosphere" and believe our own thinking will be enhanced by holding a conversation with people reading and watching from around the world. That's what blogging is all about.
Give me a freaking break. "Personality" in quotations marks? This is the level of analytic intelligence of a leading light of the blogosphere? A kind of loopy, impressionistic, star-struck celebrity access journalism, where the journalist is grateful for being made a participant so she can get busy "schmoozing"? Page 6 for the jet set? This is the vanguard of the blogging revolution, successor to that great, doomed mission of the Fourth Estate, to speak the truth to power? McKinnon is actually impressed that the WEF trotted out some hand-picked dissenters for a photo op. Too busy schmoozing to know a Potemkin village when she sees one, I guess.
How can you take anyone seriously who has a Harvard-hosted Web log and a professional posed photo who refers to herself, even semiironically, as an "evil, kitten-eating cyborg"? And that's "with whomever," you semiliterate television subpersonality turned Harvard fellow. If you are going to take money to tout the virtues of naive amateurism, why should I afford you the professional courtesy of skimming lightly over your shortcomings as a self-promoting, self-styled kitten eater? No wonder you don't have a real job.
(Above: "You are leaving the democratic zone"--Police presence at this year's WEF, via Indymedia)
The fact is, you still can't get in and blog Davos unless you are the kind of person who gets invited to Davos, although Davos still trots out its tame invitee-bloggers as evidence that it means what it says about transparency and all that bullshit, and so they can have some Web chic on their side to counter the likes of Davos.Indymedia.org and the carefully-chaperoned MSM ('mainstream media'), who have as many minders and restrictions as they did in Red Moscow back in the day, from what I'm told anecdotally.
And just you try to figure out how to get press credentials as an independent freelance human being, other than to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for your polite, semi-automated "thank you in advance for fucking quietly off" in reply.
God forbid that anyone should ask Bono or Thabo Mbeki or John Thain of the NYSE an embarassing question their minders have not rehearsed them on. Must ... stay on message. Must ... outlaw the curveball so I can ... score scripted points with ... domestic audiences using ... media ... my government ... controls.
Wow, I guess I sound a little like one of the anarchists in the streets. I'm not really, although I did find it very easy to earn a spot in the state-of-the-art press room at Porto Alegre--the hated MSM insist on calling it "the anti-Davos"--when I was down there a couple of years ago, blogging, being a cultural tourist in ga�cho Brazil, working up freelance pitches no one wanted to buy, and filing stories for Project Ciranda. That's transparency--they didn't care that I might be an intelligence agent of a foreign power or some schmuck just there to pick up girls. And oh, those ga�cha girls ... My wife was extremely jealous at the time but now knows I am a one-bunda man.
I got to meet the young Cuban revolutionary vanguard--smelly, arrogant, pampered, vain, the Castroite equivalent of the ass-kissing yuppie climber--and have some very interesting conversations with Indian open-source geniuses and the like, as well as observing the flack corps of the new Brazilian government in action. Where else in the world can a scruffy freelancer like me get a candid closeup of the president of a nation of 180 million, and one of the government's Karl Rove counterpart, Z� Dirceu, to boot? Chomsky was there, of course, more or less just phoning it in, taking publicity shots with the MST at the Brazilian equivalent of a pancake breakfast grip-and-grin.
The great thing about it was I didn't have to run oblique strategies on everyone to find out what they really thought, the way it often is in the course of doing my day job. At the moment, I personally don't really agree with about three-fifths of the agenda these folks are putting out, but I was able to see that they are running a very effective global public opinion campaign that the Davos crowd should really be concerned about.
Those World Social Forum people--well, not Fidel's little stooges, but most of the rest--really believe in the power of the open information society, and they have concrete plans for putting it into action. Ever hear how Microsoft lost tens of thousands of Brazilian government desktops to Linux? Case in point.
The Davos crowd talks about transparency in order to placate that global public opinion I'm talking about and trots out its tame bloggers, but see the photograph from this year's conference above--like U.S. public diplomacy in the Arab world, they don't really seem to know a public relations disaster in the making from their ass in a hole in the ground, dodging mortars and running the insurgent gantlet through the Temporary Autonomous Zone that links the Green Zone (less mortar fatalities per capita than anywhere else in town!) to Baghdad International Airport.
Trotting out Charles O. Prince of Citigroup to promote the theme of corporate accountability strikes me as something akin to trotting out Neville Chamberlain as a champion of anti-fascism.
As always, my hastily typed and no doubt misguided screed, not the opinion of anyone that gives me money. This is just between me and anyone who might give a damn what I think, as Rebecca says. Frankly, I probably should stick to the art of headlines, the tactics of the lead paragraph, and my efforts to keep on up the best practices of people who do my same job. I could tell stories about relations between editorial and manufacturing, but I don't gossip here about the internal workings of the organization as a substitute for working things out with the people involved, who might actually read this. This is just my personal space where I get to be sloppy and imprecise and socially inappropriate to a degree, since I'm on my own time now.
