Media

Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it

The public interest is what the public is interested in, bitches.

Thanks to Facebook, we all see new memes every day. Some of them are funny, some insightful, and a lot are of the preaching to the choir variety, which even though they’re right as rain, they occasionally get tiresome. Like a lot of us, frustrated as hell with the sorry shape of our society and the deteriorating condition of our planet and the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution, I guess I suffer from bouts of what we’ll call Fact Fatigue. If we’re intelligent, I fear, the truth is too much with us.

Every once in awhile, though, somebody sends one around that’s so on-point you can’t ignore it. Today, for instance, it was my friend Heather Sowards-Valey (she of Fiction 8 fame) sharing this one from Sciencegasm: Continue reading

Journalism

Journalists’ use of anonymous sources now an epidemic of deceit

Too many news organizations, despite their own policies, grant anonymity far too often, allowing sources with agendas to escape responsibility for what they say.

Two words in a news story should forewarn you that what you read is unlikely to be The Truth.

… anonymity because …

Those two words appear in sentences like these:

From Al Jazeera: The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

From an AP story: … who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

And, just this morning, from an AP story about captured Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala: The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the Libyan’s whereabouts publicly by name.

Anonymice — what I call sources who will not speak unless journalists allow them to remain nameless (and therefore blameless) — do not and should not inspire trust. The careless use of anonymous sources presents consequences and challenges for journalists and readers and viewers alike. Gratuitous, careless, and amateurish use of anonymice frustrates journalism educators like me, too: It’s a bad habit students often try to imitate.
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House quietly OKs reporters’ shield — but unpaid bloggers beware

House bill describes journalism as ‘an act, not a profession’ — but mandates compensation to qualify for protection

The term ‘journalism’ describes an act, not a profession.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed (and quietly, it seems) a comprehensive reporters’ shield law on May 29. Notice came yesterday in the Congressional Record.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who snuck the bill into a mini-omnibus funding bill (and pissing off Republicans), said in the Record:

This amendment is to be construed liberally and broadly, to effectuate its purpose of protecting journalists and their sources from any coercive action taken by the government and the legal system. Its spirit applies to other government agencies, and to litigation between private parties. The terms ‘information or sources’ and ‘confidential’ are to be given the widest possible construction.”

For purposes of this amendment, the definition of a ‘reporter’ includes: any person, natural person, or entity who releases, reports on, or provides information of a classified or unclassified nature to a public audience or on the internet, does so on a regular basis, and receives compensation for doing so. The term ‘reporter’ is a description of a profession. [emphasis added]

Even though the House bill describes journalism as an act, not a profession, it does not protect me from a subpeona that requires me to reveal a confidential source. No one compensates me financially for blogging at Scholars & Rogues.
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Memorial-Day

Celebrating Memorial Day in an age of military aggression

The best way to honor our fallen heroes is to make sure there aren’t any more of them.

Today I honor our war dead, but I’m mad as hell that our leaders, corrupt and sociopathic as they so often are, have killed so many without cause. I’m enraged that some of these deaths are regarded by our society as less worthy of honor than others. And I’m livid with the certain knowledge that plans are afoot, even as we celebrate this holiday, to send more young men and women off to die in dishonorable, even criminal actions.

Perhaps we will keep this in mind as we enter election season, which will be rife with scoundrels wrapped in flags, scoundrels whose idea of honor and patriotism is sending other people’s children off to die in service to corrupt financial or bigoted religious agendas.

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Wired article gets basic probability wrong

It may seem like a small thing, but if you write for one of America’s premier tech magazines, you have a responsibility to understand how probability works.

Earlier today Wired published an article on how a new Quantum theory could explain the flow of time. Great stuff, and really interesting. Definitely give it a read.

But in the course of the article the writer makes a mistake that I see more often than I’d like. Here’s the graf, and I have boldfaced the problem section.

Consequently, a tepid cup of coffee does not spontaneously warm up. In principle, as the pure state of the room evolves, the coffee could suddenly become unmixed from the air and enter a pure state of its own. But there are so many more mixed states than pure states available to the coffee that this practically never happens — one would have to outlive the universe to witness it.

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Big-Data

Nate Silver: Geek? Yes. Thoughtful journalist? Bigger yes.

