Sunday, January 23, 2005

New, new journalism
Although I am reluctant to criticize one of the giants of Left Blogistan, I feel I must. Call it old age or just low blood sugar.

Daily Kos is one of my first in the morning reads and has been since I first explored the neighborhood about two years ago. In those two years, DK has grown from a site mostly written by Markos into an institution written by a community with only minor input or editorial control from Markos. At first, Markos was able to recruit some of the best talent on the web to work on his front page. He kept this standard up until the election, but since then his standards has fallen dramatically.

Traditional American journalism was based on something called the inverted pyramid. A front page story was traditionally told three times. All of the key facts would be presented in the first paragraph. This need to get the five W's into no more than two sentences above the fold, led to the classic staccato brevity of old journalism: "Twelve year old Johnny Smith of the hillside district was found murdered Tuesday afternoon in City Park. Police have arrested Norman Jones, the PE teacher aT Johnny's school and named him as their chief suspect." The story was then retold in as many paragraphs as were allowed on the rest of the front page. Finally, the full version with as many details as were known was recounted on the jump page. Version one should lure readers to continue reading, while version two should get then to open the paper to the pages where the advertisements are.

That was old journalism. In the 70's, something called new journalism began to appear in the country's largest papers. Journalists, aware of awards, career paths that led from local news to national news, and competition from faster electronic media, began to experiment with more literary forms of writing. And so infotainment was born. A typical page one story might read: "Johnny Smith was well known around his neighborhood. The neighbors all knew his infectious laugh and recognized his silly songs. Everone knew when he came home from school jus by listening for his happy voice, But one day Johnny didn't come home." Although new journalism was more creatively satisfying to the writers, it was less informative to the readers. At the end of the first page when the reader is prompted to go to the jump page, the reader doesn't know whether Johnny was murdered, ran away, was run over, or stricken by a horrible disease.

DK's latest crowd of front-page writers show all of the weaknesses of new journalism. Kid Oakland and Armando are two of the current stars. Just looking at Saturday, January 22 I find the following. First, Kid Oakland in a piece called "I Voted":
It's a sign of the, white and the corner of the bathroom mirror, stuck up absent mindedly and now staring out like a reproach: a sticker that reads, "I Voted."

"Yeah," I think when I see it in the morning,"but I didn't vote for this."

And that's the crux of the matter in so many ways...

That's it. The link to a jump page appears after the ellipsis. Kid Oakland tries too hard, but I'm not here to complain about his purple prose. I think it's understood that we're all amateurs here. Only by writing more will we become better writers (but, please, drop the five dot ellipsis. More than three is excessive). My complaint is that I have no idea what this article is about. In the same time I wait for the jump page to load, I could go to another site, one that puts the whole article on the front page. KO needs to understand the nature of the medium in which he is publishing and modify his writing to suit it.

Armando commits a related but different crime in "Lawrence Summers and Political Correctness."
There has been much said about the statements made by Lawrence Summers, the President of Harvard University, regarding the dearth of women in the science fields. I don't know exactly what Summers said, here was his latest apology issued Thursday:


Not knowing exactly what Summers said, I am loathe to critique it. But I do know what Ruth Marcus wrote in the Washington Post about it, and I found that to be incredibly obtuse:

Why doesn't he know what Summers said? This is the Internet. Summers' words have been printed in dozens of places and critiqued in hundreds of places. Hasn't Armando heard of Google? Should I attach a link to my mention of Google? There is no excuse for that kind of laziness. Ruth Marcus' alleged stupidity would not have gone away during the five minutes it would have taken to confirm that her words were or were not out of line.

I love DK, I respect Markos a lot, and I'm not going to go away just because his latest crop of interns don't live up to the Everest-like standards Meteor Blades set. That's too much to ask for anyone. But is it too much to ask that they recognize that they are blogging on the Internet, adjust their prose to the medium, and use the amazing resources that have been put at their disposal?

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