Speaking of spontaneous Q&A, I can say that I'm totally proud of our Shanghai correspondent, who VoIPed into the Sun Microsystems conference call this week and asked some tough (but fair and entirely relevant) questions of Scott McNealy (who gave some straight answers, to his great credit). Very interesting development: OpenSolaris under the CDDL license, and the release of 1,600 patents into the public domain. To tell the truth, personally, I know that professionaly I'm not supposed to be impressed, but I kind of am. This does actually count as money where your mouth is, and as obnoxious as I find Jonathan Schwartz's blog--I bet you ten dollars he has flacks helping him plan his spontaneous, off-the-cuff, disintermediated remarks--I have to admit the appeal to the values of the open-source world is a daring gambit. I just don't think Wall Street will go for disintermediation and the values of open source, beyond the fact that it costs them less if the fools want to give it away. The more I read up on it, the more I see that the Wall Street value chain is all about secrecy, stealth, and parlaying inside information. That's why the intellectual property wars have their front lines in our industry, though not many realize that, I think. Of course, I'm the not the one who really knows this stuff: I just sign their expense account vouchers.
In our Shanghai correspondent's honor, I agonized over the headline, and came up with a nice one:
Sun Tries GNU Tactic
Rim shot, please.
The answer is, yes, somewhat drunk and tired. Wanna make something of it?
Fewer capital markets firms see an opportunity to use compliance to create internal value, down from 45% last year to 36% in 2005. Only 29% believe they can create any external value from regulations, down 10% over the last twelve months. Indeed, more respondents than ever before now view regulations as an administrative overhead with minimal benefit to their organisation.
Hmmm. I assigned a reporter to test this proposition the other week--does compliance pay?--and got a case study suggesting the opposite of this result for sell side firms, without the balancing point of view. Could be that it's a matter of apples and oranges: there's SOX compliance and then there's registered rep compliance, after all. Still, it needed to make that point. I had to run it or have a hole on the front page. I'm embarrassed. I hate to have us be seen as not fair and balanced!
Post-mortems: Got to do them. I just have not had time, and have not been able to herd the distributed cats--only about a third of our reporters work in the office--into using a mailing list or bulletin board to talk amongst themselves.
Argh. I suck.
The subway is also no place for the homeless, and it's a sign of the system's shaky state that hundreds of people have been allowed to live in its grapevine of tunnels and passageways. It is not safe for them and, as Sunday's fire makes clear, it is not safe for the millions who ride through those tunnels every single day. The city's police and homeless outreach programs need to be mobilized right away. Infuriated riders who need to vent their anger should understand that neither the station manager nor City Hall is the right target. The buck really stops at Gov. George Pataki's office. He appoints the people who run the M.T.A., and his proposed budget skimps on the kind of maintenance and infrastructure upgrading that could help prevent the disruptions subway riders are seeing this week.
In other words, "This is terrible, do something!" Thanks for belaboring the obvious. All that brainpower in the editorial department and that's the best they can do? If they had their feces coagulated they would be writing an elaborate "I told you so" that cited the myriad editorials they had written predicting just this scenario, but no. They should change the paper's name to the "New York-based Times." When do you ever read a Brooklyn story that's not about judicial corruption and loft conversions in neighborhoods where once we honkies feared to tread? They should rename the thing to "the Manhattan Times, along with all the Mandevillean tall tales of the outer boroughs fit to print."
We should do something this week on Thain's participation, quick, call the flack. Maybe I will work it into my commentary. Make that definitely.
The Webcasts start today. I'll probably spend the day with an earbud in one ear and the phone in another. I hate telephones. IMs have a nice balance between the immediacy of presence and the manageability of e-mail (unless yu use Microsoft Outlook). None of that "what did you say a minute ago? Sorry, I was distracted" stuff.
Six in the morning and I'm already going full speed. I write in haste.
It's not even bad in an interesting way. Bad Shakespeare quotes are the first resort of every amateur. If you want to go the literary allusion route, you have to be obscure. I gave myself a little giggle this week by using one myself: 'Reputation Reputation, Reputation': AML in the UK. Remember? Cassio's lament to Iago, Othello, Act 2, Scene 3?
Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!
There's a bit of a Sex Pistols reference in the second clause as well. And irony: Cassio is an idiot in that play.
The one I'm proud of, though, was "EU Pluribus Unum"--a story on European regulatory harmonization. Get it? Huh?
