Scripting News for 10/17/2006

Watching the Mets take the lead in Game 5 of the playoffs, I get to blog it now because the MacBook is back. It’s still running pretty hot, it’s uncomfortable in my lap. In the meantime, here are some pictures from the new home office. It’s the next project after working on the den and the living room. You can see the Golden Gate and Alcatraz from the window. 

An incredible story of a Nashville hit-and-run told by Nick Bradbury, one of the victims.  

Journal News: “It may be the end of an era, but gauging by the number of customers yesterday at Tower Records in Nanuet, the iconic music store may close with more of a whimper than a bang.” 

LA Times: “A commission backed by Bush has agreed that ‘stay the course’ is not working.” 

Doc Searls: “Yesterday I heard from an Apple enterprise customer who had recently bought 80 Macbooks. Ten of them, so far, have had to bo back for heat, shut-down or freezing problems.” 

How pros report the news 

A lot of people paint a Mr Smith Goes to Washington picture of investigative reporting, and maybe sometimes it does work that way, but really, not very often. There aren’t too many Woodwards and Bernsteins. Most of the reporting that goes on is pretty mundane workaday stuff, that follows a pretty simple template.

1. Get an idea. It could come from reading a colleague’s article at another paper (news stories tend to come in droves, once an idea is reported by one publication, it can often be repeated by others).

2. Make a handful of phone calls, ask people what they think. Write down some of what they say. The parts you don’t quote might be important to what the person thinks, but you can’t write it all down. Also at this point very often errors get introduced, also known as the “misquote.” The reporter may or may not understand the gist of what the person is saying, but that’s not important, because neither will the reader. Look for the juicy quote, that’s what they pay you the big bucks for. It doesn’t matter, emphatically, if the quote reflects the beliefs of the person you’re quoting. You’re trying to catch them saying something interesting, and that’s usually something embarassing, either to themselves, or someone else. Or something you can make sound embarassing (or stupid) by putting it after something that sounds reasonable or intelligent.

3. Do some searching on the Internet to get some impressive-sounding statistics.

4. Now it’s time to write your lead and your close. See if you can find the “middle ground.” Pick two extreme positions, and imply or directly say that the truth lies somewhere between. Even if the question is something that is true or false, like the sun revolves around the earth, or the moon is larger than the sun (it looks that way, doesn’t it, and perception is everything, they say).

The new way of writing the news 

The Internet is The Great Disintermediator.

Everywhere you go, it’s taking out the middle man, the intermediary. You see it with real estate, travel, car buying, every kind of commerce. When I went down to Magnolia to buy a fancy Denon all-in-one home theater sound system last week, I went in armed with certain knowledge that I could get the product I wanted on “the Internet” for 30 percent less than they were asking for it, in-store. So they took 20 percent off the price (I felt it was fair to pay for their overhead). A win-win. I could have bought the product without going to the local store, but I wanted the service they offered, so I paid a fair price for it.

But before the Internet, there were a lot more stereo stores, esp in a big college town like Berkeley. Same with professional reporters. Here’s why. I can go direct to the people they call, go to their blogs to find out what they think, and I get more than the sensational soundbite, I can get a detailed, reasoned, backed-up discussion. I have a better chance of finding out what’s really going on this way. I really believe that.

I practice this myself. There are some things I’m expert at. And some experiences I have that are newsworthy even though I’m not an expert. When I went to the DNC in 2004, I wasn’t an expert at the political process, but I brought a digital camera, a MP3 recorder, and my laptop, so I took pictures, did podcasts, and blogged. Put enough normal people in a room covering an event, and you’ve got coverage. And in my recent experience with MacBooks, a few reporters offered to do phone interviews, which I declined. I said I had written it all up on the blog, all of it is on the record, for attribution, and having a pretty good idea how the interview process works, and the results it produces, the only rational thing for me to do these days is to decline the interview. I predict that more and more people will do that, unless the pros get their act together.

