Staying Neutral in Face of Impending Fascism

Anand is, like his peers, a decent journalists and will report on facts and be fair to both sides. But this concern for fairness has often led to him and his peer equating false equivalence with being fair or as he calls it, neutral. Max Weber’s value-free judgement often has molded these views that you ought to let your personal values not color your work. In this case, journalists often treat Trump’s crazy ramblings that can best be described as raving bigotry and rampant racism as just another view from the right. That has let most journalist to slot Hillary Clinton’s views as the other side without even acknowledging that Trump’s views are so far removed from normal discourse that it wouldn’t be tolerated in the public sphere.

Liberal Media Staying Neutral

As I’ve always said, calling it “liberal media” has been the conservatives’ masterstroke. By terming anything that the media says as ‘liberal media bias’, they sow doubt into the self-introspecting minds of professionals who are unnecessarily trying to stay value-free. It makes them couch every issue into the two-sides argument leading to false equivalence. Trump calls Mexicans rapists but hey, Clinton had a private email server. Trump encourages anti-semitisms leading to online witch hunts but hey, Clinton had a private email server.

I wonder what broke the camel’s back when journalists like Anand were committed to adhere to “norms of neutrality” when Trump was maligning Hispanics, blacks, Jews, and women for the past year. Did the “norms of neutrality” compel them to equate blatant bigotry and sexism so they would be told that they’re doing their job by people least qualified to do so?

But maybe better late than never, lets see if you can call Trump out on the blatantly false statistics he quotes as soon as he quotes them. Do not let him proceed to his next talking point unless he admits that the claim was false. If need be, let him throw a tantrum and walk out of the interview. You can tell your advertising supervisor that you may just get more eyeballs on that interview. Let’s see if he is willing to forgo ‘free airtime’ walking out on every interview.

All it takes is to not stay neutral on obvious falsehoods. I’m sure that will make your journalism professor will be proud instead of the drivel you shovel every day.

“Should we report the truth or print any crap we hear?”

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

[Source: The Public Editor –]

Can you believe that The New York Times’ Public Editor asked this WTF question to the readers? Shouldn’t the newspaper of NY Times’ repute should already be doing its fact-checking and if found false at least not report the events verbatim. Given the vitriolic nature of this campaign season, perhaps this is needed more than ever. Romney is entitled to his opinion and the Times is also free to call it what it really is, a lie. How difficult is that?

I’m just not confident that under the fear of being accused of liberal bias (like every other week), NY Times will do anything different. They’ll simply print Romney’s lies just like they printed the lies perpetuated by the Bush Administration about weapons of mass destruction and in turn end up lending it an air of credibility. The losers in this debate is NY Times and especially, its readers who expect a modicum of truth if not the entire story in their reporting.

Why They Write About Apple

"When one writes about Apple, it nearly always appears to the reader that they are either a massive fanboy or a massive hater. There appears to be no middle ground when discussing Apple and their products. Even simple news reporting comes across in one of the two mentioned camps. Our research shows that most bloggers skew towards massive fanboy which helps drive pageviews even further.

When the blogger posts his or her Apple story, it’s like an alarm goes off across the Web. If the story is deemed as a fanboy story, the haters swarm and leave comments regarding the author’s fanboy status. Naturally after the haters swarm, the fanboys must counter-attack the haters in the comments. This leads to even more pageviews because comments are where the pageviews multiply. Each comment leads to at least one additional pageview and typically the commenter will return multiple times to the blog post to see if anyone has replied to him or her. This “pageview compounding” is what makes Apple so wonderful to write about"

Exactly. You see so many tech blogs writing about Apple when clearly most of them care less about the brand, the company, or its products. But the pageview factor dominates what most tech blogs will write about. It is an intensely competitive field with blogs like Gizmodo going to the extent of buying stolen property for a scoop on Apple. Others are bound to emulate. Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration is one of the bloggers who has stayed true to his original style and continues to produce the genuinely helpful posts in the tech world. No wonder Lifehacker links him every alternate day. They should in fact hire him and compensate him for syndicating his content. Elsewhere it is just a mad rush to get pageviews and one look at the comments is enough reason to believe what this article talks about.

[Link to Why They Write About Apple]

The Best Magazine Articles Ever

*** Ron Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box" in October 1971 Esquire. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.

** Stewart Brand, "Space War: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Dearth Among Computer Bums" in Rolling Stone, December 7, 1972. Written nearly 40 years ago, this account of virtual realities has all the classic props: midnight hours, geek humor, nerd hubris, and other worldliness.

* Howard Kohn and David Weir, "Tania's World: The Inside Story" (about Patty Hearst's kidnapping), in Rolling Stone, October 23, 1975.

** Edward Jay Epstein, "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" from The Atlantic, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.

…and many more. Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Instapaper-bait.