Seriously, though, except possibly for that AML headline--stands for anti-money laundering, story dealt with reputational risk--I take headlines seriously, even if I try to introduce a little rhetorical zing. I'm not just trying to be clever for clever's sake. I'm trying to mess with the reader's head, make him look twice, get the mental juices flowing.
My preferred genre is the hed-dek duo, for that reason: The improbable statement followed by the explanation. It's the same rhetorical strategy as the shaggy dog story. It's also easier. The hard ones to write are often the boring ones without a deck that have to convey as much information as possible in tight quarters. That's where you break out your Scrabble dictionary and trot out all the handy journalistic words like 'mull' and--I used this the other day--'slap' for any form of punishment or admonishment.
Of course, you don't always have room for a deck, and a reporter of mine objected, quite rightly, last week that having nothing but a short, cryptic head on his story wasn't right: It was breaking news and needed to shout that fact up front. So we added a design element to hold a dek that featured the new information inside. Hooray for flexible art directors.
Two of the city's subway lines -- the A and the C -- have been crippled and may not return to normal capacity for three to five years after a fire Sunday afternoon in a Lower Manhattan transit control room that was started by a homeless person trying to keep warm, officials said yesterday. The blaze, at the Chambers Street station used by the A and C lines, was described as doing the worst damage to subway infrastructure since the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. It gutted a locked room that is no larger than a kitchen but that contains some 600 relays, switches and circuits that transmit vital information about train locations.
The innocent terrorism of poor street weirdos. Can you hear the sound of property values falling in Ozone Park and Rockaway Beach?
So much for protecting key infrastructure with hardcore antiterror police.
I shouldn't say so, but I'm stressed. The job is hard these days. Got to write a couple of pieces this week and pretend like our spot news coverage is not suffering. We need our new reporter, like, yesterday ...
Portrait of "The Beast" by my wife, the Mina de Letras. We're on the Acela up the Northeast Corridor to Bwoston. Yes, the couple that blogs together slogs through the icy fog together:
Mom-in-law called from Jurassic S�o Paulo fearing we had been snowed in and turned cannibal. The worst you suffered in the city, assuming you didn't slip on black ice and bust your ass, was moderate delays on the 2-3 and 4-5 and the smell of your follow straphanger's soggy wool. Oh, and an hour of Internet outage, that was really the worst part. Got all shaky and itchy, nose was running.
America's Nasdaq and Chicago stock exchanges have joined the bidding for Instinet, the US-based exchange and broking company that is majority-owned by Reuters and is expected to sell for more than $2 billion (EUR1.07 billion). Reuters, the UK-listed financial news and data company, owns 62 per cent of Instinet, and said in November that it was considering putting the company up for sale. On Friday, it was reported that Archipelago Holdings, a Chicago-based company that owns an electronic stock market, was bidding, boosting Instinet's shares by 6.5 per cent to $6.07, and Reuters stock by 0.6 per cent to 390.75p.
I'm going to be pulling my hair out trying to cover this this week. Round up the usual suspects!
created in response to Presidential Decision Directive 63 (PDD-63) in May 1998 as a mechanism to assist in the coordination of the Federal Government's initiatives on critical infrastructure protection.
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Surf to the Information Exchange at GlobalContinuity.com and you'll find a blank page.
Three cheers for cheap irony.
Johnny Carson is dead. The dude was funny and smart. Some zingers--probably written by staff writers, but the dry, nasal delivery counts for a lot:
Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place. Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be vice president. For days after death hair and fingernails continue to grow, but phone calls taper off. I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself. I know you've been married to the same woman for 69 years. That is marvelous. It must be very inexpensive. I was so naive as a kid I used to sneak behind the barn and do nothing. If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners. If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead. If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam. New York is an exciting town where something is happening all the time, most unsolved. The only thing money gives you is the freedom of not worrying about money. When turkeys mate they think of swans. Never continue in a job you don't enjoy. If you're happy in what you're doing, you'll like yourself, you'll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.
Hi-yo! And read James Wolcott's admiring tribute. Ou sont les neiges dantan?
"So what we may be seeing, at least in part at least here, is just part of the wind-up of a political campaign. In any case, we are looking into it," he said.
What an embarrassing wealth of qualifiers all in a row. Naturally the party in power is going to bulk up the war chest for the final wave of suicide attack ads. Why, the GOP has been using public funds in a very similar way lately, buying and inventing phony "journalists" to tout its legislative agenda without disclosure. It's just business as usual, nothing to worry about.
One of the things about working until I drop every day, and weekends, too, is that I have less mindshare to invest in rage and bitter laughter about the transparent contempt these people have for the intelligence of the ordinary American. I want to check the transcript to see whether the anchor saw the slow hanging curve and hit it out of the park: "You expect the American people to buy this bullshit?" My impulse is to sell that possibility short, and mortage the house and kids to do it.
