Journalism: A Toxic Culture? (Or: Why Aren’t We Having More Fun?)

Despair, Inc.
Remind you of any journalists you know?…

(NOTE: I originally posted this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. But I thought Contentious readers might be interested in it, too.)

Most of what I do is help journalists and news orgs wrap their brains around the Internet. Generally I enjoy that work. Lately, though, I’ve been getting quite aggravated at the close-minded and helpless attitudes I’m *still* encountering from too many journalists about how the media landscape is changing. Those attitudes are revealed by statements, decisions, actions, and inaction which belie assumptions such as:

  • The only journalism that counts is that done by mainstream news orgs, especially in print or broadcast form. Alternative, independent, online, collaborative, community, and other approaches to news are assumed to be inferior or even dangerous.
  • Priesthood syndrome: Traditional journalists are the sole source of news that can and should be trusted — which gives them a privileged and sacred role that society is ethically obligated to support.
  • Journalists and journalism cannot survive without traditional news orgs, which offer the only reliable, ethical, and credible support for a journalistic career.
  • Real journalists *only* do journalism. They don’t dirty their hands or distract themselves with business and business models, learning new tools, building community, finding new approaches to defining and covering news, etc. As Louisville Courier-Journal staffer Mark Schaver said just this morning on Twitter, “[Now] is not a good time [for journalists] if you don’t want your journalism values infected with marketing values.”
  • Journalistic status and authority demands aloofness. This leads to myriad problems such as believing you’re smarter than most people in your community; refusing to “compromise” yourself professionally by engaging in frank public conversation with your community; and using objectivity as an excuse to be uncaring, cynical, or disdainful.
  • Good journalism doesn’t change much. So if it is changing significantly, it must be dying. Which in turn means the world is in big trouble, and probably deserves what it will get.

There’s a common problem with all these assumptions: They directly cut off options from consideration. This severely limits the ability of journalists and journalism to adapt and thrive…

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Serious motivational music!

In need of some extra ooomph to get you going? This should do the trick: The Helian’ Man, sung by Matt McGinn, a ballad about Scottish raids about a thousand years ago that led Roman emperor Hadrian to build a 73-mile wall across Britain.

I heard this song on the radio about 15 years ago, when I still lived in Pennsylvania. Ever since then, when I’ve found myself in need of motivation or facing a serious challenge, I’ve sometimes found myself bellowing “Grigalie! Grigaloo! Come up and fight, you cowardly crew! I’ll have you for my pot of stew! You fear to fight with me!”

It works pretty well. Sometimes as well as a kickboxing workout 🙂

Here are the lyrics…

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Why Blogging Your Problems is Good

If you get really creative about it, failure and frustration can be the most engaging part of your blog. Don’t be scared to be human.

On a discussion list, a colleague recently asked for opinions about whether it’s a good idea to sometimes blog about the sucky stuff: Obstacles, frustrations, disappointments, setbacks, etc. Several people on this list responded to say that they only preferred to write — and read — about “successes.”

I can understand the general reluctance to blog about problems: Fear of being vulnerable, or of looking dumb or unprofessional (which is just another kind of vulnerability). It can be difficult to realize that sometimes vulnerability can be your greatest strength — especially in blogging.

Here’s my reply to that thread where I explain why blogging your problems can and probably should be a key part of your blogging strategy…

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The Perils of Political Romance

KoAn, via Flickr (CC license)
Questioning romance may not be popular, but it’s vital when stakes are high.

This morning I finally figured out why I’ve been feeling so utterly disengaged from the inescapable frenetic quest for Presidential candidates.

Well, actually Canadian blogger Rob Hyndman figured it out for me in his post this morning: We Won’t Get Fooled Again. He wrote:

“…I don’t want a political romance, and I’m not hungry for a return to the halcyon days of Camelot. I want someone who has a proven passion and ability to fix a broken system. And until I see that in a candidate, I’m more wary than credulous, and I’m suspending my belief.”

This was part of Hyndman’s explanation of why he’s uncomfortable with Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. But Obama is his point, not mine.

My point is that we should take a close look at the myriad problems caused by pervasive deep-seated romantic myths in our culture…

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Preview: Sex, Journalism & Trust

RabbleRadio, via Flickr (CC license)
Prudishness and journalism were never a good mix.