FiveThirtyEight post on disputed climate change story signals commitment to transparency

Yesterday, after reading criticisms of Nate Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight, I thought: Denny, find out for yourself. After all, I am, at least historically, a geek. And, I thought, years of reading his New York Times blog showed me Nate is King Geek and FiveThirtyEight at ESPN would, no doubt, reflect that.

So I read “The Messy Truth Behind GDP Data.” Not bad. Classic FiveThirtyEight geeky on an important topic. But, even through so many pundits and politicos base analyses on flawed understandings of GDP, reading the post was akin to watching paint dry. I tried Harry Enten’s story about Hillary and polling. Egads: So. Many. Numbers. Unfamiliar terms. Headache ensues.

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MH370-path

MH370 infographic in the National Post: the facts are confusing and the reporting is making it worse

The media’s coverage of the MH370 story could benefit from more journalists and fewer infographic designers.

Malaysia-370The search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 continues. Malaysian authorities have now decreed, on the basis of evidence derived from an innovative new data analysis procedure, that the flight ended in the southern portion of the Indian Ocean.

I’m looking at the latest reporting and I’m not going to lie. If I was intrigued before, I’m now downright baffled. We know – or at least we think we know – that the flight veered off course in a manner that certainly indicated active human decision making and control. We know it was headed not northward toward China, as scheduled, but westish, in the general direction of India.

But my perplexity over the facts, such as they are, is only being compounded by the ineptitude of the journalism being devoted to the story.

Take this morning. I was looking over the coverage and map/infographic in the latest National Post story. Ideally, infographics are supposed to make things clearer, but in this case… Well, have a look.

First check out the top section of this map, which shows the track that has become familiar enough to those following the story. Then have a look at the bottom, where they mark the spot that the flight hit the water.

The design staff at the National Post is taking a pretty cavalier approach to geography. (We’ve warned you before about infographics, if you’ll recall.) This one does what modern infographery all too often does – it adjusts the objective truth of things in order to make best use of the available space. As in, you have x number of pixels by y number of pixels – make the world fit cleanly. This makes for a pleasant viewing experience, perhaps, but I’m not sure how well the reader’s sense of what actually happened is served.

To illustrate the point I hit Google Maps and plotted out the relevant points of the MH370 case I’ll let you compare and contrast and draw your own conclusions.

1: Kuala Lumpur, the flight’s point of origin.
2: The point where things went sideways.
3: The location of the last ping.
4: The spot where they say the flight ended – 1500 miles southwest of Perth.

Notice anything odd? As in, how far does Perth look to be from Indonesia on the infographic vs. how far it is on the actual map? Scale? Fuck scale. We only have x pixels, so let’s scooch Malaysia over here a little and move Australia a few hundred miles to the north. Yeah, there we go!

I’d love to see the National Post infographic group’s map of the world. You know, the one where Ecuador is 20 miles south of Omaha.

This works fine, I suppose, in a world where everyone is pretty good with geography and can be counted on to instantly get what’s happening. It’s also no big deal in situations where it’s no big deal. That isn’t the case here, and it even took me a few seconds – because I was trying to parse the fact that the plane wound up making another left turn, apparently – because I stopped and said wait a second – this isn’t right.

Here the infographic actively warps the story. Why? Because if we’re attempting to understand what may have happened to MH370, the infographic fails to accurately convey the scope of the flight. You can look at it and have some questions. But when you look at the actual map, the scale of your questions can’t help but change. A few hundred miles and a few thousand miles – those are potentially different sets of questions, aren’t they?

Thinking Americans have long since given up on journalism, I suppose. I don’t expect stories to be covered in depth. I don’t expect much in the way of insight. Objectivity has devolved from myth into cruel joke. And if someone is bright enough to grasp technical issues, they’re probably also bright enough to land a job that pays better than the scraps your average reporter has to live on these days.

But dammit, is it asking too much for your infographics department (yes, there are people whose jobs are dedicated specifically to developing infographics, because readers like how they can quickly “communicate a story”) that they not actively mislead us? I mean, I expect this kind of silliness out of US outlets, but National Post is Canadian. You’d think they’d be embarrassed to behave like Americans.

[sigh]

I hope investigators find the wreckage. I hope they find the black box. I hope they find an explanation. But I’m not sure I’m optimistic. Right now it feels like the Question-to-Answer ratio is 1:1,000,000. And even if we do get something like a conclusive answer, I’m going to have Sean Paul Kelley’s observation on the trustworthiness of the sources lodged firmly in the front of my mind.