Seriously, though, who's the public affairs officer that let this orangutan within 3,000 miles of a live microphone without a mysterious bulge in his suit jacket? Appoint him cultural attach� for life to Outer Mongolia, make him study throat-singing.
We had a bit of a scuffle this week setting up an interview with an industry big-man, but at least the negotiations were rational. They wanted us not to ask about the one topic that would make the interview worth printing, we told them that we could only run the interview if we disclosed that they had imposed restraints. My reaction was that you have a brain trust of PR people, can't you come up with some interesting explanations for why you can't talk about the topic at the moment?
The reporter was reluctant to go the final mile, though: saying that under those conditions, we'd have to pass. I guess I am not sufficiently briefed on what a big-shot the guy is. I mean, I have a vague idea, and I'm willing to telegraph the topics to be covered, though not the questions and follow-up, obviously, to give him time to devise some carefully crafted off-the-cuff remarks. But the bottom line is we're onto this story and we're not going to pretend the hippopotamus at the dinner table is just crazy old Uncle Bob, pay him no mind.
A non-newsmaking interview is no news and we don't have time and warm bodies to waste not reporting news while we make it look like we are. That's what the PR profession is for, it's quite labor-intensive, and the real pros can make lemonades from the lemon, negotiating the scen so everyone is satisfied, instead of just getting on and whining that their boss is gonna yank their bonus if we don't cave.
At least well-crafted evasions give your readers something to practice their hermeneutics on. And if you want to pull a Negroponte on us, we're happy to have some black-comic relief. But we prefer that you don't. We know that you and your people, at least, are better than that. Seriously, this one of thing the private sector should be better at than the government is. The bar is set pretty damn low.
The declining importance of brawn in futures trading from the Economist explains why jocks are out and video gamers are in on trading floors:
FOR Scott Okamura, electronic trading seems a godsend. A slight 41-year-old, Mr Okamura says that he never did well in his 18 years as a floor trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). In the trading pits, towering ex-athletes with booming voices had an edge. Now the playing field looks a lot more level. As the futures industry shifts from open-outcry towards screen trading, big, burly men with sharp elbows are out. Twenty-somethings with cool heads and quick fingers (often trained on video games) are in. So are some flexible veterans like Mr Okamura. Rather than trade sitting alone in an office or at home in their pyjamas, a growing number are choosing to work in electronic trading ?arcades? or ?prop shops? (trading firms that pay them a salary and a slice of profits) offering computers, real-time news streams and the company of other traders, even if they are competitors.
Those Econo boys and girls can write, can't they? Wait a minute, though: Wasn't letting strangers walk in off the street and enter trades on your computers what led to the market-timing and late-trading scandals in the mutual fund industry? Shades of Boiler Room.
Speaking of which, they're filming in our building again (above). The management rents out an entire floor for that purpose. Grips hustle carts stacked with fresnels through the lobby, the greasy security guards try to make time with the influx of outside hotties.
I hired someone yesterday--my first full-time hire, if you want to know the truth. If you want to know the truth, I was just as nervous as the candidate! But you know what? I feel sure I made the right choice. All those years of teaching lit and writing to frosh-sophs actually help: I think I'm pretty good at evaluating people without making 'em squirm so much they can't focus on the issue at hand. Functional hierarchy. My secret? I'm a crypto-Freirian.
And a tip to job applicants: Say plainly that you want the job, and be able to say why. Positive reasons outweigh negative ones ("Those bastards I'm working for now are starving me and crushing my spirit.")
Yes, it's five in the freaking morning. I do my news junkie routine at this hour a lot these days. So little time, so much to know.
The 35th FIPP World Magazine Congress sounds likes my kind of lost weekend, even though I am a newspaper guy now. A chance to eat Waldorf-Astoria salad with Readers Digest and Paris Match. Plus this could be good:
The New Brand Extensions of B-to-B Just what are innovative publishers in the global business-to-business world doing to find revenue beyond ad pages in print, in person and online?
And this might be a panel any parent would want to attend:
Global Youth Lifestyle ... What's the Next Big Thing? What are they wearing?...How are they getting their information and news?...Who are their heroes and how do they communicate with each other? As magazine publishers and editors, you need to stay ahead of the curve in terms of youth trends. Jane Buckingham, President, Youth Intelligence shares insights and information that could impact the way you run your business or speak to your readers. She will be joined by a panel of magazine editors from across the globe who are trying to reach that elusive and hard to hold market. They will tell us how they plan to attract and retain their readership.
I'm tempted to update the old joke--about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron and all--for this trendy "youth intelligence" meme, but some recent meetings with young reporters have given me hope for the younger generation.