[Link to The Best Magazine Articles Ever]

Fixing CNN

According to a recent report, CNN lost over 40 percent of its viewers compared to 2009 and has spurred debate of how to revamp the first 24 hours cables news network. Sandwiched between the hard right Fox News and soft liberal MSNBC, CNN has straddled the confused middle swinging right and left erratically. Suggestions in a Politico article by Michael Calderone titled, How to Fix CNN highlights suggestions from media people. The usual go-the-Fox-MSNBC way and become more confrontational and create drama suggestions abound. Bringing back Crossfire that Jon Stewart so famously eviscerated is not going to help CNN. The one suggestion that I found myself nodding along to is by Jay Rosen, the professor from NYU Journalism School:

At 7 p.m., he would rename John King’s show “Politics is Broken,” and focus on “bringing outsiders to Beltway culture and Big Media into the conversation dominated by…. Beltway culture and Big Media.”

Rosen would program “Thunder on the Right” at 8 p.m., a show where a well-informed liberal “mostly covers the conservative movement and Republican coalition and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are right leaning.”

The following hour would be “Left Brained,” a show offering the opposite mix of hosts and guests. And at 10 p.m. would be “Fact Check,” an accountability show with major crowdsourcing elements” that would cut through “the week’s most outrageous lies, gimme-a-break distortions and significant misstatements with no requirement whatsoever to make it come out equal between the two parties on any given day, week, month or season.”

Fox and MSNBC are clearly more about politics than news reporting. MSNBC even calls itself a Place for Politics. So their interest is primarily in conflict and political machinations instead of the world of governing that most consider boring. According to the two networks, governing is something that politicians squeeze in while they are not contesting elections. It is about the process and not the means hence the bad rap that such news channel receive.

Personally, I think the best hope for CNN is not to be partisan but instead be non-partisan and take on an intermediary fact-check role that independent voters and citizens can tune into for hard facts and news reporting instead of rhetoric that Fox and MSNBC passes off as news. And of course, get rid of that boring staid Wolf Blitzer and let Larry King retire in peace.

Help! I’m an elite blogger in a dark room

[T]he next time I see attacks on journalists from pseudonymous bloggers who complain that the journos are only trying to get TRPs (i.e. reach a mass audience), I will wonder: just who do you guys represent? Are you speaking on behalf of viewers and readers? Or are you just another anonymous elite that feels emboldened to pass judgement on the rest of the world from the darkness of your rooms?

[Source: Medium Term]. This diatribe against blogger and Twitter by Indian media personality Vir Sanghvi has been making the rounds of well, blogs and Twitter. The premise of the column or rather, blog post is so weak that bloggers whom Sanghvi holds in low esteem have instantly and effectively fisked it. Sometimes, I think India journalists are waking up to the benefits of link bait and have taken a leaf from the Politico playbook (in tempting Drudge). The beauty of blogging as Sanghvi may or may not understand, is that if other ‘elite’ bloggers like Amit Varma, Rohit, and Lekhni have already refuted not just the underlying arguments in the column blog post but also every major line that supports those arguments, then all I have to do is to link to them. Nevertheless, I’ll rant on. By the way, you are right, my blogging room is indeed dark and I’m waiting for my Google Adsense check to buy new CFLs. Pseudonymous as I am, most of my readers are well aware of my identity, or rather they like to think so.

As Lekhni points out, if TRPs are in fact the ultimate objective of journalism and mainstream media, I’m awaiting extensive coverage of ND Tiwari’s sex-capades [YouTube link]. In fact, a Bigg Boss season with Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, Arnab Goswami, etc. would be a sure shot winner at the idiot box office. Mr. Sanghvi, get on it please and mention my pseudonym in the opening (not rolling) credits for the idea. Heck, we’ll even start a fire and film the crowds outside and the rescue helicopters. I’m told they make for great TRPs even though it may be ethically wrong and detrimental to the people trapped inside. And for the love of FSM, why is ‘elite’ such a favorite insult? I have been called elite by elite TED-attending bloggers and I always thank them for bestowing a honor that no Indibloggie ever did. Remind me to send the Team of Ordinary Navy Seals when you get kidnapped by the Taliban. If you mean arrogant and out of touch, please say so and hit yourself on the head once for making an ironical (or would it be tragic?) statement.

Now as a attention-seeking lazy blogger, I hope this blog spot gets noticed by your non-elite self and linked by your peers. We all can enjoy higher TRPs then or as we call them on the interwebs, hits. Light up my Mint (and Google Analytics) because we bloggers are like this only too.

Life Magazine Online for Free

Google Books put all issues of Life Magazine online for free dating back to the first one published on November 23rd, 1936 [via].

Friedman Peace Prize

From Alfred Nobel’s will for eligibility of the Nobel Peace Prize – “for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of
standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses
” [source]. That’s it. Thomas “World is Flat” Friedman wants to give it to the U.S. armed forces. Talk about not getting the point. But of course, Friedman is free to donate few million of his estate and institute the Friedman Peace Prize and give it to anyone he damn pleases. Given the theses of his magnum opus, I thought he would’ve recommended some multinational corporation and even that would’ve made more sense.

