Andrew Keen: the hits keep on coming…

Johnny Come Lately. This may be a few months behind the times, but it is still worth noting. Yesterday, BoingBoing responded to Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur, which says BoingBoing’s the Daily Kos’s founder, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, has no real journalism training. Zuniga responds by listing his employment and education history, which includes a journalism degree (among others) and freelance work for the Chicago Tribune.

Wikipedia: Will There be a Curve?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported today on a professor at the University of Washington asked her class of 34 students to submit their graded, revised papers to the Wikipedia at the end of the term and was surprised to find how harshly some of those papers were received by the online community.

Prof. Martha Groom said one of the papers was removed from the encyclopedia immediately, and four others were removed a time later. Groom said that had the papers not been graded and revised, the mortality rate would have been much higher.

I wish I was still teaching. It would be great to ask the students to submit their papers to the Wikipedia, as Groom said they were some of the best papers she’d ever received.

Is The Onion our best newspaper?

Reason magazine contributor Greg Beato offers an interesting view of modern journalism:

While other newspapers desperately add gardening sections, ask readers to share their favorite bratwurst recipes, or throw their staffers to ravenous packs of bloggers for online question-and-answer sessions, The Onion has focused on reporting the news. The fake news, sure, but still the news. It doesn’t ask readers to post their comments at the end of stories, allow them to rate stories on a scale of one to five, or encourage citizen-satire. It makes no effort to convince readers that it really does understand their needs and exists only to serve them. The Onion’s journalists concentrate on writing stories and then getting them out there in a variety of formats, and this relatively old-fashioned approach to newspapering has been tremendously successful.

As a journalist, I have to wonder whether he’s right.

In Infamous Scribblers, Eric Burns tells the story of the origins of newspapers in the American colonies and their evolution throughout the Revolutionary War. Though I haven’t read all of the book, the gist is that the journalistic standards of journalistic the industry holds so dear today did not exist before the 1800s. Newspapers in the colonies provoked people, moved them to action, made them angry and gave them things to shout about, though there were also the mouths of propagandists and angry men who happened to import printing presses.

There’s something enviable about that approach to the news, a kind of “damn the torpedoes (and lawsuits)” approach. Maybe that’s the problem, right there. Newspapers that have become institutions based on good reporting in the past and newspapers who want to become institutions, are finding that “good reporting” has become a relevant term, dependent upon the readership instead of the judgement of professionals who know. The result is a generation of editors and readers attempting to attune themselves to what the readers want, not necessarily what the news is.

The Internet plays a part in this of course. If freely available Web news wasn’t undermining the advertising and subscription bases of print papers, then newspapers could focus more on that hard news that offends people, the biting commentary that blows apart social conventions and gets down to the facts. But newspapers can’t do that. They must cling to the readers and subscribers they have left — if they don’t, there won’t be any newspapers left. A conundrum, if ever there was one.

So is Beato right? Is The Onion our best example of a successful newspaper that sticks to the traditions of what newspapering is? To put it another way, should newspapers strive to be more like The Onion, or would that shift us in an entirely different direction that is equally unpalatable to some?

Site Update

I have upgraded the site to WordPress 2.3, which means a few bugs will need to be worked out as we go along. If you see any while browsing the site, please leave a comment somewhere about them and I’ll fix the issue as soon as possible.

I feel obligated to explain the lack of recent posting. My attention has been divided between a few projects and a few jobs at the moment (and for the past several moments), and, not to mention, my recent re-addiction to World of Warcraft. On the productive side of things, I hope to start up something new and local in the near future, another blog of course, but I also hope to get back to this site again from time to time. Be patient. Content is coming once again.

Note Taking Software

Question for anyone out there: I’m looking for something that’s like del.icio.us for taking notes, but I don’t want to have to input a hyperlink. Basically, I want to be able to type a note and add a whole mess of tags (which will autofill from my previously used tags) and save it, either locally or to a remote server.

Oh, and if it’s local, it’s got to run on OS X.

Contenders so far: Google Notebook, Tiddlywiki, Notational Velocity… but none of them do the kind of tagging that I want. I’ve also looked at del.irio.us, an open-source clone of its more famous cousin, but I think you’re required to input a URL.

The other option I’ve considered so far is setting up a static Web page to link to every time I post to del.icio.us, just adding different tags and different notes to each bookmark. I would then import the tag clouds onto the static Web page so it would act as a kind of index to the whole operation.

Other suggestions?

Information Idealism

In an essay on Internet Evolution, Cory Doctorow writes that our various communications technologies have become less about communication and more about selective ignorance. In other words, he argues that more attention should be paid to ignorance.

Compare this to my last post about the perils of perfect memory and the Internet’s hand in creating that double-edged situation, one in which we have to think consciously about what we should be forgetting and how to do it.

Essays like these mark the beginning of something new and terrible, something we’ve expected for years but something we thought we had under control: the information glut, the situation in which society freezes beneath the weight of too much unconsidered information. The market essentially bottoms out, the value of meaning becomes nil.

This is nowhere clearer than in communications media, where the significance of meaning has declined while users’ facility with language and style has not increased to compensate. The problem comes from mankind’s constant search for faster ways to communication. Letters gave way to telegraphs (with the accompanying shortening of syntax). Telegraphs, skipping voice tech for the moment, gave way to e-mail, which allowed the use of more characters because of an increase in bandwidth over the wires and better input methods (keyboards).

But that lengthening didn’t last. E-mail begat instant messaging. Meanwhile, society adapted to accept cell phones and Blackberries. Being incommunicado became a faux pas. On top of that, we had to be in touch with more and more people at once, hence the one-on-one nature of instant messaging wasn’t enough, and so came sites like Twitter. Progress marches on; it’s just that the steps keep getting shorter and shorter as we go.

So now, instead of getting six long letters a month, we get 60,000 tiny e-mails or texts, an influx of information battling for our attention. Eventually, we get a schizophrenic culture with shorter attention spans and less desire to read something longer than a paragraph.

Perhaps we’ll adapt and learn to ignore the majority of what happens in daily life like we ignore ad banners on Web sites, hardly noticing as the world around us is transformed into something that little resembles the world that came before us. No wonder it’s hard for people to see that global warming is real, hidden from our ADD society beneath pavement and behind billboards, those forgettable commodities that we ignore every day.

We live in a postmodern world, in which all points of view are theoretically correct because all points of view are based on sliding foundations and, deep down, on assertions of faith. We can no longer say that this slope leading into info glut is “bad” or “incorrect” or “wrong” because, for some, it is right, and the enlightened person respects that.

But at the end of the day, when some people still stop to reflect on correctness and, shockingly, idealism, I have to wonder whether a negatively capable world, in which ignorance is the commonest action, is one I want to live in.