Before I started blogging about this new little part-time job of mine, I kept an open blog (and wiki) called Blogalization. It has disappeared recently but is popping again at a new URL: blogalization.nu/emigration. The mission, as always:
Blogalization is an open karass of bloggers and other independent Web writers and publishers who post in one or more languages about material discovered in one or more other languages: if I have languages A and B and you have languages B and C, we can share memes across barriers of mutual incomprehension.
The new XML feed is here. Don't expect miracles from meI am very busy at workalthough maybe this weekend I will have time to catch up with my translations of Arabic-language insurgent blogger Iraq4Ever
Brazil coffee to come under US scanner: The Economic Times (India)
The New York Board of Trade will review in January results of recent coffee tastings from Brazil to determine whether beans from the world?s top producer are good enough for delivery against Nybot futures, exchange officials said in the past week. Since July, a panel of coffee tasters held a series of five separate grading sessions to assess the quality of Brazilian coffee beans. Their findings will go to a Nybot coffee committee which will make a final decision. ?The current timetable has the committee getting together in mid-January, and that will be the earliest time which the committee will consider the report,? said Tim Barry, vice-president of market development at Nybot. The prospect of Brazilian beans sold against Nybot futures has prompted concerns among Arabica growers in Central America and Colombia because they struggled with years of low prices and oversupply from growers like Brazil and Vietnam. The flipside of the argument is that Nybot?s coffee futures market lacks efficiency without top grower Brazil. Brazil, the leading producer of natural Arabica coffee, has increased its production of washed coffee in recent years by using new technology such as ?aqua-pulping?. ?Some of the Brazilians that I tasted were up to par,? said Paul Fisher, a member and licensed grader of the Nybot exchange.
I and my wife can attest to the quality of Brazilian coffee, a lot of which is grown in Minas Gerais now. Maybe we can get Neuza a job as a taster: No one is quite as snobby about coffee as an Italian from S�o Paulo. Neuza initially couldn't believe the dishwater we drink here. The NYBOT's Coffee Committee started thinking over Brazil contracts back in July.
The Depressed Press from Bill Safire is another reason why you should follow the point of view of people you hardly ever agree with: Occasionally you find common ground. Hell, even that dweeb Brooks is worth keeping up on. I happen to think his worldview is misguided, but he ain't no lazy bum. There's elbow-grease in those editorials, and he states the views of that line of thinking a lot more eloquently than any blogger. Anyhow, to Safire's lapidary prose:
America's quality media are now wading through the Slough of Despond. Our self-flagellation, handwringing and narcissism threaten our mission to act as counterweight to government power. Hear the wailing: The bloggers are coming! The Bible-thumpers are cursing our secular inhumanism! The plumber judges are plugging our leaks! The Yahoo president ducks our questions and giggles at our gaffes! News is slyly slanted as bias rears its head! Cheer up. Despite the recent lapses at CBS and previous mishaps at The Times and USA Today, here's why mainstream journalism has a future. ... Here's the good news: Bad news is newsier than good news. Even when media try to be "fair and impartial," they can be expected to annoy rather than please the party in power. That's because clean government needs a snooping adversary, not a cheerleader; the Outs need help from the press to hold the Ins accountable. Today that media bias is undeniably liberal. That's natural when conservatives are the Ins; five years ago, the bias often ran the other way. As future elections near, that tilt must disappear from news pages to let the voters do the tilting. Some mainstreamers flopped on necessary election evenhandedness in 2004 and should be grimly thankful for a corrective kick in the teeth from other media, bloggers and righteous right-wingers.
Nicely said, you crafty old fox! We're going to miss ya.
Okay, okay, what I am saying is how smart I must be to have picked up on the same stuff as Mr. Genius over there in Chicago. Seriously, though, good review of a really great film. Of course, 75% of the reviewers at IMDB gave the film an 8 out of 10 or better. I'm just another a member of the narcissistic herd, king of my own Youniverse. Maybe I just identify a lot with all of Scorcese's tormented antiheroes ... He gets a real, mature performance out of pretty boy DiCaprio; it can't be easy doing a character with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Very moving.
Oh, and there's hot babes a-go-go! Cate Blanchett as Kate Hepburn (passionate sigh) ... Seriously, though, there's this running motif of Hughes standing in front of the projection screen, with the images flowing over his body, it's striking, beautiful, and, like, totally deep and stuff. ...