But at the moment, I’d be satisfied if the media outlets covering the story employed more journalists and fewer infographic designers.

Malaysia-370

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: three things you should know

Anonymous intelligence sources and modern journalistas – we’ll never be able to trust another word we’re told.

Malaysia-370As I suggested the other day, Malaysia Airlines MH370 might go down as one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Or it might not. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been tracking the story with all kinds of curiosity, and there has certainly been a lot of material generated to serve the market for our curiosity.

If you’re following the story, there are three things to know/think about/keep in mind as it develops:

1) Anonymous sources. It seems like every article I’ve read in recent days has quoted Malaysian government officials who could not be identified because they were not authorized to speak about the story. Continue reading

Malaysia-370

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: is it doomed to be one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries?

The case of the missing plane is confounding all my attempts to construct a plausible theory, and it’s driving me crazy.

We all love a good mystery. But only if it comes with a resolution. If we can figure it out, that’s ideal. If not, we need somebody else to figure it out and tell us.

Books and TV shows and movies are perfect if you have the mystery Jones because the case is always solved in the end. In real life, we’ve gotten pretty good at investigating and when all is said and done, we usually walk away with at least a strong suspicion as to whodunnit.

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WordsDay: Literature

WordsDay: Rich Tosches’ Zipping My Fly: Compilation Errors…

Sometimes a compilation reminds one that, to paraphrase Sesame Street, “Some of these things are not like the others…”

Zipping My Fly by Rich Tosches (image courtesy Goodreads)

The next book from the 2014 reading list was supposed to serve as a light refresher from my literary and “social/critical” reading choices. Rich Tosches’ collection Zipping My Fly falls roughly into the pattern of most creative nonfiction about the sport of fly fishing. But unlike the wonderful John Gierach’s humorous yet meditative works such as Sex, Death, and Fly Fishing or the late, lamented Harry Middleton’s equally enjoyable On the Spine of Time (a book especially close to my heart because Middleton fished the trout waters of my own beloved Smoky mountains), Zipping My Fly, a mélange concocted of columns Tosches wrote for the L.A. Times and supplemented with pieces he wrote for magazines (and perhaps solely for this collection), fails to connect.

Tosches’ book fails on a couple of counts and it’s important to note these both to be fair to him and as counsel to others who may be thinking of using collections of past newspaper/magazine columns or blog pieces to construct a book. This can be done successfully, but some thinking, revising, and editing may be in order. One wishes Tosches had done some of the aforementioned for this volume. Continue reading

War

US war movie military policy: Baby Boomers grew up on films where battle was noble and Americans never died

America’s permanent war policy is a reflection of WWII movies, which offered an unrealistic vision of war’s motivations, consequences

My Depression-born parents raised me in a rural idyll during the Eisenhower years. As a child, I snuck into the Garden Theater to watch war movies. They enthralled me: Battle Cry, To Hell and Back, Away All Boats, D-Day the Sixth of June, The Wings of Eagles, Battle of the Coral Sea, and my favorites, the submarine movies: Run Silent Run Deep, The Enemy Below, and Up Periscope. I revered Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and John Wayne in Operation Pacific and The Flying Leathernecks. Later, I learned mediated definitions of traitorous betrayal in Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. Continue reading

SportCenter’s guide to golf coverage: all things Tiger, all the motherfucking time

ESPN isn’t a division of TMZ, but some days they might as well be.

ESPN-golfI was just watching SportsCenter as I ate dinner. After telling us the good news and the bad news about today’s Lakers/Thunder game (good news: OKC lost; bad news: LA won) co-host Matt Barrie turned to the weekend’s big golf tournament, the Doral. Obviously, the dictates of big time sports journalism meant that he led with the winner guy who tied for 25th. Continue reading

Journalism

Better local news ahead — at Gannett papers? Really?

Gannett returns to its TV-model origins to revitalize revenue, reporting quality

What? Better local news coverage at Gannett Inc.’s 80-plus newspapers? Seriously? And they’re hiring more reporters, and good ones at that? Huh? Print revenue is still declining but Gannett is investing in quality?

That’s the portrait Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston paints of Gannett’s attempts to revitalize both USA Today and its chain of dailies nationwide.

