The news media is trying veeerrry, veeerrry hard not to be assholes about Boston, but it's hard because they don't have any fresh meat. No suspects yet, just some vague film footage of a "dark skinned" dude. That's a lot of air time to replay the same facts over and over again. Lots of time to stick foot in mouth.
There has been some borderline assholic behavior. The news media showed that a grizzly picture of a guy getting wheeled down the block. His legs are gone. Just some stringy veins hanging down from his knee cap. I could have gone my whole life without knowing what a leg-less knee cap looks like.
The boardline questionable behavior is that they showed the guy's face, and immediately posted the picture. So, that's how the guy's dad found out that his son had been injured.
News media aside, there was some honorable behavior that deserves a shout out. When the bomb went off, people ran away. That's cool. That's the normal, human response to a big explosion and shrapnel and blood. But then a few people ran towards a blast and pulled back fencing and knelt on the ground with the injured. That's amazing. Read about the hero in the cowboy hat. Love this guy.
I read about Kermit Gosnell and his Jeffrey Dahmer-like abortion clinic a couple of years ago. I can't remember where I read about the details of the case. I read pretty broadly, so it could have been in either the liberal or conservative press. I haven't read anything recently, but I haven't searched for details either. It's such a gross story that one or two articles were enough for me. The guy was clearly a psychopath who deserves a life sentence at a maximum security prison.
So, why haven't we read more about the Gosnell case? Was it a conspiracy by liberal media to cover up an inconvenient story that would undermine abortion rights? That was the claim of media critics this weekend.
I've been on the fringes of the media world for the past year. The super young, earnest news editors (is every digital news editor under 30?) don't seem to be strongly motivated by a particular political ideology. They primarily want to bring in the traffic. Their jobs depend on articles that gather the links on Twitter and Facebook. Whatever it takes.
If anything there is a slight youth bias in the media, because of the age of the editors. They love articles that deal with 20-something issues, like urban life, college loans, and dating.
But nobody quite knows the formula for bringing in the audience. There are tricks in crafting headlines that can boost numbers. There are certain topics that always seem to be winners. But it's more guess-work than science. That's why so many online magazines cover their bets by including columnists from the right and the left and why there is just so much content produced today. They hope that by producing lots of words from lots of different viewpoints something will stick, and traffic will flow in, and they'll be able to keep their operation afloat for another year.
The media did run stories about Gosnell case in 2011, but it probably didn't lead to much traffic, because the details were just too gross. There also was no evidence that it was a nation-wide phenomenon.
It's interesting that this case came back to the front pages not because of Gosnell himself. This weekend's twitter and op-ed storm was about media bias. That's the topic that brings the traffic.
A number of people that I respect do believe that there is an anti-Catholic, pro-choice bias in the press. That might be true, but in the case, I think that the lack of coverage of Gosnell in 2012 was simply about traffic patterns.
This morning, I went trolling for data, the basic ingredient to any proper digital article. Digital media loves a good statistic. Any number will do.
Twenty-Five States Pass a Dangerous New Law! 83 Percent of Mammals Eat Baby Insects! More People Are Eating Cookies For Breakfast!
I suppose that I should shudder and cringe at this reduction of facts to an SEO-able headline, but I'm not proud. I am happily contributing to the downfall of civilization.
In my morning of trolling for data, I stumbled across the census bureau's new report on childcare arrangements. Oooh! Children AND statistics! I can do a lot with that. But the report didn't have anything dramatic in there. Reading between the lines, it's clear that parents are cobbling together all sorts of different arrangments. Parents cobble? Can I make that into a headline? Probably not.
Ugh. I need a new part-time job. I called the local community college to set up a teaching gig for July.
After a jog at the gym and a pleasant 30 minutes trimming back the roses, I'm back in good spirits. [My Martha Stewart tip for the day: Cut all your rose bushes by 3/4rds right now.] I'm back to scheming my next article. 65 Percent of Women Think that Kim Kardashian Is Faking Her Pregnancy!
The New Republic changed a lot in the past year, under its new ownership by Chris Hughes, one of Facebook's Mega-Rich. The online format is hot. And I enjoy the articles. I used to rarely read the New Republic, even though we have a print subscription. Steve was the primary reader. But now, thanks to its redesign and twitter friendly topics, I check out an article or two per day. I made a mental note last week to start sending them pitches for articles.
A busy morning here. I had to dash out a writing thing, and I went to hear the town school superintendent talk about the school budget at a PTA meeting.
As usual, there was very low attendance. Maybe if they held PTA meetings in the evening, instead of at 9am, there would better turnout, but that's another story.
Today, I'm just going to complain about the lack of academic research and news articles about local politics. It's actually fascinating stuff. It's Politics 101. Who gets what? What groups should pay more? What is the best use of an increasingly small pile of cash? What is left, after entitlements? Who makes all the decisions?
Cities get more attention than suburban areas, because that's where all the academics and journalists live, but suburban areas have more people in them. That's where all the voters live.
The lack of attention to local, suburban politics is a pet peeve of mine. #grumble
My brother is an old-style print journalist. He works for a regional print newspaper that serves the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. His job hasn't changed much in the past twenty years. In fact, his job isn't very different from the way that journalism has worked for sixty years.
Chris and his editor decide on the article topics for the week. He goes to meetings. He talks to local officials. People call him to tell him local gossip. He goes to crash sites. He visits the growing conservative Jewish community to hear about their conflict with the old-time locals. He writes things up at the end of the day using the traditional journalism format of ledes and clean, sparse prose. Any opinions that he might have about a topic are hidden away.
I called him during the week to vent about the state of digital journalism. He didn't know anything about the discussion on the Internet about journalism, because he NEVER reads Twitter or blogs. He doesn't even have a Facebook account.
Digital journalism is another beast from the journalism that Chris does. Most of the job happens in front of a computer screen -- monitoring hit counts, reading the gossip on the Internet, figuring out the next hot topic, turning a new study into a short, graphic article, writing as much as possible in the hopes that one of the articles/posts will go viral, and nurturing the article on social media to nudge those hit counts upwards.
Ezra Klein thinks that expert bloggers have undermined traditional journalism, because the sources now have their own medium. They don't have to wait for that phone call from the journalist. They can go to their own blogs to get their research and opinions heard. Or they can get a free gig at a digital journal that still has the reputation from its print days.
I think that Klein has part of the story. I made that same point in a comment section on another blog last week. There's more going on than that.
In the meantime, it's good news that old-style journalism still exists. It's still happening at the local, regional newspapers, which are surprisingly thriving. There is a demand for this kind of news, at least on the local level. Why are national papers and journals not able to replicate this success?