Wall Street: 'Blogs insignificant' is an nicely-done polemic from David Berlind of Ziff in response to a Wall Street Journal reporter who looked into all the marketing hoopla around podcasting and decided it was a tempest in a teapot. I happen to believe the WSJ guy was right. Here's what I wrote:
What does 'significant' mean, anyway? You focus on the handful of bloggers that have achieved significant traffic on their own. BFD. The real story is not the AUDIENCE for A-List bloggers but the level of PARTICIPATION in blogging by the ordinary schmuck. Blogger, Movable Type, publications like Salon offering blogging tools and space, et al. Blogging won't compete for eyeballs with mass media by going head to head for mass audience. It'll do it by allowing people to develop and serve their own micromarkets: Jeff Jarvis' example is the "all New Jersey high school wrestling channel." That commenter above who mentions his church's blog is onto this, too. As the blogosphere grows, there's more and more likelihood that there are stamp collectors with a passion for Romanian air mail stamps out there blogging. What the blogosphere needs to be 'significant' are public utilities that would make it easy for me to find my fellow Romanian air mail phreaks. The Technorati 100 is a loser. It's an advertising gimmick. But the Technorati search engine is moving in the right direction: I can search for bloggers who write about keywords that lead me to members of my micromarket: "New Jersey" +"wrestling" or "Proust" +"fan club" or "Wiccan" +"nudist" +"stockbroker". Podcasting won't take off if there's no incentive for mobs of people to start getting into it, and the best incentive is the knowledge that if I podcast about the contemporary New York punk rock scene, there's a Web site that can attract users and route the Gotham punkers to me. Blogging will be signficant if it can match readers to writers in micromarkets like these. It's not about being in the Top 10 by blogging about subjects that everyone is talking about. It's about the pleasure of hooking up with kindred souls. Finding one really appreciative reader who corrects your errors and shares your love for the films of Elvis Presley is worth a thousand hits from people who arrive at your site and leave comments like "Dude, this blog sucks!" After all, it's lonely being the only nudist Wiccan stockbroker in my town. Surely there must be others like me?
I said about Blogger Con and I'll say it again: A lot of the pundits who blog about blogging are self-promoting flacks. The best ones, on the other hand, are flacks who promote blogging itself and work to get more people doing it without hyping it.
Economist and author Allen W. Smith, Ph.D. has issued the following statement about the IOUs held by the Social Security trust fund: Most people seem to think the trust fund contains a large reserve of real assets that can be used to supplement payroll tax revenue when Social Security begins running annual deficits in 2018. It is supposed to contain $1.5 trillion in marketable Treasury bonds -- purchased with tax dollars paid in by baby boomers to pre-fund their own retirement. However, every penny of the $1.5 trillion has been 'borrowed' (looted) by the government, and the baby boomers are now being made scapegoats to cover up the fraud. To facilitate this looting, the Treasury Department quietly stopped issuing marketable Treasury bonds to the Social Security trust fund -- a fact that few people know about -- before the large surpluses from the 1983 payroll tax increase began to flow in. From that point on, the Treasury issued only 'special issue' non-marketable bonds to the trust fund. These special issues were created for the government trust funds only, and they are not at all like the regular marketable Treasury bonds held by private investors. They are not marketable, they have no cash value, and they are not real assets. When Social Security begins to run deficits in 2018, the American people will be at the mercy of a greedy government that must begin repaying the money it has 'borrowed' if full benefits are to be paid. In order to do so, the government will have to raise taxes or borrow massive additional amounts from the public, because there is nothing of value in the trust fund with which to raise cash. The American people must demand that Bush immediately stop looting the more than $400 million per day of Social Security surplus money, and allow that money to be invested in marketable Treasury bonds. Secondly, we must demand that legislation be enacted requiring that the $1.5 trillion of Social Security surplus that has already been looted be repaid and invested in marketable Treasury bonds. If these two steps are taken, there will be no Social Security problem until at least 2042.
In other words, the government has created the very same so-called liquidity "crisis" it is using to justify its proposal to effectively drive the system into extinction. "Hey, they killed Social Security!" "You bastards!"
Runner-up press release of the week: Go Nuts and Follow the New 2005 Dietary Guidelines: Advice From the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation. I plan to leave my entire estate to the Tree Nut Council when I go, along with a bequest to good old Pomona College--named for "the goddess of fruits and nuts," as the old president used to quip.
FaithfulAmerica: Rescue or Revival? I got involved with Faithful America during the election; it's a project of the National Council of Churches designed to offer an alternative Christian political agenda. Really struck a nerve with me. Now they've shifted gears into tsunami relief and started up this blog of their interfaith director's work in Sri Lanka. They're asking the essential question:
Today we traveled to a small coastal village near Colombo to visit an orphanage ruined by the wave. On our way we came upon a boy dressed in new jeans and a bright white Yankees t-shirt, and carrying a brand new Bible. (see photos below) We stopped and asked where he was going and he told us, "To the prayer." We learned that there would be some fifty survivors from this fishing village attending the meeting led by an American evangelist. What is interesting -- and this is purely speculation -- but there is a better than average chance that this young man, or at least some of the fifty in attendance, were Buddhists -- at least before tonight. This illustration touches at the heart of the tension between Buddhist leaders and visiting Christian groups, some of which, such as FaithfulAmerica, are here not to evangelize but to help provide relief. There are some who say evangelists are exploiting this nation's bad fortune to gain converts, while some evangelists believe they are doing exactly what their faith commands them to do.