Today I started pulling together a bunch of stray threads that have been nagging at me for some time. Anyone who reads my work knows that I have longstanding admiration for quality journalism — and growing frustration with the culture and attitudes of professional journalism.

It occurred to me that a lot of the things that frustrate me about journalistic cynicism, idolatry, and sanctimony are remarkably similar to what frustrates me about sex negativity in American culture.

So I’m writing an essay to connect the dots. There are a lot of dots to connect, it’s going to take me a while. And I’m still thinking it all through.

One think I’ve learned is that my readers can always help me think tough things through. So in that spirit, here are some excerpts from what I’ve drafted so far. Bear in mind that this is JUST a draft, I WILL be refining it. I know it sounds more preachy and strident than I’d like. Also, I need to make it more fun and flow more. All that will be worked on

With that said, here’s the draft…

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Social Media Tradeoffs

Travelator, via Flickr (CC license)
Though it’s often trivialized and denigrated, instant gratification is a very powerful thing.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable and involved with using the microblogging tool Twitter, I’ve realized that I’ve been using the social bookmarking tool del.icio.us less and less. I’m not the only one.

When I posted about this on Twitter, my friend Beth Kanter tweeted in response:

“I’ve had the same experience — less social bookmarking, more Twitter. But Twitter not great for retrieval.”

“Twitter offers immediate gratification and connection with people, not just resources. But retrieval is hard.”

This got me wondering about why I really use each of these social media tools in the first place. But Beth has a point: I’d be lying if I downplayed the appeal of instant gratification.

The question then becomes: What precisely am I finding so gratifying with Twitter?…

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Feed overload? Ditch the guilt, embrace serendipity

Here’s what my feed reader looks like right now.

I’ve lost track of how many RSS feeds I subscribe to in my feed reader — somewhere between 100 and 200, I’m guessing. But that doesn’t matter, because despite the volume it’s surprisingly manageable and rewarding. The secret, I’ve found, is to let go of any sense of obligation to keep up with all that content.

It’s simply impossible to keep up. There’s too much stuff published online every day — hell, every minute! Why feel pressured or guily about not being able to achieve an impossible ideal?

Here’s what I do…

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Shared Docs: Gateway Drug to Wikis?

Chris Carfi, via Flickr (CC license)
Wiki maven Liz Henry of SocialText.

At the unconference segment of BlogHer 2007 in Chicago, I sat in on a small-group discussion about wikis (sites that can be collaboratively edited either by a defined group, or by anyone at all).

The discussion was led by one of my favorite wiki mavens, Liz Henry of Socialtext. I was glad that this group included some total wiki newbies (even wikiphobes) as well as wiki fans. That diversity of view was useful because, I’ve found, the concept of a wiki is rather alien and even suspicious to many people. It’s hard to give up the idea of one person having control over a document.

One thing that emerged from this discussion is that most of the wiki newbies or wikiphobes did know, and had used, shared documents via services such as Google Docs or Zoho. That concept was less alien to them than a wiki because it utilized familiar document types (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) and because it solved a common problem — the frustration of a team working on a document passed around by e-mail.

That got us thinking: If you’re trying to introduce a team or community to wikis to aid some sort of collaboration, and if you’re meeting resistance or low adoption rates for the wiki, try working first with a shared document. Once they get used to the idea of collaborating on a document (any document, really) via the Web, wikis start to look more appealing and make more sense.

What do you think of this approach? Have you tried it? Did it work or not? Please comment below.

(NOTE: I originally published this item on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

The psychology of my procrastination

GingerTammyCat, via Flickr (CC license)
Alice cautiously replied: “I know I have to beat time when I learn music.”
“Ah! that accounts for it,” said the Hatter. “He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock.”

Like many self-employed folks, I’ve got waaaaaay too much on my plate — in terms of client projects, “business housekeeping,” my own interests, and (of course) life. Managing time becomes crucial, and I don’t always do a good job of it. Every day I find myself procrastinating on something that I really should just get done. Of course, the effects of this accumulate through time and occasionally I end up in crisis mode trying to slam through something.

Don’t get me wrong, I get done the vast majority of what I need to do, pretty much on time. But repeated time-crunch crises suck.

One of my current goals is learning to minimize day-to-day stress, and procrastination definitely stresses me out. So I’ve been paying more attention to how and why I procrastinate. That’s been interesting. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about my own habits…
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