The Monday Morning Teaser

I wasn’t going to do a Sift today, but I was jotting down some notes about the Biden document controversy and realized they had turned into a more-or-less complete set of thoughts. So I’ll be posting that soon rather than saving it for next week.

But there won’t be a weekly summary this week.

Another thing I think I’ll put out there is a link to what I did with my time off: I gave a Zoom talk in the lecture series at Pennswood Village, a Quaker-inspired retirement home in Newtown, PA.

The talk is called “Whatever Happened to the Citizen Journalist? the mixed results of the internet news revolution“. It’s about how the Cronkite Era of news turned into the current era, the role played by amateur journalists like me, and how things didn’t always turn out the way we intended.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, the talk provides a certain amount of Weekly Sift philosophy and history that doesn’t come up week-to-week, including the fact that in April I’ll mark the 20th anniversary of the first political article I posted online.

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  • Jill Drury  On January 23, 2023 at 9:02 am

    So happy that I won’t have a completely Sift-less Monday! Thanks, Doug!

  • timothyfmcgregor  On January 23, 2023 at 10:48 am

    Very well done at Pennswood Village. It helps me to put in perspective how things have changed and how I have changed recently. thanks for your incisive work. 

    Tim McGregor cell: 281 684 4923

  • Tammy Black  On January 23, 2023 at 11:06 am

    All that inhabit here, should clink on the link and watch Doug’s amazing visual sift on the 20 year history of citizen journalism. Well worth your time. Thanks for sharing and for taking the time to put this well referenced talk together.

  • Michael Wells  On January 23, 2023 at 1:18 pm

    Excellent presentation. The substance is what I have come to expect from you. Your speaking style was well paced, clear and your voice modulated. More please.

  • Jim  On January 23, 2023 at 2:02 pm

    I loved your presentation on Citizen Journalist. As a one-time professional journalist, however, I do take issue with an assumption you seem to make as a premise for the presentation, that journalist should measure their success or failure on whether or not they provide what we “want.” At least that’s what I think I heard you say in setting up your topic.

    Admittedly, my formal education in journalism is dated and didn’t come from a powerhouse school of journalism. At Eastern Washington University, my journalism professor (Pat McManus, who went on to become a humor writer) taught that reporters should cover the events in their communities by elaborating accurately on the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of any story.

    There was a great deal of emphasis on accuracy and timeliness and using one’s common sense to establish the factual record in an inverted pyramid style (most important facts first).

    I don’t recall any mention of “fair and balanced,” or “objectivity,” as criteria for selecting subject matter or allocating lineage in the publication. Objectivity was addressed only in the sense of not letting one’s personal biases blind you to any cogent facts you were charged with reporting.

    We were taught that by paying careful attention to reporting the facts in the above mentioned format and trusting in the judgment of our more experienced editors, we need not concern ourselves with what the readers wanted. That was for the family and entertainment editors to address, not the news section. We were confident back then, (seems so naive today), that a skillful presentation of the facts would draw readers to the story and that good journalism is what they wanted when they paid for a subscription to our carefully edited publication.

    Your presentation helps me understand just how dated that concept of news has become and offers many useful tips on how to still extract some worthwhile information for the cyber maelstrom that has replaced the newspaper business. I’m saving your presentation, so that I can revisit it multiple times as I set about my retirement project of creating a blog committed to telling the stories and reporting the news from a particular perspective, that of the public worker. I still want to at least attempt to apply what I was taught about the five 5 Ws & the H, as well as the inverted pyramid, even as I attempt to focus on a particular segment of the workforce and issues I think we all should care about that directly impact public workers.

    Thanks for being so conscientious and thoughtful in your pursuit of the truth.

    • weeklysift  On January 24, 2023 at 8:57 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience and point of view.

      As for whether journalists should be aiming to provide the information the public wants: I think that part of the talk is better understood from the public’s point of view. If the public can’t find out what it needs or wants to know because journalists won’t tell them, then they have good reason to look for a way out of the Cronkite-Era model.

      I don’t have any argument with focusing on the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of a story. But there’s a prior issue about what the story is, and what stories deserve coverage.

    • Ed O  On January 25, 2023 at 3:52 am

      The point of Doug’s comment that journalists don’t give the public what they want is that journalists largely restrict themselves to reporting what’s new and thereby fail to report, e.g., what politicians actually say they plan to do, simply because politicians will say those things over and over, so they rarely qualify as “news.” Someone simply wanting to know all the things that, say, John Kerry has said he would do if elected President may be able to find that on a site like wikipedia or in a blog post by someone like Doug but probably won’t find that in the NY Times. Rather, in the Times, they’ll more likely find a succession of less individually useful stories each reporting on some change or elaboration of some particular bit of what Kerry said.

      • Jim  On January 25, 2023 at 4:53 pm

        Good point Ed. I guess what I see as problematic is the abandonment of the gatekeeper function of editors, who for all their human faults over the years, provided some filter against the pollution of disinformation, libel and slander that flows like a flood from social media these days. i agree that the “if it bleeds, it ledes” culture that has dominated a lot of television media for decades can crowd out important information. I’m not convinced the current “citizen journalist” melee that includes the likes of Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson is the answer. That said, Doug does an excellent job of laying out the problem.

      • weeklysift  On January 26, 2023 at 6:54 pm

        Thanks, Ed. Your response captures the point better than mine did.

      • Ed O  On January 27, 2023 at 6:07 pm

        Agreed, Jim, that it would be great if editors could protect the public from the likes of Alex Jones. Problem is, citizen journalists are effectively their own editors (and Tucker Carlson isn’t a journalist at all but a commentator, so no matter how outrageous the stuff he publicizes, if there’s an audience for it, Fox has little incentive to change anything because journalistic standards don’t apply).

        I thought the most useful idea in Doug’s talk came during the questions at the end where he explained how he figured out not to trust some otherwise intriguing posts at by looking through their archive and seeing that they’d been repeatedly predicting that Ukraine would fall to Russia in a month or so ever since the invasion began, and never addressing the fact that the predictions kept not coming true.

        Maybe one thing we need is a crowdsourced trustworthiness rating system to evaluate whether various sites or commentators deserve trust. Something like but including everything from Alex, Tucker, and nakedcapitalism to Doug and Heather Cox Richardson, and browser extensions, like the MBFC ones, to put a colored banner at the top of each page or post to indicate its rating.

  • A. Frank Ackerman  On January 26, 2023 at 10:18 pm

    Great talk! I’ll do my bit and post a recommendation on my Facebook page. Could the slides be posted someplace?

  • Ed O  On January 27, 2023 at 6:37 pm

    I’ll second that and suggest you go further and distill your slides into a Weekly Sift post. They brought together a lot of important things, some of which I haven’t seen articulated anywhere before. It would be great to have a concise post about the shift from the Cronkite Era to social media for people who wouldn’t spend an hour watching your presentation.

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