I'm reading Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt right now, appropriately enough, and it reminds me that Buddhists--my dad was one--are generally cleared to take part in other faiths. Buddha is not a god, after all. Important theological nuance.
I attended an NCCC meeting not long after 9-11 while covering a book tour by Paul Findley. The Council on American-Islamic Relations was giving a presentation and CNN was phoning them for "reaction from the Muslim community" interviews. It was an enlightening experience, even though I was never able to sell the article I was writing.
If you know me, you probably are surprised to know that I'm an Xian. Actually, I have big problems with the Nicene Creed and St. Paul. The Sermon on the Mount, the parables of Christ, a sentimental attachment to the Doxology, liberation theology, and The White Goddess are the cornerstones of my personal lite version of the faith. Remember the old comic strip Rick O'Shay? Remember how Hipshot Percussion the gunfighter would always ride out into the wilderness on Sundays to talk to "the Boss"? I always identified with that as a kid. I still like the idea of a town called Conniption where the local bordello is known as the Crystal Pistol (my favorite South of Market dance spot when I lived in San Francisco) ...
This communiqu� from the boys' club at Wall and Broad is big for us, and produces a nice bit of rhetoric for the headline writer to gnaw on:
In contrast, the second alternative, which mandates depth-of-book (?DOB?) order routing, would effectively transform our competing markets into a homogenized government-mandated utility.
Interesting metaphor, that, given that commoditization and utilities computing models have so much to do with transformation on the Street. I might have to write it up myself today, though production seems chaotic at certain moments and is behind schedule a bit. Yikes. I've been getting up at 5:30 and working in my tobacco-reeking cavern over stupendous mugs of French roast before subwaying in.
Meeting nice people in my reporter interviews, writing lots of short advice letters to recent college grads who wrote pop music reviews for The Collegian and think they can satisfy the detailed requirements of our ad by being "fast learners" whose high school teachers thought they were special. Grrr. It's a form of spam. Read the instructions and do not apply if the job description does not apply to you!
Greg Palast of the Observer and the Beeb is the lonely contrarian voice crying in the wilderness on the fallout from CBS's night of the long knives over the President's military service, blasting the "craven, cowardly firing of '60 Minutes' producer Mary Mapes for her story of our President's draft-dodging history."
Personally, I hope that broken contraption "trust us, we're CBS," forces the network into the clear skies of a new idea: We used to do our reporting in a way that required the public to trust us, the professional journalists. It worked for a while, but times and platforms change. Now we have to do our reporting in a way that persuades the public to trust us. Professionals at CBS News: are you up to it? Publish the full interviews. That is but a single example that could be turned into fact next week. Hundreds of others are waiting to be activated in a similar way. If in the wake of the disaster a decision were taken at CBS to embark on a new course in openness, the professionals at CBS might soon realize that in having to re-build their division's reputation they have been given a gift: The opportunity to clear away a crumbling and disordered professional house and pour a new foundation.
I'm down with both points of view. Can I have my cake and eat it too? These people really fucked up. Rather made an ass of himself by becoming the story, falling for the bait dangled by people who wanted to take the spotlight off the message and put it on the messenger.
On the other hand, Rather also behaved with a reasonable amount of ethical integrity--not something you can say about Mapes, by the way. I could have done without his pointed crack to the effect that "knowing what I know now, I would not have run with the story"--a zinger at Bush's similarly phrased statement about the war in Iraq--and getting down in the mud with the noise machine bloggers with that crack about people typing in their pyjamas.
On the other hand, Rather's right: Bush is most probably a slimy my-daddy-bought-me-this-oil-company draft dodger. Which makes him a candidate for a hypocrisy charge (although that "born again" thing really seems to be working for him).
Ah, well, what do I know. I have no time to blog freely this days, occupied as I am with working for the man. My old translation blog is crashed and awaiting a porting of the database to a new server. The publisher is out of town at one of those 18 holes in the afternoon sales shindigs. My gripe for the week: I'm getting more conservative about intellectual property in some ways. If you develop a fat Rolodex and bookmark file in the course of your beat-building for a publication, you should leave a copy behind when you go, along with a debriefing on your beat. And Human Resources should attempt to save some of the brain drain-off in a jar in the exit interview. Having to build your own--hypothetically speaking, of course--would be a major waste of time and resources.
