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.”
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 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.
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.