I spoke in shorthand on Friday 

When I said “It’s easier for readers to become reporters than it is for reporters to become readers” I meant that reporters, if they want to be relevant in the future, will have to understand what the people at Magnolia understand. They could have refused to give me 20 percent off, and I would have bought the product on the Internet for 30 percent off. But they understood something that most reporters and their supporters don’t understand — the readers didn’t have a choice just a few years ago, but now we do, we can go direct to their sources, to their blogs, to find out what they think, we don’t need the reporter to assemble the sources for us. To not recalibrate accordingly is professional suicide. No doubt some will commit suicide. There’s a Tower Records down the street from Magnolia, and on Friday they had guys out on the street with sandwich signs urging us to go to their closeout sale. Someone there must have thought there will always be record stores, Internet or no Internet.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anton2000 on October 17, 2006 at 8:48 am

    “Tony’s idea was to take an MP3 player, build a Napster music sale service to complement it, and build a company around it,” Knauss said. “Tony had the business idea.”

    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,64286-0.html

    sounds interesting:-)

    Reply

  2. Posted by Barry Bowen on October 17, 2006 at 9:23 am

    Lawyers in America have almost eliminated aggressive investigative reporting. Each TV network news division and large newspaper has a legal team that will examine stories that could result in litigation. These lawyers see their job attempt to prevent lawsuits by routinely killing news stories.

    Reply

  3. Dave,

    You are “right on” when it comes to how news is shaping up for the future.

    As a radio news guy (just retired) for 38 years, the empahsis is on breaking news by tv, radio and in most cases, newspapers. The end depth stuff, except for a few newspapers and few tv netowrks, is coming from everyday people who have an insight on issues in their communities.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Cameron Watters on October 17, 2006 at 10:04 am

  5. Posted by Matt on October 17, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    That method of debate is called “straw man” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man_argument) and I’ve noticed the same thing about the president using it a lot (among others, of course). The worst part is how blatant it can be some of the time.

    An example, on Oct 5, the President said “177 of the opposition party said, ‘You know, we don’t think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists’.”

    Reply

  6. Posted by Jake on October 17, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    I believe corporate ownership and consolidation in the news industry is also responsible for the decline in the number of professional reporters. This decline would have happened with or without the Internet.

    Reply

  7. Someone aspiring to be a journalist would be able to keep their job for about a week and a half using the work method you describe. Sure you were able to cover a political meeting. Big deal. Did you identify that one for yourself? You got some bright ideas about the press and how it works? Give us some doggone stories and name the reporters who wrote them. Don’t get me wrong, your blog is great and I’ve enjoyed it for years. When you quadruple the effort you put into your stories I’d be interested to hear your serious remarks about journalism.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Kurt Pettersen on October 17, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    To remove some of the heat from your MacBook Pro, give smcFanControl a try. All it does is allow you to raise the default low RPM’s of the 2 fans. Seems Apple set them for something like 1000 RPM’s. This has been on Digg and other sites….and is easy to Google for. Seems to work for me.

    Reply

  9. Cards win! One more win away from the series…and Carpenter goes tomorrow.

    Reply

  10. “How pros report the news”

    Not sure I agree with the concept with that post, but I can tell you why *I* left my school newspaper, and why *I* left journalism.

    I was a big partying friend with the school treasurer at a 25,000 student school. He was next in line to be President (seriously — weird succession rules I guess, and, luckily, his name was not George W. Bush).

    Anyway, I was a reporter for the campus newspaper. I rising a star, actually. I had broken a story about provosts chasing down co-eds (but the story was squashed by other provosts).

    So anyways? I’m coming into the campus newspaper “office” (a run down house with no computers, but hey, it was 1975 and not many other university papers had them, either) and I see that the front page story shows my buddy’s car on fire.

    This is, ahem, the treasurer. Next in line type of guy. My friend. His car, is, like, on fire, and my editor is saying, it’s gonna be on tomorrow’s front page (our campus daily was, like, a daily).

    My school was not some po dunk school — when big stuff happened, the Chicago media reported it.

    Anyway, my friend’s car was on fire, I found out from a phone call, almost at the same time I heard about this disaster, that my friend, the school treasurer, owed some drug money to some chiefs from the South Side of Chicago (okay, so now I need to say the school was NIU in DeKalb, Illinois, but who the fuck cares 30 years later?).