Palin makes Financial Times swoon

Think The Nobel Committee is the only one making dubious choices? The Financial Times is writing above-the-fold stories based on…Sarah Palin’s Facebook notes. And the note doesn’t even make sense or is related to their story. Oh yeah, it is a liberal media indeed.

Inanities of the American Media

Important climate change negotiations at the G8 summit and the American media can only focus on inanities. Case in point, this conservative blogger’s dissection of a glance (note that she stands by her absurd post even after being proved wrong). And its rebuttal (YouTube). No pun intended. Such profound discourse…tsk tsk. Perhaps the media deserves Palin.

I Empathize

It looks like Barack Obama is giving more and more of his stand-up roast speeches at formal dinners. His latest one at the TV and Radio Correspondents was as hilarious as the one he gave at the White House Correspondents dinner. One of this best joke – to the people who accuse me of empathy, I completely understand what you feel – is a classic nuanced one. Of course, it doesn’t help that he often laughs at his own jokes which is not a good sign of a good comic. Of course, John Hodgman did it much better than Wanda Sykes.

Newspaper Innovation

The stories of newspapers dying is written almost every day on web publications. Yet some mainstream media companies continue to innovate and offer their content in a variety of forms for the web-conscious reader. Apart from creating nicely designed and navigation-friendly website powered by customizable RSS feeds, there are a host of applications that enable you to read their content on devices like the Kindle and the iPhone. New York Times in spite of its troubles has managed to churn out innovative products. Its iPhone app is one of the best for the device and I read it almost every day; sometimes even in bed.

If you still prefer to read your news on the desktop and Google News is too clunky for you, then you’ll love the Article Skimmer from the New York Times. It lets you browse article summaries and when you click on one to read more, it opens up in a Lightbox that opens up the article from the website without leaving the skimmer. But still, it is a roundabout way of reading the similarly-styled content in a different box.

The latest offering The NYT TimesReader 2.0 is one of the coolest app I’ve seen from a traditional media company. It is powered by Adobe Air and is styled almost like a print newspaper giving it a friendly familiar feel [via Mashable]. You can view the columns in a multiple column format complete with embedded images accompanying the story. It is a vast improvement over the clunky and slow ePapers that most Indian newspapers experimented with. It combines the easy of the web with hyperlinks and all with the visual feel of a newspaper. What’s more, it updates in real time. I’m resisting to paste screen captures here as the beauty of the app can only be experienced firsthand. Will they also extend the same look to their web-only features like the NYT blogs?

Blogging and web2.0 doesn’t have to threaten the traditional journalism medium. In fact, it only offers them newer and more powerful tools to expand their readership. Of course, the little thing of monetizing their content still remains elusive.

Update: It looks like a majority of the content including op-eds, international news, and even the science section is open only to regular subscribers ($3.45 a week). The website remains free so I guess if you like to read an enhanced version of the print newspaper online, you still have to pay as much as you would for the actual print edition. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a few ads including image ads for the convenience of free news. But as they say, the best things out there are not free.

Update#2: Chyetanya Kunte who knows quite a bit about usability and design feels that such apps are a waste and the newspapers should instead focus on re-designing their website. Since he doesn’t enable comments but has trackbacks, let me voice my concern with that issue here. Aren’t different standards and rendering engines the bane for most designers? Add to that the different resolutions, browsers, platforms, and even people who access the same website. Although I’m no web designer but I would consider it hellish for the designer to get the feel and usability of the TimesReader on a browser. Thoughts?

Fair and Balanced Survey Questions

Some consider survey methodology an imperfect science or even at times a lying science. The latter is true primarily because of such dishonest practices by Fox News. I’m sure they tell themselves, it is not interviewer bias but merely making surveys fair and balanced.

Denim Haters

Is me or is George Will getting senile? His latest column in the Washington Post is on…denim! Reading it will make you shake your head in disbelief that such a column managed to get past idle conversation at the country club into the op-ed pages of one of the nation’s top newspapers. This one part got my goat – This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don’t wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly – I can imagine most teenagers going who? Well, they would have a similar thought about George Will as well. But really? Fred Astaire and Grace Kelly? Does Will know we live in 2009 and last-generation fashion is definitely not in. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly is equally flummoxed and gets it right when he imagines Will asking us to get off his lawn unless we’re wearing slacks.

Mind you, Georgie hates all denim; low-rise or otherwise. The dude should stick to stating misguided opinions on climate change or making political predictions that never come true. Or perhaps his next column now will be on the usage of the word dude and how if Shakespeare would not use, we shouldn’t either.

Popularizing Socialism

Limbaugh and Fox are ironically popularizing socialism by trivializing it and linking it to Obama’s policies. These guys have hardly lived in a socialist country so they really don’t know what they are talking about; just ask Indians who lived in pre-1991 times.

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