The McLean, VA, newspaper and broadcast chain has begun inserting national and international news sections carrying the USA Today brand into some of its local dailies. The move, designed to emulate the audience-and-revenue building power of network TV, has already dramatically boosted circulation at Gannett’s flagship paper (albeit under new, looser accounting rules), while giving the local papers a polished new look and better, more uniform national and international coverage. Continue reading

Journalism

Local newspapers: fewer reporters = less content = declining revenue

Corporate owners treat news as “product.” As a result, the industry is on life support.

by Patrick Vecchio

I can’t remember how young I was when I fell in love with my local newspaper. It started with a comic strip: Mandrake the Magician. I would wait on our front porch for the newspaper boy, spread the paper on the floor and read Mandrake on my hands and knees. As I grew older, my interest expanded to different sections of the paper. By the time I reached high school, I was reading it from front to back. I loved it.

I never left my hometown, and after studying journalism in college, I began working as a reporter at a tiny daily newspaper about 20 miles away. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

The daily newspaper editorial: Make it weekly, please

Daily editorials, striving to not piss off anyone, have achieved ‘terminal neutrality’

Who — or what — killed the great American editorial? Wasn’t there a time when great newspaper editorials regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others?

Paul Greenberg, the editorial-page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, poses these questions on the website of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Greenberg calls the forces that murdered the American newspaper editorial “as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves.” Among them are the goal of not pissing off anyone; “the stultifying editorial conference,” designed to drain life out of editorial positions; and hewing to “the party line or socio-economic fashion.” These forces produced, says Greenberg, “terminal neutrality.”

Although these forces had the daily newspaper editorial on its deathbed by the mid-1980s, Greenberg doesn’t reveal that I — yes, me! (gasp!) — pulled the plug on its life support. Yep, I pounded a few nails into the coffin of the daily newspaper editorial all by myself. Continue reading

Advertising

Advertising’s enticement: You must crave, therefore you must buy

Advertising may be evil, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

Despite my exposure to what a colleague estimates is nearly 100 million advertising impressions as I approach seven decades of life, I am not taller, I am not more attractive, I am not thinner, and I sure as hell don’t smell much better than I did in the 1950s.

I teach in a journalism school in which more students aspire to be advertising and PR madmen and madwomen than journalists. So I think about advertising often — mostly with disbelief and frequent outrage (the righteous kind, y’know).

The disbelief: I watch an ad in which a pricey luxury sedan maneuvers at night through lanes illuminated by paper lanterns. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Freedom

Edward Lucas “Snowdenista” piece in the Wall Street Journal is the most dishonest thing you’ll read today

Snowden, Assange, Greenwald, and anyone else who believes that NSA spying on American citizens is wrong is a tool for Mother Russia. Makes sense.

Edward Lucas of the Economist. #wanker

I just read Edward Lucas’s Wall Street Journal piece entitled “A Press Corps Full of Snowdenistas.” I can’t honestly say if Mr. Lucas is a liar, an idiot, or simply a guy who’s a little too captive to the security state party line to see past his own dogma. We’ll be charitable for the moment and assume the latter, although “wild-eyed apparatchik” is hardly something to aspire to.

The premise of his rant is more or less summed up with this: Continue reading

Steroids

Should Major League Baseball allow steroid users into the Hall of Fame? Yes, says Matt Record.

Part 1 of a series.

by Matt Record

Baseball has been marked by cheating forever. It’s hypocritical to draw a line now.

These are – in my opinion – the top 15 best position players in the history of baseball:

  • Babe Ruth
  • Barry Bonds
  • Willie Mays
  • Ted Williams
  • Ty Cobb
  • Hank Aaron
  • Tris Speaker
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Honus Wagner
  • Stan Musial
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Rogers Hornsby
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Eddie Collins
  • Mickey Mantle

The fact that two of the top 15 best hitters may never make the hall of fame is a  shame and a frustratingly meaningless shame at that. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Sports

Baseball Hall of Fame voters: it’s time to judge the judges

by Rafael Noboa y Rivera

Baseball writers in the Steroid Era had one job. And they failed at it.

Earlier this week, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) unveiled the newest Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. Baseball fans were paying particularly close attention to who made the cut, as they have the last few years, because many of the eligible players were star performers during baseball’s Steroid Era. Many of these writers show no mercy towards players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. Players they once laureled as Olympian heroes are now condemned as cheats, unworthy of the game’s highest honor.

What is interesting is that even as they stake out the higher ground, piously commenting on how moral standards must be maintained, these same writers are pleading with us as baseball fans to give them a break, cut ‘em a little slack. Continue reading