    I immediately looked back. I saw the awards flashing in front of my eyes. Somebody snitched, and I gained. I mean, seriously. I was so jacked up. I couldn’t believe the tears in my eyes.

    Instead, I walked away. I knew that I couldn’t know the truth about why my pal’s car blew up on a calm autumn evening in DeKalb, Illinois.

    All I knew was that I couldn’t turn him in.

    I mean, hey, I am not for selling drugs to college kids, but how the hell do you narc on your friend, especially at that level?

    Looking back on how our society works, and the feeding frenzy our media has on everything, I honestly regret my decision.

    I could be rich now.

    I could be Carl Woodward.

    I could NOT be Dave Winer, however.

    For an explanation on why that is so, you need to go back to Dave’s Frontier days, when he was the only developer willing to create some glue between Quark Xpress and workflows.

    No matter what Winer says, I need to just say out front that I tend to listen.

    Despite what he says, he is no reporter. A reporter is somebody who gets messy, or messed up, in the line of fire.

    Dave’s never done that, best I can tell. He’s an innovator, a guy who invents stuff like Frontier, and FOAF, and RSS, but he’s not a master of the universe.

    Nobody is.

    I found that out about 30 years ago.

    Reply

  11. Dave,

    You wrote:

    It’s still running pretty hot, it’s uncomfortable in my lap.

    I agree that the Macbook and Macbook Pro run way too hot for the lap at times, which is why when I found a piece of software that could turn up the fans and cool down the machine, I jumped on it. smcFanControl works great and at 3000 minimum rpm my laptop is once again lap-usable. Not sure about the impact on battery life, though, and YMMV.

    Anyway, thought I’d put that out there. It really does make a difference, and I for one cannot hear a real difference in the fan noise.

    Reply

  12. Posted by T. Miller on October 18, 2006 at 7:23 am

    One of the problems in this debate over new vs. old media is that I don’t think most people actually understand what reporters do. Your four-part “How pros report the news” is a checklist followed by only the most basic, entry-level journalists for the most basic stories (like covering a political convention–put a 1000 politicos desperate for publicity in a room with a 1000 journos and you have a petri dish overflowing with lots of “coverage” and not much news.)

    To get real stories, you have to talk to real people and ask real questions. Guess what? Few Iraqis have blog sites. The same goes for people without health care, Katrina victims or the unemployed. And statements posted on websites do not allow for the kind of tough questioning that a one-on-one, face to face interview can produce.

    Good journalism is hard work. It takes hours and hours of time–over days, weeks and months–to produce a great story, investigative or otherwise. It is not something that can be done sitting at a computer, cutting and pasting text.

    Reply

  13. I suppose it’s true that few Iraqis have blogs, I don’t really know (do you?), but then I can’t remember reading a news story that interviewed any Iraqis. Most of what I hear are Washington-based pundits expressing their opinions. They can’t agree whether 50K or 650K people have died in Iraq. They tell me the reason they don’t report on Iraq is that it’s not safe to go out of the Green Zone.

    I learned a lot more about Katrina by getting on a plane and going to New Orleans than I did from news reports. I don’t know whether my readers and listeners did, that’s for them to say.

    Aside from that, I disclaimed your main point — I said ten years from now these changes would be in full force. I didn’t say it was “old media vs new” — you said that. I said that the pros could change and make the transition. So little of the email from pros caught that point, most of it picked on a small point and acted superior and dismissive. This tells me one thing, you’re doing what Tower Records did, not what Magnolia Hifi did.

    I see you have an latimes.com mail address, btw. Are you a reporter?

    Reply

  14. Posted by W Jones on October 18, 2006 at 9:06 am

    Dave —

    About your uncomfortably hot MacBook. I don’t have one, so I can’t speak personally, but the other day Slashdot had an item (http://apple.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/10/14/1536200) about a program called smcFanControl 1.1 (http://www.conscius.de/~eidac/index.htm) which lets you set higher operating ranges for the MacBook’s fans. The Slashdot comments seemed generally favorable.

    W Jones

    Reply

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