Other preoccupations: structuring quality-control incentives for freelancers, and managing the balance between competition and collegiality. Creeping advertorial. Squeezing in more mini-junkets and face time with the industry movers and shakers. How to make a Web site not suck for cheep. Intranet instead of e-mail. Bureaucratic inertia. I want a BlackBerry. Coveting the cubicle with all that shelf space! Why are those Brooklyn construction guys walking around with blueprints whispering to that suit I've never seen before about what walls to knock down in our workspace? Why can't the Au Bon Pain downstairs seem to keep stocked up on French roast? More infographics! The theory of electronic call options. Parsing consultantspeak. Luddite tendencies of the journalistic confraternity. Interviewing process. Hedging and reinsurance. Fat pipes. Anonymous block trading versus crossing platforms. Intellectual property. Rocket science. The 99 flavors of XML. The Southern District of New York. Guest columnists. Overlapping production schedules. Understaffing. Shanghai. Dash-5s. The first round of SOX reporting.
Yee haw. Well, at least I've got plenty to do all day, keeps me out of the Foca's hair.
Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same. The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004. The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request, also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, "to encourage the producers to periodically address" NCLB. He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite Paige onto his show twice. Harvey's manager, Rushion McDonald, confirmed the appearances.
The noise machine in action. And this:
In the second ruling of its kind, the investigative arm of Congress this week scolded the Bush administration for distributing phony prepackaged news reports that include a "suggested live intro" for anchors to read, interviews with Washington officials and a closing that mimics a typical broadcast news sign off. Although television stations knew the materials were produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, there was nothing in the two-minute, prepackaged reports that would indicate to viewers that they came from the government or that Morris, a former journalist, was working under contract for the government. "You think you are getting a news story, but what you are getting is a paid announcement," said Susan A. Poling, managing associate general counsel at the GAO. "What is objectionable about these is the fact the viewer has no idea their tax dollars are being used to write and produce this video segment."
One more reason to kill your TV.
The U.S. Treasury?s Office of Foreign Assets Control has issued a ruling that allows for any editing required the publication of books, manuscripts, newspapers, magazines or other informational materials. Previously, the misguided rule said, for example, that if a newspaper edited or translated commentary or opinion pieces from Cuban writers and then published that material then it might be subject to prosecution by OFAC. Running them unedited (or untranslated), on the other hand, was acceptable. ASNE, the International Press Institute and several other groups had written letters excoriating the office for this interpretation and several book publishers had filed a lawsuit regarding the matter. To see a copy of OFAC?s press release regarding the ruling, go to http://www.treasury.gov/press/releases/js2152.htm
Let's stipulate, as the lawyers say, that we all want to:
All worthy goals. What now?
- Maintain a healthier diet.
- Exercise more regularly.
- Get control of e-mail.
- And paperwork.
The last item: Don't give up on journalism:
And finally: Don't believe everything you hear -- or read -- about journalism. Media-bashing is a time-honored tradition in our culture, and it's never been more politically fashionable than it is today. I still believe that what you do matters a lot, even if it doesn't always feel that way. It matters, too, that you be the one to do it. I'm saddened by the loss of the hundreds of journalists laid off, downsized, or otherwise unemployed through no fault of their own over the course of 2004. I find it almost sadder that so many others decided for themselves to leave journalism.
Ed Cone has managed to generate a lot of buzz for the "grassroots journalism" project he's doing at his local paper, the News-Record, including a hot mention by Dan Gillmor, who recently resigned his column at the Merc News. And Time has apparently named Powerline the blog of the year.
I like Ed's blog and his passion as blog evangelist, but c'mon, people have been doing local-global community news online ever since the Web was the Web. Indymedia, for one? The Ypsilanti Eyeball? What about the Web Citoyen movement in France? Sot al-Iraq? Where's the props to the founding generation? A lot of this "blogging revolution" crap is pure marketing and revisionist history, as far as I can tell. As a concerted push to coopt the Left's traditional monopoly on populist rhetoric and practice, it's a very smart, very cynical form of demagoguery fronted by a bunch of pious Pilates who declaim, "What is truth?" Sign me up for the hype but no readership school of thought.
As to Powerline: So a bunch of neoconservative think-tankers and corporate lawyers pulled off this year's triumph of "citizen journalism," did they? That's a little bit like cheering for an alternative ending to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in which the corrupt lobbyists prevail.
My IMHO recipe for rescuing the profession? Thin the ranks of the "content managers"--the blow-dried suits with the MBAs in marketing pushing "convergence" and "blogging" as a way of filling column inches and generating hits and Nielsen points while cutting "content" production overhead--and spend the money on decent salaries for foot-leather-burning reporters on the ground. There's your added value: writers with years of accumulated credibility who can afford to spend 24-7-52 on a beat.