Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Here's an idea: Shut up

Blogs are all the thing for newspapers to have these days, aren't they? You've got staff blogs, you're in touch with the reader-friendly cutting edge and all that? Well, as we march into the Brave New World, it's probably worth bearing in mind that crap on a blog is pretty much the same thing as crap on the newspages: To wit, crap. And that judgment holds even if it's a blog from the august New York Times. Thus, today's example:

Both Newsweek and Time magazine have newish editors (Jon Meacham, Richard Stengel) and, basically, it’s war: they’re slugging it out for eyeballs in a way they haven’t for a while.
Readers have mostly been the winners; both magazines are smarter and livelier than they were a couple of years ago.

But as far as I can tell there’s also been some collateral damage: for a while now, both magazines have been running fewer (and skimpier) book reviews than they did, say, a year or two ago.

I don’t have any scientific evidence to back this up; I recycle these magazines pretty fast.

Well, here's an idea: Why don't you shut up until you do have some evidence? "Scientific" is a journalistic scare word here; the writer is implying test tubes, villagers swarming up the mountain with pitchforks and torches, and the like, but content analysis is actually something you can do at home. Just pick a sampling frame, come up with a plausible way to define "few" and "skimpy," and get to work counting your units of analysis.

You might find out that you're right (hard to see why that's a problem, if newsweekly book reviews are the caliber of newsweekly film reviews). You might find out that you're wrong. But until you find out, your "as far as I can tell" is the same as Chertoff's "gut feeling" about terrorism: You want to be taken at your word, but you can't be bothered to put in the minimum level of work that credibility demands.

I don't see how that's going to help journalism thrive in the onrushing century. But there's always some fuddy-duddy wanting newspapers to be more credible than the Homeland Security Department.


Blogger Strayhorn said...

I was going to send you a hilarious chart featuring various gut bombers representing the new "gut feeling" levels of terra alerts. But none of them, alas, were the four-engine heavy gut-bombers from Chris' of days of yore.

Speaking of new, I have the latest AP Style Manual in my hand and must sadly report I can no longer recommend their section on firearms as it contains one wildly inaccurate definition. In sum, don't get your firearm facts from the cops. Their knowledge in this area is as faulty as their understanding of pharmaceuticals, legal or otherwise.

Put it this way - would you call someone from Homeland Security to explain the current mess in Gaza?

10:16 AM, July 18, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

Well, don't keep us in suspense-- what's the blunder in the '07 firearms section?

Inquiring minds, &c.

12:37 PM, July 18, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

Well, don't keep us in suspense-- what's the blunder in the '07 firearms section?

Inquiring minds, &c.

12:37 PM, July 18, 2007  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

They dropped the correct definition of "assault weapon" and replaced it with "assault-style weapon" which is both a horrible construction and meaningless. It's either a full-auto magazine-fed device or it's not.

Calling a Mazda Miata a "race-style car" doesn't make it an F1 contender.

This particular usage tripped up the Dallas papers this very morning, when the coppers raided an apartment close (how close? story doesn't say) to the federal courthouse in Dallas where a trial of certain members of a currently-unfashionable religion was about to begin.

So the usual folks began writing and posting stories about ILLEGAL machine guns and MUSLIM terra and an ARSENAL close to the courthouse - all on the word of some cop who described the "assault-style" firearms.

Turns out the firearms in question were not full auto. So they were legal. NB - so are full-auto weapons as long as you have the paperwork. And the apartment dwellers were not wearing a fez and chanting to Allah. And the arsenal turned out to be 500 rounds of ammo.

I would assume that in Texas, most people have 500 rounds in their auto glovebox.

This gives me gas pains because it hands media critics another stick with which to beat the drum of "lib'rul media."

And don't get me started about trying to put a violence angle on any story which involves, even obliquely, someone who's Muslim.

3:54 PM, July 19, 2007  

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